Apple neglects the Mac Pro for four years, and now says it’s working on a new one. Why is it turning pro again?

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Apple neglects the Mac Pro for four years, and now says it’s working on a new one. Why is it turning pro again?

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Apple did a very un-Apple-like thing recently. It pre-announced a new Mac Pro and pro displays, which won’t see the light of day until 2018. It did so not from a polished stage presentation, but in a sitdown conversation with select journalists. The unusual disclosure was in response to increasing perceptions that the company had abandoned the professional market, with an aging Mac Pro that hadn’t been updated for four years.

The numbers paint a clear picture about why Apple discontinue the Mac Pro. The Mac is a US$25 billion business for Apple annually, its computers ship at a ratio of 80 percent notebooks to 20 percent desktops, and the Mac Pro measures “a single-digit percent” of all Mac sales. It’s a solid business, but it pales in comparison to the iPhone, which brought in US$54 billion in the first quarter of Apple’s 2017 fiscal year alone.

It makes financial sense for the company to put all of its apples into the basket marked, “The money is here,” and go all in on its ‘i’ products — which it seems to have done in the past few years.

So why Apple’s turn of heart now?

We could imagine that it’s due to the growing negativity from Apple’s pro users, who feel sidelined. The vocal dissent from Apple’s most prominent and loyal fans has created a perception that the company has lost, not its way, but perhaps some of its street cred.

We could speculate that Apple realized it had to support the developers who help make the App Store the most successful app store on the planet; it’s estimated that the store raked in US$28 billion in revenue for FY2016.Xcode, the software development suite for iOS, only runs on macOS, and developers need more computing muscle than the current Mac range can provide.

All of this might be in play, as well as unsubstantiated rumors that the backlash against last year’s redesigned MacBook Pro, which was pretty but underpowered, gave the pro-Mac Pro group inside Apple enough leverage to finally get the go ahead for new machines.

What probably cemented the turnaround though, is that Apple figured out a way to placate its professional users, as well as create a business case for how to charge an arm and a leg for it (this is Apple, after all). Even the lowest possible single-digit percent of all Mac sales, at one percent of US$25 billion, is still a US$250 million annual business for the Mac Pro, which isn’t bad.

That’s the cynical part of me talking, but as part of the creative community, I’m heartened to see Apple turning pro (again). Before Apple ascended to the czar of consumer cool, it was the underdog of choice for creative professionals, who loved the Mac for its better design and usability. It’d looked like Apple was divorcing its original devotees, but it seems they’re back in the game.
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