A quick look at MacRumors’ Buyers Guide is all it takes to realize Apple’s neglected its Mac fans with slow upgrades. Part of the problem lies in Apple’s heavy reliance on Intel. Making matters worse, the chip maker abandoned its tick-tock release schedule as it’s become economically unsustainable.

Perhaps that’s why Apple summoned its senior executives Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi and John Ternus for “a small roundtable discussion about Mac” with five journalists (Matthew Panzarino, Lance Ulanoff, Ina Fried, John Paczkowski and John Gruber).

In the case of Mac Pro, Apple miscalculated the repercussions its radical redesign would have on pro users. While it looks great, Mac Pro’s design makes it hard for Apple or its customers to replace tightly integrated internals with more powerful CPUs and massive hot-running GPUs.

The main idea guiding the development of Mac Pro was that the most demanding of pro users would take advantage of the machine’s plentiful Thunderbolt 2 ports to boost graphics via external Thunderbolt modules.

It never really took off.

As Schiller acknowledged:

As we’ve said, we made something bold that we thought would be great for the majority of our Mac Pro users. And what we discovered was that it was great for some and not others. Enough so that we need to take another path.

One of the good things, hopefully, with Apple through the years has been a willingness to say when something isn’t quite what we wanted it do be, didn’t live up to expectations, to not be afraid to admit it and look for the next answer.

Federighi added that thermal core design proved difficult to update Mac Pro regularly.

Apple’s Product Realization Lab, where they craft prototypes of future Macs

The decision to outfit Mac Pros with dual GPUs backfired because the industry had just begun adopting workstations with one big GPU.

Here’s how Federighi framed it:

I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will. We designed a system with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture. That that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed.

But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped.

Being able to put larger single GPUs required a different system architecture and more thermal capacity than that system was designed to accommodate. So it became fairly difficult to adjust.

At the same time, so many of our customers were moving to iMac that we saw a path to address many, many more of those that were finding themselves limited by a Mac Pro through next generation iMac.

And really put a lot of our energy behind that.

Specs are important no matter how you look at it, more so if you’re in the market for a pro workstations for some serious number crunching and creative work. Federighi was first to admit that Mac Pros are currently not well-suited for virtual reality apps (and Oculus agrees).

“Certain kinds of high-end cinema production tasks” is another example where Mac Pros don’t excel at because, as Federighi notes, many pro apps don’t balance themselves well across multiple GPUs, but can scale across a single large GPU.

Schiller jumped in, apologizing for keeping customers waiting for new Mac Pros:

The current Mac Pro, as we’ve said a few times, was constrained thermally and it restricted our ability to upgrade it. And for that, we’re sorry to disappoint customers who wanted that, and we’ve asked the team to go and re-architect and design something great for the future that those Mac Pro customers who want more expandability, more upgradability in the future. It’ll meet more of those needs.

Mac has an important, long future at Apple, that Apple cares deeply about Mac, we have every intention to keep going and investing in Mac. And if we’ve had a pause in upgrades and updates on that, we’re sorry for that—what happened with Mac Pro, and we’re going to come out with something great to replace it. And that’s our intention.

Asked if Apple was aware of just how many customers have begun to doubt its commitment to Mac and the needs of pro users, Schiller responded by saying:

It’s a reasonable question, and this is why we’re here today, specifically, to address that question above all else. We’re committed to Mac, we’ve got great talent on the Mac, both hardware and software, we’ve got great products planned for the future, and as far as our horizon line can see, Mac is a core component of the things Apple delivers, including to our pro customers.

And on Apple’s own pro apps:

I just want to reiterate our strong commitment there, as well. Both with Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X, there are teams on those software products that are completely dedicated to delivering great pro software to our customers. No foot off the gas there.

The following quote is attributed to John Ternus, who is in charge of Mac hardware as Apple’s Vice President of Hardware Engineering:

Some of our most talented folks are working on Mac. I mean, quite frankly, a lot of this company, if not most of this company, runs on Macs. This is a company full of pro Mac users.

Federighi added that using Xcode downloads as a metric suggests that it is possible that software developers are actually Apple’s largest pro audience. “It’s growing very quickly, it’s been fantastic,” he said.

Schiller offered this message to concerned pro users:

We recognize that they want to hear more from us. And so we want to communicate better with them. We want them to understand the importance they have for us, we want them to understand that we’re investing in new Macs—not only new MacBook Pros and iMacs but Mac Pros for them, we want them to know we are going to work on a display for a modular system.

We want them to know we’re continuing to invest in MacOS as well as our pro app software for pros… those are things we want to clearly communicate to them. And yes, we want them to know that, while we have not had updates to the current Mac Pro, we’re going to keep it on the price list because there are customers for whom it does work—for the things they need to do… We want to at least make the value of it better while we’re doing that.

For those wondering about the state of automation and scripting, Federighi said that “scriptability and automation of the system remain super important” to Apple.

Some other notable tidbits:

  • 15 percent of all Mac users use at least one pro app multiple times per week.
  • Additional 15 percent of all Mac users use pro apps at least once per week.
  • 30 percent of the overall Mac user base is the pro market.
  • The split between notebooks and desktops in Mac sales is 80/20.
  • The most popular notebook with pros is MacBook Pro.
  • The most popular desktop with pros is iMac (followed by Mac Pro).
  • Notebooks are the most popular Macs with pros, before iMac (#2) and Mac Pro (#3).
  • Mac Pro’s share of all Mac sales is a single-digit percentage.
  • Sales of the new MacBook Pro are up about twenty percent year over year.
  • Mac sales were up in 2016 and continue to outpace the PC industry.
  • Mac user base is nearing 100 million users.
  • Mac as a business is nearing a $25 billion run rate.
  • Mac, Inc. would file as a Fortune 100 company on its own.

Just to illustrate the effects of Apple’s dependence on Intel, the chip giant recently delayed Cannon Lake, its 10-nanometer evolution of existing Core processors. A company executive said that the new chips could now enter mass production next year.

There’s little Apple can do when its key supplier delays processors, especially chips suitable for iMacs, Mac minis and Mac notebooks, into next year. The Cannon Lake platform supports LPDDR4 memory which consumes less power than the power-hungry DDR4 RAM inside the new MacBook Pro. In other words, the delay could endanger a rumored 32 GB MacBook Pro release in 2017.

The current state of Mac updates, via MacRumors’ Buyers Guide.

Here’s how many days have passed since Apple released major updates to these Macs:

  • iMac—539 days since last release (average: 317 days)
  • Mac Pro—1,202 days since last release (average: 449 days)
  • Mac mini—901 days since last release (average: 438 days)
  • MacBook—350 days since last release (average: 375 days)
  • MacBook Pro—159 days since last release (average: 320 days)
  • MacBook Air—757 days since last release (average: 350 days)

The takeaway: Macs have a bright future ahead as new iMacs with pro-level features are coming later this year and a next-generation Mac Pro with modular design along with Apple-branded pro displays due in 2018.

As for the most affordable Mac model—Mac mini—that machine is “important” to Apple and as such won’t be going away in the near future. In Schiller’s words, it’s “more of a mix of consumer with some pro use” and “remains a product in our lineup”.

Thoughts on Apple’s comments?

Source: Daring Fireball, TechCrunch, BuzzFeed, Mashable, Axios

  • Bacillus

    Seems they got ashamed of themselves.
    And found out how many (real) Pro customers and devs jumped ship.
    Probably too late.
    Note that those switchets won’t return anytime soon, because most modern media-intensive apps are now primary Windows based or on other platforms. Those who feel betrayed and went through lots of trouble, don’t come back that easy, Phil. And in particular, the non-upgradeable trashcan ad-interim solution will be the one nobody buys. So that won’t stop the bleeding.
    You look like apprentices in the IT industry.

    • Sounds though like most of their pro users that “jumped ship” went to iMac though not Windows…

  • Petur

    “Sorry” about a “pause” who are these guys? Did they just recently wake up, after three years and figure out that their product, Mac Pro, was outdated the day it was presented to the public? Seriously you cannot have been awake these three years. These guys think more about the looks of their product then the functionality of them. They are in a wrong field of a job. “Enough so that we need to take another path” Yes I agree, you should apply for a job at a flower shop. You are about to destroy the functionality of the iMac, it´s way, way to thin.
    I love the MacOS and I still use my 2010 iMac, with i7 and I added a SSD and 32GB memory.

  • Javier Gore

    That’s what happens when you charge 2013 technology sugar coated with a radical yet innovative design. They clearly sat in their laurels expecting emotional buyers to be the mainstream buyers who drive their production line. Reality proved them very wrong: Rationality won over emotionality and people realized they could buy way more powerful hardware and build windows machines or even hackintoshes at a much lower cost.

    • Perhaps you don’t remember but back when this computer came out it was a powerhouse. I still remember watching reviewers load up aftereffects, queuing up 4k videos and applying dozens of performance draining effects to it and being shocked when it just played the footage back as if it was pre rendered with no signs of slowing down.

      Apple admitted they made 2 mistakes. They thought multiple GPUs was going to be the future and back then things like SLI seemed like this was the case, but Apple predicted wrong. Secondly they assumed that customers would use things like thunderbolt to expand their computers and by and large people weren’t interested in doing that. Personally I love the idea of running an external graphics card to supercharge my mac, but I guess I’m a minority.

      But I don’t think either mistake results in the wild claims that Apple sat on their laurels expecting emotional buyers to be the mainstream buyers. When it launched the Pro maker had overwhelmingly positive things to say about it. I still remember the demos from Pixar and their glowing statements about it being the most powerful tool they had ever used.

      Anyways, glad to hear that Apple is owning up to their mistakes though and releasing an all new redesigned model next year.

      • RSIlluminator

        I’m not sure which industry Apple is talking about when they’re talking about multi-gpu NOT being the standard. The problem is that they went with AMD, and the graphics industry is heavily CUDA. Also, if you check out some of the Pixar GTC videos, they list their top configuration as a 2x 12 GB NVIDIA Quadro M6000. Plenty of industry people use multi-gpu set ups because it scales better for everything from 3d rendering to Deep Learning.

  • ic0dex
  • Joey

    Intel has released 4 generations of cpu and u are here saying slow upgrades how much did apple pay u to write this crap

    • Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. In 2013 Intel introduced the Haswell microarchitecture and in 2015 the Skylake microarchitecture was released. Haswell, Devil’s Canyon and Broadwell all fit under the umbrella of Haswell, While Skylake, Kabylake and the upcoming coffeelake and cannonlake are all under the Skylake umbrella. Furthermore each of these sub classes have staggered release and support for desktop, mobile, server etc etc.

      When you combine all of that with Intel changing their release cycle twice over the last 4 years (both of which slowed down the release cycle timelines BTW) it’s understandable where Apple is coming from. Kabylake is technically out now, but it’s only available for 2 of the 5 classifications (mobile and desktop). Anyways, this mess of a response is just to let you know that it’s not as simple as “Intel released 4 processors therefore Apple is lying when they bring up the release cycle”.

      It’s the same reason that last year both Apple and Microsoft had to release their newest computers with “old” Intel chips. Technically they were out, but not for the classifications that Apple and Microsoft needed. They were supposed to be out, but the announced delays meant that both companies had to switch to older chips and ship with less than ideal specs (to the confusion of more than a few consumers that really don’t know the mess that is Intel release cycles).

  • Mr_Coldharbour

    I for one am happy that Apple, finally, pulled its head out of its behind after almost 4 years of pure denial (granted, these Mac Pro machines when released in 2013 were the “cream of the crop” with the exception of the GPUs and could’ve gone for a year or 2 at most without the need for an update). But as Rene Ritchie and probably others have said, and I’m paraphrasing, when Apple locked down these machines, effectively making them un-upgradable appliances, they took on the responsibility of ensuring that these machines will continue to get hardware upgrades, at least on a bi-annual basis. 2 years is excusable, but almost 4 years, that’s inexcusable. Can’t wait to see what these new Mac Pros and “pro” displays will be like.

  • kenneth lowey

    So having said all that does this mean I can swop my 13 inch macbook pro with touch bar, for the PROPER UPDATED one later this year , as it sounds like they have made a boob ?