Post Production

Apple releases a new Mac Pro – a year from now

Apple makes the unexpected announcement of a new Mac Pro that will “not ship this year.”

(Not) the new Mac Pro

In an apparent move to head off mass desertion by creatives across the globe, Apple uncharacteristically announced a new Mac Pro–no, make that announced that they’re working on a new Mac Pro. So hold on just a little longer…if you can squeeze one more year out of your current tower.

We’ve all been wondering whether Apple has truly decided to abandon the Pro Video market, and here at Pro Video Coalition we’ve pontificated the subject on more than one occasion. Apple seems to have given a definitive answer to the question in an announcement to journalists.

In a press meeting with John Gruber, Matthew Panzarino, Lance Ulanoff, Ina Fried, and John Paczkowski, Apple VP Phil Schiller revealed that there are new Mac Pros in the works and that they will also come with dedicated Pro Displays (as opposed to a pro display with a computer embedded in it, a.k.a. the iMac). They’ve also announce a modest speed bump to the specs of the existing machine.

The announcement is uncharacteristic in two significant ways: firstly, Apple almost never discloses their product roadmap. This grew partly out of a desire to avoid deferred revenue due to the Sarbanes-Oxley act, but it seems mainly to serve the purpose of keeping existing product purchases humming while squeezing as much hype out of final product announcements as possible.

Secondly, Apple almost never concedes a “misstep.” Just ask the many users who wanted Save As… back (if you’re wondering, it’s Option-Cmd-Shift-S). To admit that the existing Mac Pro design failed to meet the needs of the user base is a significant statement. Here’s a direct quote from Phil Schiller taken from John Gruber’s site, daringfireball.net.

“To be clear, our current Mac Pro has met the needs of some of our customers, and we know clearly not all of our customers. None of this is black and white, it’s a wide variety of customers. Some… it’s the kind of system they wanted; others, it was not.” The others evidently being the majority of the post-production community.

Apple’s Craig Federighi was even more elucidating: “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.”

So where does that leave the faithful Apple-loving post-production crowd? Waiting at least a year for a new workhorse. Is it worth the wait? Probably. Can you hold off until then? My advice would be to hold on to your 2012 pre-trashcan Mac Pro tower and replace its aging graphics card with one of the latest generation Nvidia cards–assuming Nvidia gets round to releasing drivers for the Pascal GPUs soon. That should set you back around $US700 and hold you over until the new machines arrive.

Some readers might be outraged at the idea of having to wait at least a year from announcement for the new systems (I guess NAB 2018 is a potential target date), but it’s something we’re quite used to in our industry. In fact, Apple is probably being a little more honest than most; typically companies announcing 90 day ship windows then finally release a year to 18 months later (if at all). At this point Apple doubtless has a very realistic understanding of how long things take.

A quick wrap up of the key take away points reported by the media attending the Apple meeting:

  • New Mac Pros are coming but will not ship this year. No firm window as to when they might actually arrive.
  • Expandability and the longevity that results from it will be a key focus of the redesign.
  • No plans for a touch screen
  • Existing Mac Pro trashcan line will be updated with speed bumps to CPU and GPU, but no change to the actual architecture of the systems (don’t expect Thunderbolt 3, for example).
  • Apple admitted that they were possibly not right.
  • 15% of Mac users use at least one Pro app frequently. So clearly, we’re a market that deserves attention. An additional 15% use them infrequently.
  • Notebook to Desktop sales split is 80% – 20%.
  • Mac Pro sales make up something less than 10% of all Mac sales. (Of course it’s hard to ascertain whether this is simply a result of no one wanting or being able to afford the trashcan Mac Pros.)
  • New iMacs are slated for release later in 2017 that may be enough for some pro users’ needs.
  • Apple still loves the Mac Mini, but didn’t comment on its roadmap.
  • Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X are still actively being developed by dedicated teams.
  • Apple admitted that Macs suck for VR right now (OK, not using exactly those words).
  • As far as we know the press meeting did not take place on April 1st…

You can read all the details for yourself at daringfireball.net

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Damian Allen is a VFX supervisor and pipeline consultant based in LA. He specializes in picture-lock emergency effects work and AR and VR tool development through his company Pixerati LLC. In addition to his hands-on…