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Mac Pro – will we EVER see an M2 version?

The Mac Pro represents the very best that Apple can make – but is its reason to exist now extinct?

Mac Pro & Apple silicon

Now you see it

The Mac Pro has always been enigmatic.

The very point, that it’s not for everyone, was the reason it existed. The Mac Pro is a flex moment for Apple. Think of it, in the way you’d think about a car company showing off a concept. It demonstrates what they cando, or what they could achieve. In the case of the biggest companies, that have enough money to have their vanity projects, this kind of decision is not unusual.

Last year that now famous quote from John Ternus, Senior Vice President

Hardware Engineering, about Mac Pro being for “another day”, now seems more poignant than ever. He said that just after Mac Studio had mades its glorious debut.

Apple generally has a plan, often a long-term one, and one wonders, when launching the Mac Studio, if they knew all along what that would mean for Mac Pro?

Not afraid to be different

The Mac Pro has always gone its own, sweet little route. It’s been a rebel all its life, and has never conformed to convention. The design language speaks for itself – from that original tower design, through the cylinder, or trash-can era, and even now, in its current over-engineered skin, the Mac Pro has always turned heads.

The quote from Ternus, reminds me a little of the eventual launch of the current model. In that instance, numerous tech journalists were assembled and told a new Mac Pro was happening…what they didn’t know was that it would take two years for them to ever see it. So, the fact that Ternus said that last year, if history is to be our guide, actually means little. Mac Pro has never been in a hurry, that’s for sure.

When they unveiled the Mac Studio, although they addressed the elephant in the room, and mentioned the Mac Pro, they knew the road ahead, and knew, possibly, its days were numbered, or, at least it’s future would look different.

Recent comments from Mark Gurman would suggest that any super high-end plans for the Pro, have now been shelved. With Apple deciding not to proceed any further with the development of the M2 Extreme chip, I think that says a lot – I’ll explain more on that later.

Numbers don’t lie

There has always been very few Mac Pro users.

This machine has been niche from its inception, but, it was always an important product to Apple in their lineup.

Macs, all Macs, represent a tiny fraction of Apple’s overall sales figures – surprisingly low actually – only around ten percent. Of that ten precent, up to 75 percent of those Mac sales are laptops.

So, we are already down to a tiny amount of Mac desktop sales. And even then, the Pro doesn’t get all its own way, as it competes with the Mac Studio, iMac, and Mac mini – all of which are powered by Apple silicon. So, as you can imagine, of the folks looking to buy a desktop Mac, it’s going to be a teeny percentage that will be in the market for a machine whose wheels alone cost $400!

Apple has the financial clout, to indulge themselves in a little flight of fancy with Mac Pro. Although sold in ridiculously small numbers, Mac Pro is the glamour boy, the Brad Pitt of Macs. If you picture some swanky, high-end design studio, or film suite, odds-on, it’ll be the Mac Pro you’ll imagine sitting there. We know Apple has never been overtly worried about the financial sense of Mac Pro. This is a quote from Apple Fellow, Phil Schiller, back in 2017 explaining why it’s important to them;

Mac Pro is actually a small percentage of our CPUs — just a single-digit percent. However, we don’t look at it that way. The way we look at it is that there is an ecosystem here that is related. So, there might be a single-digit percentage of pros who use a Mac Pro; there’s that 15 percent base that uses Pro software frequently and 30 percent who use it casually, and these are related. These are not distinct little silos. There’s a connection between all of this.

Mac Pro out of step

The BIG problem for Mac Pro, is that it’s out of step with the current design language, and architecture.

At the heart of Apple silicon, and their iOS Bionic chips, is efficiency – cool, fan-free, power-efficient silicon. The Mac Pro has always been more about pure grunt – more was always better. Mac Pro lived, and existed for modularity. It flew the flag for power, and being a floor-dwelling, plugged-in Mac, it had no concerns over being mean and lean.

And this is the quandary that Apple, and their design team now face. Apple silicon has revolutionised Macs. So, should they pander to the desires of a few with the new Mac Pro, and make it in the shadow of what it’s always been, or move it in-line with the rest of their machines?

Although manpower is currently tight at their Californian HQ, with the headset getting all the love, they could find resources to throw at the Pro…if they really wanted to. They could come out with a Pro, with another radical re-design, and a way smaller footprint too. But, is it really worth it to them?

Looks aren’t everything

The current design of the big Mac, still looks great, and still turns heads. Apple silicon doesn’t need all that space, but equally, it won’t hurt it, either. So, bearing that in mind, and with the knowledge that this Mac will only ever ship to a tiny minority of users, why bother?

I mentioned earlier that the ideas to further explore the M2 Extreme have been parked – I think that shows us where Apple’s heart is on the future of Mac Pro.

Mac Studio, has filled the space for most of the people who used to buy Mac Pros, and at a fraction of the cost. If I fully spec out a Mac Studio, and even throw in Final Cut, and Logic, it’s still well under $9000.

Mac Pro will get Apple silicon this year, I’m pretty confident about that, and with all that extra space, they will probably allow for expandable internal storage – a way neater solution that having drives lying around. And there is even chat that the GPU could be expandable too, with some kind of official Apple retail upgrade program too. So, they’ll still be able to say, and fairly, that it’s modular, and still ticks the boxes for the tiny number of creatives that want to bolt-on after upgrades. Mac Pro will still be able to give a nod to its heritage – it’s roots.

And they will have achieved all that, with little, or no development costs, either. The ROI, something Apple has always been keen on, will be a high.

Wrapping up

Having weighed up what’s going on here, with Mac Pro, and to some extent, Mac Studio, I think the plans are starting to become a little clearer.

Last week we learned, from Gurman once again, that, for the foreseeable future at least, the Studio won’t be upgraded. It’s not quite a one-and-done situation, more, it has served its purpose. They have shown what Apple silicon is capable of, and fulfilled most of the needs, of most of the users who need this kind of power.

Then, by not upgrading Mac Studio, that opens the door, for Mac Pro to makes its re-appearance at the top of the tree, but now with Apple silicon. It will pick up, from where the Studio left off. It will have all that extra, ‘free’, space that can then be used in after-sale upgrades.

Apple can then explain that was the plan all along, and in the process, have ticked all the boxes, with hardly any outlay.

Clever – very clever.

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