Last week, I posted a column detailing why I thought the high cost and, to a lesser extent, the limited internal expandability of the forthcoming Mac Pro would mean that many current Mac Pro owners, including myself, would not upgrade to the new model.
Based on the large number of retweets and Facebook “likes” the article generated, it apparently resonated positively with a significant segment of readers. That’s always nice to see. However, you wouldn’t have guessed this by just reading the posted comments, which were mainly critical. I guess that’s to be expected; people are generally more motivated to write when they disagree. [Update: Dec. 4: Interestingly, most of the comments posted in the last two days have been positive. Go figure.]
I’ve read and considered all the comments. Rather than separately respond to each one, I decided to offer this more general reply. As many of the comments repeated the same basic points, this seemed a more reasonable and effective way to go.
Paradigm shift? Maybe, maybe not
Numerous comments indicated that the new Mac Pro represents a “paradigm shift.” In contrast, I was accused of being stuck in “old school” mode, unable to “get it.”
Most especially, rather than viewing the shift in emphasis from internal to external storage as a negative, many viewed it as preferable. They noted that, with the superfast Thunderbolt 2 connectors, users would be unlikely to see any speed deficit with external drives as compared to internal storage. Further, external drives give you more flexibility, allowing you to add or swap drives with ease. One commenter even questioned why anyone would need more than 256GB of internal storage anymore.
I am generally as enthusiastic about embracing paradigm shifts as anyone. I am not typically one to reject any change that represents progress. So I have to admit that it’s possible I’ve missed the mark here.
However, let me be clear: This is not an either-or situation. It’s not as if one has to choose to keep all storage internal or all external (beyond some minimal 256GB). I have a combination of internal and external drives now with my current Mac Pro, and I would expect that arrangement to continue with any new model I might purchase. So, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Still, there is a certain minimum amount of software (applications, documents, media etc.) that I prefer to keep on my startup drive. For one thing, I like to know that, in the event that the Thunderbolt connection fails for any reason, I still have access to these essentials. And 256GB is not sufficient to allow me to do this.
In this regard, it’s worth noting that a 27-inch iMac with a 1TB Fusion drive can be had for under $2000. A 1TB Fusion drive Mac mini costs under $1000. You can get a MacBook Pro with 512GB for as little as $1800. These are common configurations. Certainly, I would expect desktop Pro users to want at least as much storage. At the very least, I can’t see viewing a smaller drive as an advantage.
Still, some commenters compared the situation here to previous Apple-initiated “paradigm shifts” involving getting rid of floppy drives or, more recently, optical drives.
“Again Apple has seen the future much sooner than most. Remember when everyone was up in arms because Apple stopped using the floppy disk? Seems rather silly now, huh?”
One problem I see with such comparisons is that these other shifts began on Apple’s lowest cost machines—the iMac or the MacBook Air. They eventually spread throughout the Mac’s entire line-up. In contrast, this supposed shift in emphasis from internal to external storage is making its first appearance with Apple’s top-of-the-line machine. I will be surprised if it trickles down to iMacs and laptops. If this is a paradigm shift, it is one that will be restricted to pro desktops.
More generally, there is the Mac Pro’s relative lack of internal expansion options of any kind, not just storage. In this case, I do see a more typical paradigm shift in play here. There is virtually no internal expansion for today’s MacBooks and iMacs. This approach has now spread to the Mac Pro as well. This is clearly the direction Apple wants to go, for better or worse. In either case, I don’t view it as a “deal-breaker” for the Pro. So I don’t want to make too much of this.
For professionals only? Yes
A related criticism was that I didn’t grasp that the Mac Pro wasn’t meant for users such as myself. Rather, it was meant for “high-end professionals”—users who will come out financially ahead by buying a Mac Pro because its “tech spec” advantages will save money in the long-run, outweighing its initial high cost.
In some of these cases, I have to wonder whether the readers didn’t actually read my column. The comments seem to be attacking a “straw man”—someone who was claiming that new Mac Pros are inferior machines with problems that are so telling that the machines are doomed to fail. When the Mac Pro goes on sale and proves to be a success, this straw man will “eat his words.”
The problem with these arguments is that I never said or implied any such thing. In contrast, I recognized that the Mac Pro is most assuredly a “professionals-only” machine—designed for people working in video production, graphics layout, publishing, science labs and such. I specifically stated that “the new Mac Pro will appeal to this small but profitable professional market.” Indeed, I expect this market will enthusiastically embrace the new Mac Pro. I also acknowledged the Mac Pro is attractive even to a “not high-end user” such as myself: “The promise of lightning-fast speed combined with the allure of its futuristic cylindrical design seemed irresistible.”
My key assertion was a limited one: Given the high cost of a “fully configured” Mac Pro setup—especially when compared to the improved relative performance of Apple’s latest less expensive Macs—I expect most “pro-sumers” (not high-end professionals) who previously opted for a Mac Pro will not do so this time around.
There was a time when the Mac Pro line suited the needs of more than just the highest end of the market. This no longer appears to be the case. This doesn’t mean the Mac Pro is doomed. But it does mean that the Mac Pro will have a more narrow appeal. At least, that’s my assessment. If I’m wrong, we’ll know soon enough.
Expensive? Yes, but
Speaking of cost, a few commenters challenged my basic assertion that a new Mac Pro setup is “expensive.” To buttress their argument, some cited examples of the much higher costs of previous generation computing devices, going back as far as decades ago. Such comparisons don’t make much sense to me. Yes, computers back in the 1960’s could cost hundred of thousands, if not millions, of dollars and yet have less computing power than today’s iPhone. But so what? That’s not the choice facing today’s users.
It may also be true that the new Mac Pro is cheaper than some workstation solutions that exist today. Again, this is largely besides the point.
The simple point is this: The new Mac Pro, even adjusted for inflation, will cost significantly more than a comparable prior-generation Mac Pro. Unless you truly need a workstation-like machine, it’s going to be very hard to justify this cost.
Not surprisingly, some comments amounted to name-calling attacks—using phrases such as “whiner,” “strained hit piece,” “yellow journalism” and more. Such is life on the Internet.
Some of these commenters clearly have no idea of my background. If they did, they would know that I have owned nothing but Apple computing devices since buying a Macintosh in 1984. I have made a career writing about Apple products, primarily lauding their advantages over the competition. The idea that I would be motivated to write some sort of “hit piece” is almost funny.
Even if this were not the case, such comments shed no light on the discussion. That’s why, beyond what I’ve written already, I see little point in directly responding to these comments. It only gives the commenters more attention than they deserve.
Happily, most of the comments did not fall into this “attack” category. Rather, they were respectful disagreements. As such, they pushed me to rethink my positions, in an effort either to better defend them or to change them. I always welcome that opportunity.