It’s rare when Apple admits it made a mistake, but that’s what we heard from the company Tuesday.
In an unprecedented move (as far as I can recall), Apple pre-announced new products it’s working on: a new version of the Mac Pro, a high-resolution computer display, and some retooled iMacs with more powerful features. The new Mac Pro and display won’t launch for at least another year, and the iMacs are coming later this year, although that’s as specific as Apple would get.
But there’s a lot of history behind the decision to break with tradition and pre-announce a bunch of new stuff that isn’t even finished yet, and it comes after a series of missteps that gave the impression the company was ignoring some of its most important customers.
Over the years, Apple has earned a reputation for abandoning professional users, the graphic artists, video producers, and programmers that rely on top-notch hardware to get work done. Although they’re a relatively niche group today, it wasn’t that long ago that professionals like these were the core of Apple’s fan base. But Apple essentially ignored its pro hardware and put its engineering prowess behind more consumer-friendly products like the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.
The result? A lineup of Macs that hasn’t been significantly updated in the technological equivalent of a lifetime.
The current Mac Pro desktop was introduced about three and a half years ago. The Mac Mini, a sort of in-between device for “prosumers,” hasn’t been updated in about two and a half years. The new MacBook Pro, which launched last fall, rubbed a lot of professionals the wrong way due to its lack of common ports (meaning you needed to buy dongles to use many accessories), poor battery life, and not enough options to upgrade the memory.
Meanwhile, competitors like Microsoft have swooped in to attract the pro market Apple left behind. Microsoft’s new all-in-one PC, the Surface Studio, features a gorgeous touch screen display and accepts stylus input and a new method of control with the Surface Dial, which is perfect for artists and designers. And the Surface Book is a powerful Windows laptop with a touchscreen and all the ports professionals love.
In short, it’s never been easier to switch from a Mac to a more powerful and capable alternative, and it looks like that won’t change for at least another year.
Apple appears to have realised it’s losing the high ground in the pro market, so it invited a small handful of journalists to its headquarters this week to chat with two top executives about its future plans to reassure one of its most dedicated fan bases that it’s finally going to turn things around.
In that meeting, Apple’s SVP of marketing Phil Schiller and SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi revealed just enough details on their upcoming Mac Pro to whet the appetites of users who have been waiting for something new, especially a new GPU that will help the computer push out better graphics and an Apple-made display to replace the Cinema Display that died last year. In the meantime, Apple is throwing pros a bone: The current Mac Pro was updated Tuesday with some faster chips, and those new iMacs launching later this year will get an internal boost too.
But there were other curious aspects to this soft product announcement, especially the company’s cagey reply when asked about the Mac Mini in the Mac lineup. Schiller said there aren’t any immediate plans to update the Mac Mini, even though it’s been over 900 days since its last update. Unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate. The execs also reiterated that they don’t want to add touchscreens to Macs, something pros have grown to love on Windows machines.
It is refreshing to see Apple admit it has fallen behind. Schiller even said he was “sorry” for the slow movement in the company’s pro lineup. But until Apple is able to start shipping products, there’s a huge opportunity and plenty of time for its biggest competitors to capture the pro market Apple abandoned.