Mac Pro, iMac Forgotten At WWDC 2012: Is Apple Neglecting Its Pro Customers?

 @redletterdave
on June 12 2012 5:44 PM

Apple has traditionally divided its business into four areas: professional desktop, professional portable, consumer desktop and consumer portable. Since 2000, however, Apple has been busy expanding its line of products to include new-age mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. But while those new mobile devices have ushered in another Apple renaissance, desktop computers were always Apple's bread and butter.

Apple was expected to update nearly every laptop and desktop computer in its lineup for the 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, including every iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. In the end, Apple updated its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops, introduced a brand-new Retina Display MacBook Pro and announced new features for the company's desktop and mobile operating systems, OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, respectively.

But amid all of these exciting releases, the iMac and Mac Pro were almost completely forgotten. Apple gave the computers minor updates, updating the $2,499 base model to a 3.2 GHz quad-core Intel Xeon processor with an upgradable 3.33 GHz processor for an extra $500. For $3,799, the Mac Pro features two 2.4 GHz six-core Intel Xeon processors.

The processors are the only difference; the Mac Pro did not get USB 3.0, or Thunderbolt, or any new redesigns. Apparently, the only reason Apple bumped the specs was because Intel stopped making the older processors.

The New York Times' David Pogue received an explanation from Apple as to why the high-end Macs were almost completely neglected:

Many Apple observers also wonder if Apple thinks that desktop computers are dead, since not a word was said about the iMac and Mac Pro, Pogue said. An executive did assure me, however, that new models and new designs are under way, probably for release in 2013.

But will users wait around until next summer with the faint hopes that Apple will update its desktop lineup for the first time in three years?

Apple's Pro Users: The Forgotten Demographic?

Apple has always strived to make all of its software more accessible, easy to use and efficient. In the neverending mission to create the perfect computer interface, Apple has started from scratch several times, from its mobile products like the iPhone and iPod to software products like Final Cut and iMovie; sometimes, Apple users aren't so happy with the results.

Apple completely redesigned the MacBook Pro to create a 15-inch professional laptop with a Retina Display, but that computer was likely the sole focus for WWDC 2012. Apple updated its other computers with new chips and processors, but no more attention was given. By putting all of its energies into one product, the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display is an incredible machine, but users looking to do heavy projects like video-editing are still wondering: Is this my most powerful option?

Apple's veteran lead designer Jony Ive said the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display is the best computer we've ever made. Is it really? Apple couldn't build an iMac with a Retina Display, with enough cores and RAM to keep users satisfied? Or, was there not enough time? In Apple's general priority list, where do the heavy-duty computer towers stand?

Andy Hertzfeld, a former Apple employee and a current engineer at Google, released his thoughts on WWDC on the Google+ platform, congratulating Apple for the new MacBook Pro but lambasting them for neglecting its high-end desktop customers.

The next generation MacBook Pro announced today at WWDC looks fantastic, Hertzfeld wrote. I ordered one immediately and can't wait to start using it. Unfortunately, the euphoria was negated by my deep disappointment with the meager, lame update that was silently bequeathed to the Mac Pro today.

The Mac Pro is Apple's top of the line, expandable Macintosh, aimed at users who need lots of computing power and disk storage, like programmers or other professionals. I have an 8-core Mac Pro with 16 GB of RAM in my home office that was an amazing machine when I acquired it in 2008, but it's not so hot by today's standards. I've been looking to get a new one for a while now, but Apple hadn't updated the hardware for two years, so I was looking forward to finally seeing a new one announced today, with essential features like Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. When they didn't mention the Mac Pro during the keynote presentation, I got worried but figured they'd update it anyway, it just wasn't worthy of mention from the high pulpit of the consumer-oriented keynote.  And sure enough, when I visited store.apple.com, there was a little 'new' icon above the Mac Pro. But I was in for a shock when I clicked on the link to check it out.

The specs for the 'new' Mac Pro had hardly changed, except for a tiny, inconsequential processor clock bump ... It seems like it's stuck in time in 2010. The only thing that's still high-end about it is the bloated price. Even though I'm well aware that Apple's future lies increasingly with mobile iOS-based devices, it still makes no sense to drop the ball on your high-end desktop Mac so thoroughly, and to utterly disappoint your most loyal customers like yours truly. Why do an update at all if you hardly change anything? What's going on here?

Hertzfeld asks a good question: What is going on here? Is Apple pivoting toward consumers and away from professionals, or does it believe that consumers and professionals ultimately have the same needs?

This question was certainly asked when Apple decided to reinvent its popular Final Cut Pro software for film editing, completely revamping the system from the bottom up to make it $700 cheaper. Users felt Apple had watered down the Final Cut experience, and they were angry

This is Apple's worst release in history, one angry e-mailer wrote. Apple has absolutely no clue what professionals need. There are so many missing high-end features that we need, it should be called iMovie Pro.

Even though Apple has since updated Final Cut, one ultimately has to wonder: Is Apple forgetting about its professional users?

Here's the short answer: No. Absolutely not.

Here's a longer explanation: Just because Apple didn't release a new desktop on Monday doesn't mean that it won't; Apple doesn't release anything unless it believes it's the best possible product. Clearly, Apple didn't feel that it had enough new chips and features to include in the Mac Pro, and updating the MacBook line was more important. In all fairness to professionals, the consumer market is significantly bigger than the professional market, and laptops take priority.

After the keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly made time to answer a fan e-mail about the lack of professional Macs at WWDC.

Our pro customers are really important to us ... don't worry, as we're working on something really great for later next year, Cook wrote.

So while users are certainly upset that they can't buy a brand-new Mac Pro or iMac, they shouldn't worry. New iMacs and Mac Pros will come, but Apple must first find a reason to build it. Everything Apple does has a purpose behind it, and the company felt that building its mobile lineup to match the quality of its desktop lineup was most important. Once they're all on an equal plane, Apple can raise the entire family together. 

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