It’s rare 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 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 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.
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 it’s 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.
- Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
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 because of its lack of common ports that meant you needed to buy dongles to use many accessories, as well as 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 touchscreen 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 has 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 realized it’s losing the high ground in the pro market, so it invited a handful of journalists to its headquarters this week to chat with two top executives about its plans to reassure one of its most dedicated fan bases that it’s finally going to turn things around.
In that meeting, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller, and SVP of software engineering, Craig Federighi, revealed just enough details about the upcoming Mac Pro to whet the appetites of users who had been waiting for something new, especially a new graphics processing unit that’ll 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 about this soft product announcement, especially the company’s cagey reply when asked about the Mac Mini in the Mac lineup. Schiller said there weren’t any immediate plans to update the Mac Mini, even though it has been over 900 days since its last update, and he didn’t elaborate.
The execs also reiterated that they didn’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 can start shipping products, there’s a huge opportunity and plenty of time for its biggest competitors to capture the pro market Apple abandoned.