One aspect of Apple Inc. that makes it an intriguing company to watch is the notorious veil of secrecy. Seldom do inveterate watchers know what Apple is up to until just before a new product announcement, and even then details are scarce.
That Apple is secretive is no secret. It’s been that way since co-founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. Since then, the company has made few product mistakes, both a little more than 10 years apart, and both tell us something about Apple’s inner workings.
Lead By Committee
The first product on my list of duds– and it’s a short list– is the famous Power Mac G4 Cube which debuted just before the turn of the century and didn’t make it far into the 21st century thanks to Apple’s insistence at the time of charging more for less. The Cube was all about form over function, style over utility; a device which looked great but was overpriced for what it could do.
Steve Jobs loved the design, but customers didn’t love the Cube enough to buy it often and it withered on the vine.
Through the years Apple has introduced a number of Macs aimed at professionals, both notebooks and towers. One of the most popular among those Mac users who prefer to roll their own, swap out components, and disdain build-to-order in favor of their own build-for-me list, was the Power Mac G5 and the Mac Pro with Intel Inside.
These machines were beasts in every respect.
These were the Macs for power users; those professional level customers who knew how to build what they wanted to accomplish their goals. Somehow, over the course of a decade, Apple’s professional level Mac users– as disparate a group as any, and with a wide variety of requirements– began to buy other Macs instead. Today, Mac notebooks make up more than 80-percent of the company’s entire Mac business.
Still, Apple persisted and in 2013 brought the aging Mac Pro, born of the Power Mac models, into the 21st century with an elegant canister-like device that wreaked of precision engineering in an appliance form. Funny thing. And true story. Customers didn’t like the Mac Pro as much as Apple.
The 2013 Mac Pro was beautiful to behold, finely crafted of aluminum, precision engineered to handle high end components but unable to be as flexible as the gargantuan aluminum beasts it replaced. In high end machines, thermals are everything and the little Mac Pro quickly became the little engine that couldn’t. There was no way to add different GPUs or upgrade CPUs. The overpriced and over engineered Mac was dead in the water.
From an historical perspective, it should be clear that Steve Jobs wanted the Cube, so Apple designed and built a Cube. Alas, Jobs was about the only one who wanted a Cube. It was a big mistake for Apple and the device was discarded after barely a year on the market. What of the canister Mac Pro? It’s been almost four years since the introduction in 2013, and Apple’s executives promise a newly designed and modular Mac Pro will debut.
Not this year. Maybe not next year. But they’re working on it now.
What happens in Cupertino, stays in Cupertino. At least, most of the time. It should be obvious that there has been an ongoing discussion within Apple on what to do about the canister Mac Pro’s problem and its future. More and more Macs are notebooks. Many Mac users who once required the power of a PowerMac G5 or Mac Pro get by fine on high end iMacs and MacBook Pro models, so the target customer is dwindling in number (they’re not buying the canister Mac Pro, right?). The conflict in Apple probably had more to do with whether the Mac Pro lived and whether Apple should have more professional levels macs or fewer, vs. what kind of Mac Pro should replace the failed canister model.
That’s a near death experience for the Mac Pro.
The past and future won. Apple has decided to build a modular Mac Pro model in the future that will address the needs of so-called professional level Mac users who didn’t like the canister Mac Pro, and don’t want an appliance Mac like the MacBook Pro or iMac. Apple also promised a more powerful iMac model.
What’s coming in the future, we don’t know, but the Mac Pro just survived a near death experience so naming the future Mac Pro the Phoenix seems only fitting.