Way back in the day, but not back to the last century, Apple introduced a powerful PowerPC Mac server called Xserve that ran Mac OS X Server. That was 2002. By late 2010 then-CEO Steve Jobs pulled the plug.
Why? Nobody was buying them. Mac360 ran on an Xserve back in the day. Why was nobody buying Xserve? It was cheap– relative to the recently announced Mac Pro. Then again, my father’s car might be less expensive than an average Mac Pro when they launch later this year.
Listen, Then Speak
Only Apple knows the story behind the ill-fated Mac Xserve of yesteryear. The cheese grater Mac that was introduced a few years later was far more popular, and the precursor– with a sidebar to the current Mac Pro– to the highly acclaimed, highly expensive, and highly powerful Mac Pro of 2019 (I know; too many highly’s).
What happened to Apple with Xserve may be similar to what happened to the Mac Pro of 2013 and why Apple had to back up and start over on a machine for true professionals. In fact, if you look at Apple since it announced– two years ago– that the Mac Pro was doomed and destined to be replaced by a new modular Mac Pro, it’s easy to see what happened?
Apple found its voice by listening.
Ben Thompson on Apple’s audacity:
It is the nature of hardware that a computer the vast majority of Apple’s customers will never own was the headline from the company’s keynote at its annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). The Mac Pro starts at $6,000, and will be configurable to a number many times that. If you think that is absurd, or would simply rather buy a new car, well, you’re not the target customer.
If Apple has its voice back– and I believe that to be the case since most of the company’s product line has been upgraded in the past year– then the new Mac Pro explains what Apple has been doing in recent years.
In retrospect, the previous malaise around Apple should have been expected. When a product like the iPhone comes along — and make no mistake, there are very few products like the iPhone! — the goal is simply to hold on to a rocket ship.
And so Apple did. “Hold on to a rocket ship” implies that it was all Apple could do to catch up with the most important product of the entire technology era going back to electricity, radio and TV, and computers.
What did Apple’s executives hear when iPhone sales plateaued and they came out of the iPhone malaise and began listening?
They heard the obvious. Other products had languished. Apple had lost its mojo. Apple was the iPhone company and nothing else mattered.
They heard loud voices decry what Apple had become along the way to becoming the richest technology company on the planet. What happened after that took years to fix, but you can see it in the recent product updates, including the new Mac Pro.
The third generation butterfly keyboard is Apple doubling down on what should have been– but wasn’t, thanks to the malaise disease– a great Mac notebook line. The iPad Pro and now iPadOS turn a product that languished into a Mac killer. Or, better– a PC killer. The Mac mini suffered from malaise. The new Mac mini suffers not. iPhones? Best ever. Even iMac Pro is as good as an iMac can get.
What Apple did with Mac Pro is not aim for the most mass of customers but probably the least number of customers.
I thought that sense of “going for it” that characterized the Mac Pro permeated the entire keynote: Apple seemed more sure of itself and, consequentially, more audacious than it has in several years.
Apple listened and responded with a new voice.
Marco Arment saw something similar.
The “trash can” 2013 Mac Pro addressed only a fraction of the needs solved by the previous “cheese grater” towers, aged quickly without critical upgrade paths, and suffered from high GPU-failure rates… Over the next few years, it became clear that the Mac Pro was an embarrassing, outdated flop that Apple seemed to have little intention of ever updating, leaving its customers feeling unheard and abandoned. I think Apple learned a small lesson from it, but they learned a much bigger one a few years later.
See? Apple listened and responded with a new voice.
The soon-to-launch Mac Pro excites many, but will be bought by few. A Mac notebook or iPad or iPhone SE it ain’t, but that’s not the point. Consider the Mac Pro an excellent example of hubris personified.
This listening and voice started a few years ago, and while it may be obviously evident today, we see the steps forward from not even two years ago.
The late-2017 iMac Pro, which I’m using to write this, is the best Mac I’ve ever owned by far. It’s versatile, incredibly powerful, beautiful, and silent. It’s so good that I’ll probably never really need a Mac Pro again
Is that the end of the story? Did Apple just listen and respond appropriately and that’s all it needed to get its voice back?
This story hasn’t ended yet. The Mac Pro isn’t actually out yet (and will be very expensive), they still need to resolve the problematic MacBook Pro with its next generation (rumors are promising), and the lack of standalone Apple displays under six thousand dollars really hurts the Mac Pro story.
Arment’s perspective is echoed by many Apple loyalists who love the company and its products, but worry whether the company listens. Whatever is going on, Apple’s executives are talking more than ever– except perhaps Marketing Veep Phil Schiller– and that newfound public persona speaks well of a company that wants to listen so it can keep its voice.
Apple is listening again, they’ve still got it, and the Mac is back.