Apple has alienated some of its most committed, long-term users by orphaning its high-end hardware.
Creative professionals and media producers, those quirky non-conformists that were some of the earliest adopters of the original Macintosh, have long been the bedrock upon which Apple built what limited success it's had in battling Windows' hegemony in the enterprise. These customers, who are more concerned with simple elegance than Microsoft compatibility, and have always valued the Mac's clean, consistent interface, reliable OS and, until recently, malware-free security, have made Macs a staple with photographers graphics artists, and video editors.
Many of these folks, dealing as they do with large graphics files and sophisticated, CPU-crushing software, favor Apple's high-end workstation, the Mac Pro, over more mainstream iMacs or MacBooks. Its boxy, utilitarian design is light years from those sleek and sexy all-in-one products and the very antithesis of Apple design guru Jony Ive's svelte iPhone and iPad creations.
Still, the Mac Pro serves a certain, arguably influential if not numerous, niche. Customers love the machine's expandability. Sporting four drive bays, dual processors with up to 12 cores, 8 memory slots maxing out at 64 GB of RAM and two double-wide PCIx slots for dual high-end graphics cards capable of driving 6 displays, the Mac Pro is indeed a workhorse.
Sadly, Apple has let the Mac Pro languish. Last updated almost two years ago (several generations in iPhone time), the machines, while still powerful, are saddled with dated hardware and showing their age. Mac Pro customers have been patient, realizing that based as they are on Intel's Xeon server platform, there was little point to an update until the chip giant migrated its latest Sandy Bridge architecture to the Xeon line. Well, that day happened in March yet there's still no word on when, or even if, the Mac Pro will see a refresh.
A Pro update seemed like a no-brainer after Apple nixed its rack-mountable Xserve line (pdf) a couple years ago, a move that stoked rumors that the next iteration would be a switch hitter: a design equally suited as a desk-side workstation or data center server … a logical concept indeed. While Apple will never compete in the plain vanilla server market, those using multiple Mac systems as rendering engines or remote desktops would love the rack 'em stack 'em option.
Well, some customers, if not mad as hell, certainly aren't going to take Apple's silence anymore. The fuse was lit by a video authoring and design professional named Lou Borella who finally had enough and took to the 21st Century version of the town square, Facebook, to share his grievances. Making the case on the We Want a New Macpro Facebook page, Borella recounts a litany of Apple purchases: Macs, iPhones, iPods, and software packages that clearly establish his bona fides as one of its best customers.
Borella articulates an obviously widely held frustration; his page has over 16,000 "Likes" as of this writing, adding them at three per minute. At over 4,000 per day, that could double by the time you read this. "I'm looking for a little clarity. Can you please let me and the other people on in this group know what is going on with the MacPro? It's been neglected for far too long. We realize all the success of the iPad and iPhone and we're really happy with our new toys. But unfortunately, many of us need to make decisions on hardware for professional uses that allow us to make a living."
Yet Apple is more focused on mobile and TV than workstations and business. Although the upcoming Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) is expected to include a MacBook refresh, Apple CEO Tim Cook's latest public interview had nary a mention of desktops.
Although the numbers clearly favor the mobile, consumer market already dominated by iPhone, iPad, and iTunes, Apple shouldn't ignore its traditional base of graphics-oriented creative professionals. Sure, they provide little revenue in comparison to the iOS-based Goliaths, but they are a loyal and influential constituency. Designing new Mac Pro hardware that creatives long for is just incremental overhead for a company like Apple and, who knows, a bit of that engineering, pushing the workstation envelope to meet Mac standards, could eventually migrate down to the next generation iMac, MacBook, or even, who knows, iTV.
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. We've got a management crisis right now, and we've also got an engagement crisis. Could the two be linked? Tune in for the next installment of IT Life Radio, Wednesday May 20th at 3PM ET to find out.