Ignore the haters. Apple's Mac Pro is one amazing machine. Here's why.
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Apple's redesigned Mac Pro became available for order Thursday, arriving at once as a symbol of the company's capacity for innovation and as a reminder of how much the computer business has changed in the past seven years.
When the first Mac Pro debuted in August 2006, Apple was still known as Apple Computer. It would be five months later, in January 2007, that then-CEO Steve Jobs announced his company henceforth would be known simply as Apple, Inc. Among Apple's various product lines at the time -- Mac, iPod, iPhone, and the newly launched Apple TV -- he reasoned that only one represented a computer.
That wasn't entirely accurate. Each of those products contained a CPU. But apart from the Mac, Apple had moved beyond traditional personal computers. Jobs believed people would prefer the more curated, less complicated experience embodied by the iPhone ecosystem, rather than the one offered by computers -- at the time, maintaining a computer and keeping its software updated was onerous. And Apple's subsequent success proved him right.
In its fiscal Q4 2013, Apple made $5.6 billion in revenue selling Mac computers. But that's only about 15% of the company's total revenue during that period. Personal computers just don't matter that much to Apple as a source of revenue.
But they're part of Apple's history and a source of pride. As the company notes in its public relations boilerplate, "Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world." Stung by grumbling from investors about an underwhelming product pipeline and by doubts about CEO Tim Cook's ability to fill the shoes of his iconic predecessor, Philip Schiller, SVP of worldwide marketing, defied Apple's critics in June at the company's developer conference. "Can't innovate anymore, my ass!" he declared, in reference to the company's impending Mac Pro.
Though ridicule was quick to follow -- some likened the unusual cylindrical design to a trash can -- Apple has always been the target of such criticism. Recall departing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's comment about the iPhone in 2007: "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share." Or Dell CEO Michael Dell's advice to Steve Jobs in 1997 about how to save Apple: "I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders."
The new Mac Pro represents a redefinition of the workstation, at a time when cloud computing can handle many of the number-crunching jobs that used to go to workstations. It remains to be seen whether expensive workstations like this will continue to be viable as high-end applications shift toward cloud delivery.
Apple's latest offering is not the sort of easily expandable, modular, upgradable system that many computing aficionados prefer. That may not please everyone, but Apple has never aspired to be all things to all people. Apple makes choices and insists on some limits to balance form, function, and its business needs -- make a system that's too modular, and customers won't buy new hardware.
The new Mac Pro is a blazing fast desktop computer. If you deal with sophisticated graphics, video editing, data analysis, or you simply have $3,000 or more you want to spend on a striking desktop computer -- Call of Duty: Black Ops, anyone? -- you owe it to yourself to try the new Mac Pro. Now take a closer look at its appeal.
Thomas Claburn is editor-at-large for InformationWeek. He has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and his mobile game Blocfall Free is available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.
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