Apple puts the pro and price back into the Mac

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Above: Apple’s new MacPro and XDR monitor will cost you as much as a small car. Photo courtesy Apple.

BitDepth#1200 for June 06, 2019

On Monday, Apple charted a path back to its professional creative users with the release of its first tower style MacPro in six long years.

The Mac for pros introduced at the end of 2013, a small black cylinder, was such a total misstep that Apple took the unprecedented step of apologising to its pro users in April 2017.

The company promised to do better and at its World Wide Developer’s Conference keynote, it finally delivered

The only questions remains is the one creative users might reasonably ask: “Who exactly are these people talking to?”

Clearly Apple thinks that the iMac Pro, the product it introduced as a stop-gap computer while it worked on the revamped MacPro meets the needs of creators on a small to medium budget, because the new pro tower starts at US$5,999 for the baseline 8-core Zeon version.

It’s hard not to think that all the complainers whining about underpowered Macs have just been handed a bitchslapping by Tim Cook

If you want to add the company’s new XDR monitor, plan to budget another US$4,999 for the panel with an additional $1,000 for the stand it requires if you don’t mount it using VESA.

That’s a tidy TT$83,000 before you think about upgrades. Or shipping.

To be fair, there’s a lot of advanced technology packed into the shiny aluminium box, even if it looks as if it was designed on an off-day at Ikea.

For the users who need it and can also afford it, the new MacPro can be kitted out with the newest 28-core Zeon processors, dual Radeon Vega II video processors, up to 1.5TB of RAM spread across 12 DIMM slots and seven open PCI-E card slots, four of which are double width.

Apple’s 2019 MacPro, sans case.

If the price and specifications didn’t give you a broad enough hint, the new Afterburner module, designed to enable the editing of native 8K video should make it clear that when Apple means professional, they are talking about high-end music producers and film editors here, not you and your piddling 30 Photoshop layers.

I use a Mac tower as an imaging workstation, a heavily upgraded 2009 model that could, with some tweaking, use the same Radeon 580 video GPU that Apple is shipping in its baseline MacPro.

But there is no room for third-party storage in the new tower, just slots for two Apple SSDs.

I found that a curious decision, since it was possible, with a bit of work, to stuff six drives into the older Mac tower. I know this, because I did exactly that, installing a total of 34,768GB, spread across seven drives (one’s on a PCI card).

It’s hard not to think that all the complainers whining about underpowered Macs have just been handed a bitchslapping by Tim Cook and his cohorts, silencing comparisons with high-end PCs.

Expect new complainants to compare costs on equivalent PC builds and you can be sure that they will be cheaper, perhaps alarmingly so.

Also, don’t expect Apple to care.

The new MacPro might be the splashy announcement but the company’s focus is more likely to be on the growing convergence of the company’s Mac operating system with its far more popular and widely used iOS.

The announcement of iPad OS, a variant of iOS designed for current model Apple tablets, points to a compelling intersection between the Macbook and the iPad Pro, which are close in size and weight but offer very different user interface paradigms.

This version of iOS 13 also drops support for any iPads made before the iPad Air 2, the device specification (and CPU requirement) breakpoint between tablet as mobile device and tablet as replacement computer.

Expect more of that in the next Mac OS update, Catalina.

Apple’s new MacPro (click for animation) Image courtesy Apple.

Other Apple WWDC announcements

The AppleTV+ announcement offered not so subtle overtures about increased content creation and production support from Apple for orginal content. Tim Cook seemed very keen on For all Mankind, an alternate universe story about the 1960’s space race that puts Russia on the moon first. The AppleTV platform will add support for popular gaming controllers.

iTunes is history. The groundbreaking music app is being retired in favour of purpose built apps for Music, Podcasts and Video, which are already present on the company’s mobile devices. Craig Federici offered up a good-natured, if not entirely inaccurate parody of the piling on of services into iTunes that led to it becoming a bloated, sprawling annoyance.

The new Music app will add “Time-synced lyrics” for songs from the Apple Music store, which will improve karaoke no end.

“Pick up” is an interesting metaphor for the new three fingered scoop and spread gesture on iPad OS seems a sensible way of making cut and paste feel real on a touch screen.

The Files app gets a major and overdue upgrade from farce to functionality, supporting folder sharing via iCloud and SMB as well as accessing files on USB drives and SD cards. Fonts on the App store foreshadow a world in which documents can really be shared between MacOS and iOS.

The most interesting app announcements were distinctly personal, and lifestyle focused, hallmarked by the Cycles app, which brings digital management to the menstrual cycle.

Expect privacy to become an increasing part of Apple’s sales pitch and the new “Sign in with Apple” button on iOS apps will only be the start of the company’s emphasis on the differences between its approach to data retention and those of its rather more liberal peers in social media and digital services.