A History of the Mac Pro

By: Michael Savich

The year was 2013. Professionals and power users of Macs were getting antsy. All the attention coming from the press, public, and (it seemed) Apple itself, was focused on the meteoric rise of the iPhone and iPad. But these power users, people with demanding workflows that require the state of the art in computational technology (video professionals, scientists, developers, etc.) weren’t that interested. Sure, the iPhone is great, but it doesn’t pay the bills the way a Mac can. The flagship Mac, the Mac Pro, had been seriously neglected. The last change was a minor refresh back in 2012, which didn’t bring new technologies  already found on MacBooks to the company’s most expensive machine. It was, as many at the time said, barely an update.

At their annual developer convention in 2013, Apple was already almost an hour into the keynote address when, following a discussion of new wireless routers and cheaper MacBook Airs, presenter and executive Phil Schiller paused for a second. “We’re going to do something different,” he said.

The words “Sneak Peek” appeared on the presentation display behind him. A second later, it was replaced by the words “Mac Pro.” Applause from the audience. Phil proceeded to play a promotional video. What happened onscreen is hard to put into words. The video was a pure black picture, until suddenly there was a flash in the darkness. Something— not shaped like any computer we’d seen before— was moving around in the shadows. This was something different. Something new. When a full picture of the machine finally revealed itself, the entire audience gasped.

It was a trash can.

“Can’t innovate my ass!” Phil exclaimed as he moved back to the center of the stage.

To be clear, the Mac Pro, perhaps more charitably described as resembling a jet engine, was an impressive feat of engineering. The chief feature of its design was a “thermal core” that pulled heat away from the internal components, and allowed the hot air to rise up out of the top of the machine. This reduced the need for fans, which meant the new Mac Pro is one of the quietest workhorse machines ever made.

It was later that year that Apple finally shipped the new Mac Pro. They haven’t updated it since. Technology has moved on in myriad ways and the Mac Pro quickly became a relic, even though the price tag stayed the same.

It was in 2016 that the issue finally came to a head. The Mac Pro was so far behind that there were now things that, simply put, no Mac could do, such as powering a Virtual Reality headset. Pro users and tech bloggers, feeling neglected, began to question whether Apple cared about the Mac anymore. Apple’s narrative that the iPad Pro is the future of computing only fed that doubt.

In April of 2017, Apple finally broke its silence on the matter. It turns out, they had made a mistake. The design of the 2013 Mac Pro was flawed. When Apple tried to swap in newer components, the extra heat given off by these  newer and more powerful parts caused the machine to melt and malfunction. There was no way to take the trash can design any further.

Instead, Apple announced that a new more “modular” design for the Mac Pro is in development. But they couldn’t even show a sneak peak this time around. All they could confirm was that it wouldn’t be released in 2017. What is known that at some future point a Mac Pro, with a newer and less melty design will be made available.

That being said, almost nobody buys the Mac Pro because most people simply don’t need that kind of power—even most professional use cases are covered by the portable MacBook Pro. But the Mac Pro stands as proof of just how powerful a Mac can be, and that the Apple brand is capable of producing state of the art hardware. It’s a figurehead, an ideal, something to give the Mac lineup both direction and magnitude.

Apple has stated its commitment to high end Macs. And in turn, that is a commitment to all Macs. But actions speak louder than words. It’s not enough for Apple to roll out a single new Mac Pro. They have to update it each year to keep it competitive. If recent history is any indication, regularly updating the Mac Pro is not something Apple is particularly good at. But hey, if we take them at their word, Apple has turned over a new leaf. That’s good for something, right?

(Photo Credit: Apple)

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