It was a meeting like no other in memory: Apple executives met on the record with members of the press to talk about future products that were still in the planning stages; as well as to discuss Apple’s view of the professional user.
If you haven’t read the original reports, here are two from reporters who were there:
NOTE: All the quotes in this article come from one of these two sources.
Attending the meeting from Apple were Phil Schiller, Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, John Ternus, Vice President of Hardware Engineering, and Bill Evans, with Apple PR. These are the people at Apple most responsible for the Mac’s hardware, software and marketing.
Phil Schiller: “If we’ve had a pause in upgrades and updates, we’re sorry for that — what happened with the Mac Pro — and we’re going to come out with something great to replace it. And that is our intention.” (Reported by Tech Crunch – link is above.)
Whoa! Take time and read that sentence again. This was not an ordinary Apple press event, this was an apology, a product forecast and a reaching-out to professionals. This was unprecedented.
Phil Schiller: “We thought it deserved a moment to talk about the Mac, and particularly, the Mac for our Pro users. We’ll talk about what’s going on and frankly be a little more transparent with some of the things we’re doing, some of the places we’re going, because our pro users desire that and we care deeply about them and we’re dedicated to communicating well with them and helping them understand what we’re doing and what we’re up to. We want to be as transparent as we can, for our pro users, and help them as they make their buying decisions. They invest so much in the Mac, we want to support them, and we care deeply about them. So that’s why we’re here.” (TechCrunch)
“The Mac user base is nearing 100 million users. As a business, it’s also nearing a $25 billion run rate and is close to being a Fortune 100 company on its own. Apple now ships computers at a ratio of 80 percent notebooks to 20 percent desktop computers…. MacBook Pro sales have been strong, with 20 percent growth in fiscal Q1 y/y.” (TechCrunch)
“Apple’s research shows that 15 percent of all Mac users use at least one “pro” app frequently. These are apps for things like music creation, video editing, graphic design, and software development. Basically, apps that are performance intensive. An additional 15 percent of Mac users use pro apps less frequently but at least a few times per month. That 30 percent of the overall Mac user base is what Apple considers the “pro” market.” (Daring Fireball)
“Even among pro users, notebooks are by far the most popular Macs. In second place are iMacs. The Mac Pro is third. Apple declined to describe the Mac Pro’s share of all Mac sales any more specifically than ‘a single-digit percent’.” (Daring Fireball)
REDESIGNING THE MAC PRO
Phil Schiller: “With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking the Mac Pro’. We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.” (Daring Fireball)
Phil Schiller: “As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a Pro display as well. Now you won’t see any of those products this year; we’re in the process of that. We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do.” (Tech Crunch)
John Ternus: “I think one of the foundations of that system was the dual GPU architecture… and for certain workflows, certain classes of pro customers, that’s a great solution. But… to Phil’s point, “Pro” is so broad that it doesn’t necessarily fit all the needs of all the pros.
Ternus continues, “The way the system [was] architected, it just doesn’t lend itself to significant reconfiguration for somebody who might want a different combination of GPUs… That’s when we realized we had to take a step back and completely re-architect what we’re doing and build something that enables us to do these quick, regular updates and keep it current and keep it state of the art, and also allow a little more in terms of adaptability to the different needs of the different pro customers.” (Tech Crunch)
Craig Federighi: “I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will. We designed a system that we thought with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture… that that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped.
Federighi continues, “Being able to put larger single GPUs required a different system architecture and more thermal capacity than that system was designed to accommodate. And so it became fairly difficult to adjust. At the same time, so many of our customers were moving to iMac that we saw a path to address many, many more of those that were finding themselves limited by Mac Pro through a next generation iMac… And really put a lot of our energy behind that. [But,] while that [upgraded iMac] system is going to be fantastic for a huge number of customers — we want to do more. (Tech Crunch)
WHAT THIS MEANS
For the first time in a long time, Apple is sharing its view of the future with the pros who push their gear the most.
Phil Schiller: “We recognize that they want to hear more from us. And so we want to communicate better with them. We want them to understand the importance they have for us, we want them to understand that we’re investing in new Macs — not only new MacBook Pros and iMacs but Mac Pros for them, we want them to know we are going to work on a display for a modular system.”
Schiller continues, “We want them to know we’re continuing to invest in MacOS as well as our pro app software for pros… those are things we want to clearly communicate to them,” he continues. “And yes, we want them to know that, while we have not had updates to the current Mac Pro, we’re going to keep it on the price list because there are customers for whom it does work — for the things they need to do… we want to at least make the value of it better while we’re doing that.” (Tech Crunch)
In new gear terms, Apple said at the meeting:
NOTE: I want to urge Apple to continue development of the Mac Mini. It is the perfect server solution for the small workgroup and fills a vital role in that capacity.
Frankly, I’m really, really surprised that Apple had the courage to have this meeting – and very pleased. In reading the reports, three things struck me:
1. Apple is formally and on-the-record reaching out to professionals. This is very rare. Yes, there are one-on-one conversations, most covered by NDA and all revolving around the launch of a product. This kind of open communication needs to be encouraged to continue.
2. Apple is foreshadowing new gear MONTHS before it is announced and released. That hasn’t happened since Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997. Apple takes enormous pride in keeping secrets – traditionally, talking about future products is a fireable offense. However, from my point of view, it is critical that Apple share the general direction of key roadmaps with the businesses that depend upon their gear. This is the first time they’ve done that publicly.
3. Apple apologized for the lack of upgrades and their silence. This has NEVER happened before. Yay, Apple! I’m delighted at the triumph of honesty over spin.
Some will say that Apple should have realized this and done something sooner. Well, yeah; but Apple thought it had a real winner in the dual-GPU-designed Mac Pro, only to discover over time that the industry preferred single GPU processing over parallel GPU processing. Admitting you’ve made a mistake is neither easy nor quick, especially for large companies.
“We all went on our own emotional journeys, I’d say,” laughs Federighi. “There were periods of denial and acceptance. We all went on that arc.” It takes time to realize that what you thought was so leading-edge had limits. “We were boxed by a circle,” Federighi joked. (TechCrunch)
Apple also made the wise decision to talk with us now, rather than wait until it had product to ship. It is always better to admit a mistake and explain how you are going to fix it than to stay silent; especially when hardware development is involved because the timelines are so long.
To put this new hardware development into perspective, designing a new CPU is not fast. It can take 3-5 years to develop a new chip from initial specification to when it is released to manufacturing. Additionally, once the initial parts come back from a silicon foundry, it can take over a year to test, revise, ramp volume production, and integrate the chip into new computer platforms.
This is why any major changes are going to take awhile – hardware design and development does not move at the lightning speed of software.
However, at the meeting Phil Schiller also made a point to highlight Apple’s commitment to pro software: “I just want to reiterate our strong commitment there, as well. Both with Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X, there are teams on those software products that are completely dedicated to delivering great pro software to our customers. No foot off the gas there.” (Daring Fireball)
This commitment to new hardware and continued development of its pro applications is good news for all of us.
Four weeks ago, I wrote a blog asking Apple to be more transparent to its pro users (“It Wouldn’t Hurt Apple to Give Us a Clue“)
Now, Apple has done just that – shared its commitment to pro users, its plans for developing new systems that meet our needs, and a willingness to share news of products still in development.
As an extremely large public company there will always be specifics that Apple can’t talk about. Still, this is a large and very important first step. I want to encourage Apple to continue to talk with us from time to time. While the proof of all the talk is actual shipping products, a willingness to involve us in the conversion goes a long, long way in reassuring us that their most demanding customers are not forgotten.
Thank you, Apple.
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