Apple, “Pro,” and Profits

Apple’s new high-end, all-in-one workstation, the iMac Pro, is now available for order. Many people have gone to Apple’s website to configure the top-of-the-line model, finding it can cost upwards of $13,000 (or about one Apple Watch Edition, first generation). This is obviously just messing around, to see how much it would run to have the best processor, the fastest video card, 128 GB RAM and a 4 TB SSD.

The starting price for the iMac Pro is $5,000, and those who have looked into the various configurations seem to have found that the $7,200 10-core model offers the most bang for the buck.

But this isn’t a Mac for you and me; this is a Mac for real professionals.

For a long time, Apple has used the word “pro” to indicate devices that aren’t for professionals; they just suggest a higher level of performance or options. Take the current iPad Pro; there’s nothing specifically professional about that, it’s an iPad for anyone who wants slightly better features. The iMac Pro is for people with serious needs in terms of processing and data transfer, and not something that you’d buy on a whim.

The MacBook Pro? Nope, not just for professionals, but a better computer than the smaller, more limited MacBook and MacBook Air.

The Mac Pro? Even those computers – there were two models – weren’t just for professionals. I owned both of them. The first, known as the cheese grater because of its case, was a very good computer for anyone who wanted more than an iMac. I bought one back in 2006, and used it for several years. I especially appreciated the ability to add more hard drives and a second optical drive to the computer. It cost more than the current iMac models, but not that much; it started at $2,500, when a 20-inch iMac cost $1,500 at the time. Yes, you needed a display, but many of us already had one.

The second Mac Pro, which I bought in 2014, cost a bit more. (Information I find suggests that it retailed for $3,000, but my invoice shows that I paid under £2,100. I don’t know if I perhaps got a discount somehow…) The 27-inch iMac at the time, with the faster processor option, cost $2,000, so in each of these cases, the Mac Pro cost about 50% more than the best available iMac.

Apple has been criticized in recent years for ignoring the pro market, for still selling the 2013 Mac Pro at the same price as when it was released with now four-year old technology. The iMac Pro is the first attempt to remedy this, and we are told that a new Mac Pro will see the light next year.

My gut feeling is that Apple didn’t update the Mac Pro in part because they didn’t sell a lot of them. (There were some technical reasons that limited their ability to upgrade the computer, because of its form factor.) And they didn’t want to lower the price and admit that they were wrong. But now, they simply need to have professional-quality computers in their line-up.

I’m speculating, but I think Apple won’t be making much of a profit from the iMac Pro, or the coming Mac Pro, but rather needs to have these computers as flagship devices to show that the company can innovate. If they take a loss, because of R&D costs, it’s not a big deal, because for every iMac Pro or Mac Pro they’ll sell, they probably book 10,000 iPhones.

So these computers truly are for professionals, and perhaps some of the technology will trickle down to the rest of us. But above all, I think they are so Apple can show the world that it can still make computers that are better than any others.