Apple’s “Pro” Branding Confusion

Mac proIt’s been a week since Apple announced their new “cheese-grater” Mac Pro, the first non-iMac desktop computer in more than five years. Many Mac users have been griping about the price – it starts at $6,000, but, with lots of RAM and extras, could cost upwards of $35,000 – with an odd sense of entitlement. These people are complaining about a computer that’s not for them, but are acting as if it should be.

Part of the problem is Apple’s use of the term “Pro” in its product names. This new Mac Pro is really a computer for pros, for a very small niche of pros: high-end (movie) video editors, music producers, etc. It’s not for some Mac user in their bedroom, study, or basement. The price tag is not excessive for the target demographic.

But Apple has used “Pro” to market other devices. I have two of them: a MacBook Pro and an iPad Pro. Does this make me a pro? I guess in some ways I am. I use my Macs and iOS devices for professional work, but as a writer, the processing power I need is limited. The only work I do that stresses my processors is photo editing, and, to be fair, I find that with my current iMac, I move Lightroom sliders, and I don’t see the changes in real time, so I could use a bit more power. But I don’t need the new Mac Pro. (I did own two of the previous Mac Pros: one cheese grater and one trashcan.)

Apple originally used the “Pro” term to distinguish a higher level of functionality than the standard models. It makes sense to brand devices, such as the iPad, in such a way. It’s a lot better than just having an iPad with three different levels of specs. Same with the MacBook Pro, which was born back when the MacBook was the plastic Apple laptop. The Pro device came with a metal body, faster processors, better video, and more. But then the MacBook (plastic) was retired, and some years later, the MacBook (aluminium) was introduced (alongside the MacBook Air). It’s fair to say that Apple branded itself into a corner.

So we now have a real Pro desktop Mac again, at a price that is really for pros. And this confuses people, because they had come to believe that, with a MacBook Pro or iPad Pro, they were pros.

Maybe Apple should have called the new computer the Mac Pro+.

8 thoughts on “Apple’s “Pro” Branding Confusion

  1. The term “pro” has become almost meaningless because marketers across the board came to use it too often. It’s like golf equipment in that new drivers made by Taylor Made (even though the word “pro” may not be included in their name) used by pro golfers are made available in golf equipment stores. Duffers buy them to feel like they can have some of the power of their favorite pros that play the tour. Apple customers would naturally buy into that same mindset. Like having a fast car with all the bells and whistles, the power is there (for them) as a status thing, even though they’d never drive the car to its full potential. Marketers know this.

    • True, it’s nothing new, and it’s obvious that Apple has been doing it for a long time. But they’ve gotten bitten by their own hubris here, because this one really is for pros.

      This said, the delta between the price of standard very good golf clubs and “pro” golf clubs probably isn’t as large (don’t forget to not base your perception on the entry level price of the Mac Pro).

  2. You’re right about the confusion, but I think the rationale is not right. I’m a creative professional and have always used and been able to afford Apple’s top-line products. They were designed for people like me. What’s happened over time is that the Pro products have become more prosumer and Apple have really left creatives in the lurch not seeming to care for this group… the same group that saw them through the dark days (who gives a toss about creatives when you’re selling x amount of phones a second). They also decided to do some very bean-countery stuff like soldered in ram and hard drives – that is very anti-pro. There are plenty of creative professionals out there like me who won’t be able to afford this Mac Pro—even though we have had all the other Mac Pro models that have come before. I’m not an aspirant or a wannabe, I am a creative pro who has a plethora of heavy apps open simultaneously flicking between all of them. You are right to say this Mac Pro is for a very niche group with super high end needs and so Apple have once again ignored the bulk of creative professionals. There are also rumors that apple are working on a MacBook ProPro—the pro version of the MacBook Pro—which demonstrates the point that the current crop of MacBook Pros are more prosumer than pro. I’m guessing it’ll be aimed at the same niche and out of reach of creatives like me.

    I’m now looking at a Mac Mini 🙁

    • I agree that we definitely need something in between. I wonder if Apple won’t take some of the technology in this new Mac Pro and build it into something intermediate next year.Because they won’t move a lot of units of this new computer; but something with slightly less power and a lower price they would.

  3. I understand what you are saying about the usage of the word “pro”. But some of it is shortsited when you are describing users.

    I have 2 thunderbolt displays and a maxed out Mac pro 2013. I am an art director and just because I am not editing film or audio, I am absolutely a ‘REAL pro’: I work in my own commercial studio, not at home and hire freelancers when I work on large projects. I do branding for corporations, digital design, and create large scale graphics for interiors. I need two displays and a desktop as my personal workstation. I don’t need the processing power of a movie studio, but I do need something with way more power than what I have now.

    So yes, I am disappointed because I had planned on upgrading my 2013 Mac Pro and 2 displays to the latest setup, but to replicate my current setup it will now cost a minimum of $18K for the Mac Pro, two displays, and two display stands.

    Otherwise I would have to buy an iMac and figure out a 2nd display setup. None of which is a good option.

    I am disappointed that my options to upgrade have been narrowed down to this and that Apple is catering to a small, specific pro market.

    • But you don’t need to buy the display that they introduced this week. You could buy two 4K or 5K displays from another manufacturer.

  4. Weather or not these were intended for real Pro users, Apple has lost touch with its user base over the years. You should have to be rich to be considered a professional. Like me, most people were expecting to get back control and be able to upgrade their machines.

    Apple continues to move in the wrong direction with this eco system. In Febuary, after 30 years of Mac, and no good replacement for my 2012 pro tower, I built my first PC. All the software I used on a Mac runs on a PC and more. Build was $2300 and at the current specs, will be much faster with a 16 core AMD for $600.

    Good luck Apple, Steve isn’t around anymore to save you.

  5. Have you ever tried to match up a 4K or 5K display next to an iMac Pro? Or any 5K iMac? It’s a terrible experience. So if you want two lesser displays than are included with either iMac, you have to settle for a mini, which is severely underpowered and expensive to expand, or you have to shell out the cost of a car to get the new Mac Pro, and still have lesser displays — unless you can easily buy another half a car.

    My complaint is that the new Mac Pro is specced lesser than the iMac Pro, iMac 5K, and new MacBook Pro in terms of SSD speeds; that its six channel memory will require an immediate upgrade from the included four sticks of RAM to realize full speeds; that the base video card is also lesser than every other family, and of course, you don’t get an industry-leading 5K display; and for all this you have the privilege of paying thousands more, even at entry level.

    This machine is an absolute price gouge necessary to pay for just to get the PCIe (3.1!! Not even 4.0!!) slots and ram slots we need. I’m guessing the real entry price is going to land at right around $8.5K, just to more or less match what you get in a base iMac Pro — still not including displays.

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