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+.

It’s Not That Hard for Apple to Design a New Mac Pro

Mac pro 02Apple recently did a mea-culpa about its failed Mac Pro, and announced that the company was working on a new model, that would perhaps be released next year.

But the company doesn’t need to look far to design a new Mac Pro. They already know how to make it.

Here’s the big problem with Apple’s Mac Pro: the company thought it needed to be sexy. It certainly was, with those curved lines and small footprint. But it’s not practical.

The people who want a new Mac Pro want a computer that allows them the freedom to make changes over time. They want to be able to replace hard drives, video cards, and more; add RAM when they need to. And add PCI cards or other internals.

Apple could make a smaller version of the “cheese grater” Mac Pro pictured above. With the same easy access to the inside of the computer – one side comes off entirely – they would have the space for one or two video cards, several hard drives, and much more.

If there were a good 4K or 5K display, I would buy a Mac Pro like this. While I don’t need “pro” features, I do want a computer that is more flexible, more upgradeable. The only thing I would demand, however, is silence. When I had the cheese grater Mac Pro, it was quieter than previous Macs, but still a bit noisy. In most use, I never hear the fan on my iMac.

So make a new, smaller cheese grater or similar design. Pro users would love it. You don’t even need to bother Jony Ive; after all, his design is the one that failed.

Apple’s Mac Pro Plans

Apple has unveiled plans for its new Mac Pro. The company did so in a meeting with five journalists and bloggers. You can read John Gruber’s account and see what went down.

The whole thing seemed improvised, from the various articles I’ve read. It’s almost as if Apple recently realized that their desktop Mac line-up is an embarrassment and decided to start planning to fix it. Nothing in the transcript of the meeting suggests that they’ve been working on this for any length of time. There is a mention of thermal issues, due to having two GPUs (video cards), but Apple surely knew about this problem at least two years ago, if not more.

The only thing that I can think is that Apple was ready to abandon the Mac Pro, but given the publicity around this moribund computer in recent months, realized that, even if they lose money on a new model, they need to have one. It’s like a concept car, in a way (though concept cars aren’t sold); it’s the hallmark of the company’s ability to innovate (my ass!).

The fact that Apple said they’re working on a new Mac Pro, but that it won’t be released this year, also suggests this is a new project. How long does it take to design a computer? If Apple throws resources at the project, they could certainly get something done sooner. There are only that many form factors that a computer can have, and, while making it look cool is certainly on their minds, they can decide on the shape of the body then work on the innards.

Another thing to bear in mind is that Apple has always been a company where a handful of senior executives micro-manage each product. The company doesn’t have any more senior executives than in the past, but they’re managing more products. In addition to the Mac, there’s the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, services, Apple Music, and one product that most people don’t think about: the new Apple campus. It seems difficult for Apple’s top team to be worrying about their new campus and still have enough time to take on a new product design. Remember that when Apple releases a new product such as an iPhone or iPad, they’re already working in its successor. Why didn’t they do this for the Mac Pro?

So the good news is that the biggest computer company in the world has announced they’ll come out with a new flagship computer at some point in the future. That doesn’t say very much. I was interested to hear that there will be pro models of the iMac down the road, but, again, how long can it take to design them?

Apple tried to reassure, and, on the surface, they may have done that. But the clock is ticking, and people will expect results. When Tim Cook said, at the 2013 WWDC, that there would be a new Mac Pro before the end of the year, that computer only shipped in limited quantities in the last days of the year.

Apple has dropped the ball on the desktop, and they’re playing catch-up. This doesn’t bode well for the future.

The Mac Pro Lives – Daring Fireball

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

This is good news. Especially the part about updatable “modules,” but it’s not clear if that means that users can upgrade them.

But they won’t be out this year.

So Apple bumped the Mac Pro a bit, with faster processors and video cards, but at the same old price. Huh.

Would you buy the new Mac Pro today? Perhaps you really, really need one, but you’re looking at an already end-of-life machine. Sure, it’ll run for a while, but if there’s going to be a newer Mac Pro in, say, a year, you won’t be able to resell the one you buy no. I think Apple should have dropped the price on the upgraded model to factor in obsolescence.

Source: Daring Fireball: The Mac Pro Lives

Apple Launches Repair Program for Trashcan Mac Pro Video Issues

While it looks like Apple has totally forgotten about the Mac Pro it sells, this isn’t the case. As MacRumors reports, Apple is launching a repair program for video issues on some of these computers.

Apple has determined that graphics cards in some late 2013 Mac Pros, manufactured between February 8, 2015 and April 11, 2015, may cause distorted video, no video, system instability, freezing, restarts, shut downs, or may prevent system start up.

Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider will repair eligible Mac Pro models affected by the video issues free of charge. Customers can book an appointment with the Genius Bar at an Apple Store or visit an Apple Authorized Service Provider to determine if their Mac Pro is eligible for coverage.

I bought the trashcan Mac Pro back in June, 2014, but didn’t keep it very long. It was a wonderful computer, but when the retina iMac was released a few months later, I decided that I wanted a better display than what Apple was offering; their old Thunderbolt Display, which was decidedly non-retina.

But I should note that when I first got the Mac Pro, it didn’t work well. It was unstable, and system startup was very slow. At one point, I timed the startup, and it took 9 minutes. The problem had something to do with one of the busses on the connector panel, and that may have been related to this video issue. Apple exchanged the Mac Pro quickly, since it didn’t work correctly out of the box.

I should add that when I bought the 5K iMac, I had expected it to be easy to sell the Mac Pro. It wasn’t; it was the most difficult Mac I’ve ever sold, and I took quite a hit on the price. Apple has given up on the Mac Pro now, not having updated it since its release over two years ago, and I guess we’ll probably never see another computer like this from the company.

The ‘New’ Mac Pro Is a Failure – The Mac Observer

“While its trashcan form factor may work well for some (perhaps, as a new Mac mini pro, or maybe Mac Pro mini), it’s inadequate for traditional Mac creatives/professionals. For real pros, it’s a plain and simple failure.”

John Kheit lets loose with a lot of complaints about the “new” Mac Pro, released at the very end of 2013, and not upgraded since. He laments that fact that other Macs are faster, and that:

Poor trashcan Mac users have been forced to live like animals with rats nests of external drives, cables, PCI cages (because lots of people still need expansion cards)–all of these things are big, clunky, with noisy fans (rendering the quietness and compactness of the trashcan Mac meaningless), all while sucking up more power than the tidy integrated cMP.

I bought a Mac Pro in mid 2014, and I loved it. For the work I do, it was great. You could argue that, as a writer, I didn’t need such a powerhouse, and I don’t. However, I had decided to start digitizing my DVD and Blu-Ray collection, and the Mac I had previously – a Mac mini – just wasn’t up to the task.

(You can read my first impressions of the Mac Pro and my second impressions.)

I loved the look of the Mac Pro, and it was dead quiet. I did have to connect it to external hard drives, but that was just a single Thunderbolt cable. The USB cables, however, along with another cable to my Thunderbolt display, did make it a bit of a mess. Apple designed an attractive computer, but didn’t provide a way to keep the cables from looking unsightly.

What finally made me give up on it, however, was the fact that Apple hadn’t – and still hasn’t – released a standalone retina display. So when the 5K iMac was released, I bought one instantly, and sold the Mac Pro. It wasn’t easy though. The price of a new Mac Pro on eBay had dropped by 20%, and, fortunately, I had bought my Mac Pro with a discount (thanks unnamed Apple Store employees), so I didn’t lose too much money. But of the many used Macs I sold over the years, this was the hardest one to sell.

If Apple had released a standalone retina display, I’d have kept the Mac Pro; it really was a cool computer. But seeing what’s happened since then – no changes to the computer in two years – shows that Apple just doesn’t care. Or, that iMacs can do pretty much everything that pros need, as long as they have some Thunderbolt peripherals.

Source: The ‘New’ Mac Pro Is a Failure – The Mac Observer

The New Mac Pro Collects Dust

I’ve loved my Mac Pro since I got it back in June. It looks cool, it’s fast, and it’s really quiet. But I’ve recently noticed a smell in my office; a burning smell, the kind you get when you turn on a light bulb that’s been off for a long time. Yesterday, I picked up the Mac Pro – something I hadn’t done in a while – and saw that there was a lot of dust collected outside the vents on the bottom. I leaned over the top of the Mac Pro, and breathed in the air coming out the top, and it did, indeed, smell a bit of burning dust.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.47.36 PM.pngI took off the cover, and held it by my window, then blew through the vents from the bottom to the top; a lot of dust came out. I’m going to get a can of compressed air, and try and give it a good cleaning. Any dust that goes in the bottom may accumulate inside the “unified thermal core,” and that would be what smells a bit.

The problem with the Mac Pro is that it sits flush on a desk or shelf. Dust settles on flat surfaces, and having the vents directly on a flat surface means that this computer will likely pull in more dust than, say, an iMac, where the vent is on the bottom-right of the display, a few inches above your desk.

If you have a Mac Pro, you might want to look at the bottom vents, and see if they’ve got dust around them. I could blame Titus the Cat, whose hair is certainly everywhere in the house, but, since he doesn’t go on my desk, I’d say it’s not really his fault. The design of the Mac Pro is such that it’s going to pick up any dust on your desk, and slowly pull that dust inside the computer.

Mac Pro Audio Ports: Microphones Not Recognized

You can’t plug a microphone with a 1/8″ plug into a new Mac Pro. Here’s why.

I’ve got a microphone to review for Macworld, specifically for its use with speech recognition software such as Dragon Dictate. (, Amazon UK) I was surprised to find that the Mac Pro doesn’t recognize this microphone.

HT6024_1-macpro-audio_ports-001-mul.png Apple has a support document entitled Mac Pro (Late 2013): Audio ports which explains the audio interfaces on this computer. It says:

Audio out: The left audio port with a speaker icon is a 1/8″ stereo minijack for audio line out. It can use analog audio and digital S/PDIF fibre optic cables. Audio devices you connect to the port will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Output. Note that this port does not support headsets or microphones.

Headphone port: The right audio port with a headset icon is a 1/8″ stereo minijack for headphones. When you plug in headphones to this port, sound is redirected from the internal speakers to the headphones. Headphones will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Output. If the headset contains a microphone, it will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Input. iPhone headsets including mic and inline controls are supported. Digital output devices are not supported on this port.”

You’d expect that the headphone port would work with a microphone. When I plug a Sennheiser PX 100 II-i into that port, it shows up in the Input pane of the Sound preferences as External Microphone.

System Preferences001.png

But when I plug the microphone I’m reviewing into the same port, it doesn’t show up. Since it’s a microphone only – not a headset with mike – it’s not recognized.

2014-08-01 10.27.55-4.jpgI’m not sure why this is the case, but I suspect it has something to do with the type of plugs each device has. As you can see in this photo, the Sennheiser headset with microphone has a 4-part plug; the other microphone has a 3-part plug. My guess is that the Mac Pro is recognizing the different parts of the plug in order to detect whether or not it will recognize the device.

Whatever the case, it’s important to know that a standard microphone with a 1/8″ plug won’t work in the Mac Pro. If you have one, and want to use it with the Mac Pro, you’ll need some other way of getting the audio into the computer, such as a USB adapter. (, Amazon UK) The mike I’m testing does come with a USB adapter, but I wanted to try it without the adapter to see if there was any difference in accuracy.

Second Impressions: New Mac Pro

You may have seen that I got a new Mac Pro; I wrote some first impressions of it last week. Now that I’ve been using it for a while – well, a few days – I have some more thoughts about this computer.

First, like the Mac it replaced (a Mac mini), it’s essentially invisible. While I have it visible on my desk, between my display and a speaker, I don’t notice it.

It’s so quiet that I can easily forget that it’s there. Not only is the fan quiet, but since there are no moving parts other than the fan – no internal hard drives – it doesn’t even transfer any vibrations to my desk.

But I do need access it occasionally. All the ports it has make it easy to connect peripherals; while I don’t connect and disconnect Thunderbolt cables, I do connect a USB cable from time to time, if I’m syncing or charging something (other than with the Lightning cable, which remains connected to the Mac Pro at all times).

The icons and borders that light up on the panel with all the plugs may seem like a gadget, but it’s actually quite useful when you’re connecting a cable.

While most of my work involves words, the Mac Pro is one fast computer. I sometimes need to convert music files that I’ve downloaded in FLAC; I use XLD, and I used to run it with four concurrent conversions. On the Mac mini, I’d get about 20x for each one. On the Mac Pro, I can run eight, at about 45x. Videos convert very quickly; I’ve already started digitizing a lot of my DVDs, and the Mac Pro is so quiet that I can run Handbrake while I work. With the Mac mini, the fan went into overdrive, making that an annoyance.

This is the first Mac I’ve had on the desktop that has USB 3. While I have a retina MacBook Pro with USB 3, I don’t often connect peripherals to it. But the Mac Pro is where my iTunes library lives, so I connect my iOS devices to sync them. The USB 3 transfer speed is noticeably faster than the USB 2 speed with the Mac mini, though I doubt that iOS devices can use the full speed available. But syncing a lot of content to an iOS device is at least twice as fast as before. Activity Monitor shows read speeds from around 30-45 MB/sec when syncing my iPhone 5s. (It’s likely that older iOS devices won’t sync as fast.)

Activity Monitor001.png

Update: When I wrote the above, I had just assumed the iPhone 5s was a USB 3 device, but it’s not; it’s USB 2. As a commenter points out below, the difference in transfer speed highlights just how much USB depends on the CPU of a computer.

iTunes searches are fast, and, while iTunes has beachballed a few times, I’m pretty sure it’s because I have my external hard drives set to sleep when inactive, and iTunes needs to wake them up. I need to test this a bit more.

I’m having one sleep-related issue: it goes to sleep when I don’t want it to. If I’m downloading something, and I’m not in front of the computer and using it, it will go to sleep, and the download stops; depending on how I initiated the download, I may have to restart it. There are third-party apps that can prevent sleep, but the Energy Saver setting – Prevent computer from sleeping automatically when the display is off – doesn’t seem to work.

System Preferences002.png

The Mac Pro has done exactly what a good computer should: it has made itself unobtrusive. I don’t hear it, and it doesn’t slow me down. It’s a shame one has to spend the kind of money this computer costs to get those features, and I hope that, one day, all computers will be like this. But for now, I’m quite satisfied with this new Mac Pro.