Performance-demanding professionals are no longer Apple’s largest customer base, but with yesterday’s launch of the new iMac Pro, power users can now choose between all-in-one and modular Mac models. If the sealed-chassis $4,999 to $13,199 iMac Pro range isn’t expansive or expensive enough for your tastes, good news: Apple has reiterated that it’s working on a “completely redesigned” Mac Pro that’s “modular” and “upgradeable,” plus an accompanying “new high-end pro display.”
Once the flagship of the company’s computer lineup, the Mac Pro has taken a fourth-row back seat to Apple’s increasingly popular MacBook laptops, iMac desktops, and iPad tablets. Each new model has waved goodbye to user upgradeability in the service of thinner, simpler enclosures, while integrating as many components as possible on a single logic board that costs almost as much to replace as buying a brand new machine.
In 2013, Apple confronted accusations of innovation stagnation with its first major Mac Pro redesign in years, debuting the surprisingly small desktop computer with the uncharacteristically blustery phrase “can’t innovate any more, my ass.” Though the 2013 Mac Pro boasted then-powerful CPU and GPU performance, expansion options were limited by its compact size, leading some power users to pass on the machine. After three years, Apple’s marketing and software engineering chiefs acknowledged that the Pro was thermally constrained and hadn’t met the needs of some professional users. The company then publicly suggested that it would bifurcate its Pro desktop lineup, creating a more powerful professional-grade iMac while again redesigning the Mac Pro. The iMac Pro was announced in June, and became available to order this week.
As for the new Mac Pro, specifics are purely speculative at this point. Apple promises that the machine will be “architected for pro customers who need the highest performance, high-throughput system in a modular, upgradeable design.” Externally, that suggests that Apple will opt for a chassis larger than the 12-inch-tall 2013 Mac Pro, more closely resembling its tower-shaped predecessor in size and expandability. Larger Mac Pros would most likely support internal CPU, GPU, and RAM upgrades, though Apple has recently tested support for external Thunderbolt 3 video card enclosures, suggesting that a “modular” design could be compact if some CPU-GPU bandwidth compromises were made — a decision that would presumably limit its throughput.
Also intriguing is Apple’s promise of a new professional monitor, which comes after its unexpected abandonment of the standalone display business in 2016. For years, Apple’s aluminum-clad Cinema Displays were among the industry’s best in both design and color fidelity, remaining at premium prices as rivals offered less expensive solutions. Although rumors suggested the company would debut 4K or 5K monitors matching its 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMac displays, Apple instead assisted LG in releasing “UltraFine,” a family of bland plastic monitors with Apple-like features.
The company’s recommitment to pro displays comes at a time of major transition for creative professionals. Video creators and editors, among Apple’s largest professional constituencies, are increasingly moving toward 8K workflows. As the successor to 4K, 8K video is intended for viewing on much larger screens, for the first time raising the prospect of a larger than 27-inch Apple Pro Display with higher than 5K resolution. With 4K TV adoption still in relatively early stages, however, Apple might stick to more traditional screen sizes and focus on wide color 5K support instead.
Apple is expected to debut the new Mac Pro and professional display in 2018. The company has generally released similar products in the second half of the year.