I have written much on Apple’s relationship with its Mac Pro desktop computer – how it hadn’t had a proper redesign for over a decade (The Mac that time forgot), why Apple hates users opening its products (The real reason why the Mac Pro was doomed), and a rose-tinted remembrance of former Apple towers (Apple towers of power - a history of pro Macs).
Apple CEO Tim Cook had been promising us Mac Pro fans (and that thing required a lot of noisy fans to stay cool) something extraordinary, and finally delivered at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). See Mac Pro preview.
Unlike every supposedly “new” Mac Pro since 2003 the new Mac Pro really is something different – both in looks and features.
First, the looks – which the Apple management team was so excited about at the WWDC unveiling.
It’s black. And that’s a big deal when it comes to Macs, which are currently all aluminium-grey only. While black iPhones and iPads are commonplace black Macs are a rare beast. There was the 1996 Performa 5420 Director Edition and the ultra-rare Macintosh TV from 1993, which lasted all of five months before being discontinued. The first Apple PowerBooks were all a dark enough grey to be considered black but there was a big gap before the properly black MacBook (2006-8) was available. See: For Apple the price is white
So Apple is making a statement by making the new Mac Pro black. It’s new. It’s different. It’s niche. And, most importantly, it’s super cool.
While most Apple products are pretty cool the new Mac Pro has only two real rivals for the coolest Mac ever.
The first was 1997’s 20th Anniversary Mac (TAM), a limited-edition all-in-one system to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Apple – although it was a year late for that milestone. The Mac Pro is about five years late, but, hey…
The TAM looked like a computer from the future. It wasn’t beige – instead it was painted metallic green/gold. And it was one of the first desktop computers to use an LCD screen, measuring just 2.5 inches deep. Apple wouldn’t make an all-in-one desktop this thin till the iMac G5 in 2004. Coolest of all, TAM even had its own start-up chime.
Apple made 12,000 TAMs, and prices started at US$7,500 but had dropped to just $2,000 a year later. It was über cool but too expensive – a classic Apple double whammy, and one repeated with the coolest desktop ever – 2000’s Power Mac G4 Cube.
It wasn’t just the shape – the G4 Cube was small… ludicrously small, measuring just seven inches. Its big brother, the Power Mac G4, was a 17-inch tall tower.
Again it was too expensive for most people – $200 more than the more powerfulm and expandable tower. It looked like a luxury – something you aspired to but ended up buying the cheaper, more capable alternative. See: Insanely bad Apple.
The new Mac Pro might well suffer the same fate – except there’s no real alternative.
Like the Cube the Mac Pro is a study in cool, and very small compared to the old tower. The old Mac Pro was 20 inches tall and 19 inches deep. The new Darth Vader model is half as high and just 6.6 inches in diameter – in total about an eighth of the size of its predecessor.
Shape is key, too. The Cube looked like no other computer, and neither does the cylindrical Pro. The Pro is more tube than cube. Post Steve Jobs the cube is now just too square to be cool. It has been compared to a wastebin, but that didn’t stop the world gasping when seeing it for the first time. It also looks rather like a D-Link wireless router.
Apple hasn't entirely done with the cube. The new Apple AirPort Time Capsule, reviewed, is a tall cuboid with rounded corners.
Apple hasn’t announced the Mac Pro price yet, but you can be sure that it won’t be cheap. And like the TAM and the Cube it’s barely expandable. Components such as motherboards and expansion cards are rectangular, and squeezing these into a tiny cylinder is even harder than forcing them into a cube.
The Mac Pro is aimed at creative professionals, and they’re going to have to fork out on multiple external expansions, such as large Thunderbolt hard disks and an optical drive – which add to the expense and rather detract from the Pro’s good looks. What’s the point of a black beauty if its wired like a hospital patient to a host of aluminium peripherals?
The term desktop is a bit of a misnomer as most towers are kept under the desk. You can break your toes on the current Mac Pro. The new Pro is so small you could kick it and it would roll to the other end of the room, or at least as far as the trailing Thunderbolt cables will allow it.
Apple is often accused of creating products that sacrifice function for form, and I fear the Mac Pro will suffer like the Cube. Creative people like cool products probably more than the next Mac fan but most don’t have bank accounts stuffed full of cash like Apple.
The G4 Cube was immediately installed in the New York Museum of Modern Art, and I expect they’ll be ordering a Mac Pro to go right beside it. It will win a legion of design awards for sure, but I’m not convinced designers will award themselves with one unless Apple is uncharacteristically lenient on the pricing.
Now that would be cool.