Way back in 2009 we ran an article titled What if Apple never updates the iMac? It had been over two years since Apple had updated the iMac and the market was clearly moving towards a mobile future.
The artice pondered whether in an increasingly mobile world, Apple would be "one of the first major computer manufacturers to eject the idea of the desktop computer. At least in the consumer space."
See also: The Mac that time forgot
Well here were are again. It's been two and a half years since Apple last really updated its Mac Pro (July 2010, when it introduced SSD and 12 core options).
We won't say again, 'what if Apple never updates the Mac Pro. We're sure that Apple is going to introduce a new type of Mac Pro, and it'll probably do so in June 2013 at the WWDC (Tim Cook, Apple CEO all but confirmed this in an email exchange).
The question now, is, should Apple bother? And beyond that what kind of high-end computer makes sense in today's world. The honest answer is that we're not really sure.
One thing to understand is that the Mac Pro isn't really a high-powered consumer computer, or even a business computer used in a design setting. It's a workstation, and workstations operate to different rules than desktop computers.
A workstation is a high-end computer designed to be used by a single person who requires serious computing power. The typical market for workstations is 3D mechanical design, engineering simluation, animation studios, and video production houses - most of which don't lack for serious alternatives that are cheaper, updated more frequently and have similar - or even better - levels of software support. It may well be that Apple has simply lost this market, as it did the server market with the Xserve, either because it wasn't competitive enough or dedicated enough.
News today that Apple now has 20 per cent of all consumer tech revenues in the US, and that's not just computer revenue but all revenue suggests that - commercially at least - Apple is doing the right thing.
We spoke to some Apple resellers, one told us: "The Mac Pro removal is not really going to be that huge of a problem, it was a very small seller in the APR channel so much so that it was removed along with the Mac mini off the stores display."
The fact is that most consumers and even professionals switched over to the iMac a long time ago. As our reseller said "Most customers have been waiting for a serious upgrade on the Mac Pro the iMac is still a better all round machine and still has great upgradable
options on it."
Indeed, the most high profile HP workstation, the Z1, is designed to look like an iMac and offers performance somewhere between an iMac and a Mac Pro.
In retrospect it's pretty clear what happened for the two years that Apple took to update the iMac. Apple had spent considerable time after the iPhone launch in 2009 directing resources away from the iMac towards other projects, most notably iOS projects including the iPad. It's clearly spent a lot of time lately introducing considerable design refreshes to both the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iMac. Apple intensely focusses on products, and we think it tends to focus on one thing at a time.
Another reseller we spoke to said: "it just sounds to me, like someone dropped the ball, I mean, as many U.S. companies say it's only Europe (high cost of product, localisation, local regs, WEEE etc)! They'll have a compliant Mac Pro machine later this year and as you say demand must be on the decline being such an old model."
In 2012 Steve Jobs told the D8 conference that the day is coming when only one out of every few people will need a traditional computer: "When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that's what you needed on the farms. PCs are going to be like trucks," Jobs said. "They are still going to be around" but only "one out of x people will need them."
It's also worth bearing in mind that the iPad itself has had a tremendous impact on the computer market. Far from being the harbinger of doom, it has reinvigorated the desktop market. People still need the 'truck-like' performance of computers, but they don't necessarily need them to be as portable as laptops now that they have portable iOS devices.
We're pretty sure Apple isn't ready to abandon the higher-end of the desktop market to Dell and HP, but does it really need a workstation? Or to put it bluntly do we need a workstation from Apple? Would Apple be better of building a new kind of professional computer that is a consumer device, but more easily and comprehensively expandable (either internally or externally than its iMac and Mac mini range).
This could take the form of a iMac pro with display, or a Mac mini Pro-esque device that eschews the Mac Pro form factor in favour of a slimmed down design. Or something completely different.
Although as one of our Apple reseller friends pointed out: "It does highlight that Apple is heading into an entirely consumer world and business customers have to compromise if they want to stay Mac. I guess it highlights that as a business group the Mac Pro team generate less profit per head than other areas of their business."