Mac Pro panic: Why Apple is running scared in the workstation market

First, Apple admitted it goofed on the aging Mac Pro, and it promised a new, flexible version next year. Then, it pre-announced the iMac Pro -- due in December -- at WWDC 2017. Apple is running scared in the pro market. Why?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Pro users are some of the most loyal Apple customers. They tend to be creative types who appreciate Apple's attention to detail, and they don't mind paying for high-quality hardware.

Creative pros have grumbled for years that Apple has either a) abandoned them, or b) is about to abandon them.


The hot workstation market

First of all, the workstation market is hot. Jon Peddie Research reports the market grew 22.5 percent in the first quarter of 2017.

That's because -- unlike the consumer PC market -- workstation users make money from their systems. So faster is more profitable -- and justifiable.

But that's the small part of Apple's problem. New applications -- VR/AR, real-time 4K rendering and motion capture, AI, and more -- are being developed on more suitable Wintel workstations.

Apple risks being locked out of an entire generation of high-growth apps because they don't have a competitive workstation. They could lose the high-end creatives who kept them alive during the 1990s dark times.

Read also: Just how overpriced is Apple's new iMac Pro? | The best ways to run Windows 10 on your Mac | We don't need better Macs. We need more powerful iPads | Is Microsoft cheating on Intel with ARM?

Apple's fumbles

Apple would probably claim -- if it responded to criticism -- that it's been just as focused on the pro market as ever. But it's been focused on products that don't meet the needs of pros.

  • Mac Pro. Jony Ive's design team went for art, not functionality, in the soon-to-be-discontinued Mac Pro.
  • iPad Pro. A wonderful device, especially with the Pencil, for sketching and photo editing, but not video and related apps, which is a high-growth creative market.
  • 15-inch MacBook Pro. A powerful machine, but the reliance on older processors and a 16GB memory limit made it less "pro" than buyers hoped.
  • iPhone. It's no secret that the money-spinning iPhone has first dibs on Apple resources. That's hurt the pro focus.

Wintel scores

All of Apple's fumbles wouldn't matter much if Wintel hadn't made significant strides in the last five years. With smartphones and tablets vacuuming up the consumer low-end, Wintel vendors have refocused on the higher end -- and more profitable -- market, which includes workstations.

What has Wintel done right?

  • Windows 10. There's much less difference between the look and feel of macOS and Windows 10 than there used to be. Heartburn for some Windows users, but a pleasant surprise for Mac users.
  • Ultrabooks. While Wintel vendors still have problems matching Apple's quality, they have produced a slew of competitive models that reduce the delta between Mac and Wintel.
  • Tablets. I haven't seen a tablet as good as an iPad, but some have come close. Tablets have become must-have accessories for creatives.
  • Surface. Microsoft's Surface line has shown what throwing a lot of money at touchscreen design can do -- and Apple has been caught flatfooted.

The Storage Bits take

Make no mistake: Apple's top executives are in panic mode over the Mac workstation problem. Apple needs pro creatives to maintain their street cred.

If the design community abandons it, it is the beginning of the end for the Mac. The Mac's steadily climbing market share will tank, application vendors will flee, and the death spiral will begin.

Is it too little, too late? Perhaps. There are a lot of Apple loyalists in the creative community, but they have to go where the market leads them.

It's safe to assume that Mac app evangelists are working long hours to persuade cutting-edge app developers to port to -- or stay on -- macOS. Mac App Store shelf space is being offered, as well as co-marketing dollars, pre-release units, engineering access, whatever you need!

Will it work? Tune in next year!

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

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