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These two powerful Mac model updates are still MIA. Should you care?

Tim Cook's self-imposed two year transition deadline has passed and still we haven't seen new Mac Pros or 27-inch iMacs. But should we care?
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CNET

While the classic definition for "missing in action" is derived from a military situation, "Missing and unable to be confirmed as captured or killed following military action," Webster's dictionary also describes "missing in action" as meaning, "Often used figuratively for someone or something notably or unexpectedly missing, absent, or inactive."

And that, the "notably or unexpectedly missing, absent" part, brings us to Tim Cook.

In June of 2020, Apple announced its transition to Apple Silicon processors, saying the "first system ships by year's end, beginning a two-year transition." Every Mac model has transitioned to Apple Silicon, except for the Mac Pro and the 27-inch iMac. If Apple's timeline is to be believed, the two year period would have expired last June. But even if we were generous and allowed until the end of the calendar year, the two missing in action Macs should be available no later than the end of this December.

Also: Mac Studio vs. Mac Pro and Mac Mini: How to choose

Based on reporting by Mark Gurman, Bloomberg's Apple prognosticator extraordinaire, there will be no new Macs introduced this year. That not only includes our MIA Mac Pro and 27-inch iMac, but the expected M2 Apple Silicon upgrades to MacBook Pros and the Mac mini.

For the record, "mini" is the only postpositive proper adjective that Apple uses without capitalizing the word. Apple capitalizes "Pro," "Max," "Ultra," and even "Air." But poor "mini" is left on its own without an initial capital letter, probably because it's small and cute. I'm telling you, stick with ZDNET. These are the deep thoughts we have at 5am that we feel compelled to share with you.

In any case, don't count on an Apple Silicon Mac Pro or 27-inch iMac in 2022.

How troubling is this absence?

To answer this, let's roll back our calendars to mid-2018. In a roundtable discussion, Jason Perlow, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Boinx Software CEO Oliver Breidenbach, and I looked at the then future of Macs for professionals. This was an important topic because the Mac Pro hadn't had an update in five years, and the Mac mini had had an upgrade four years earlier, but it was terrible. And even the line-leading MacBook Pros were shackled with the terrible "butterfly" keyboard and a paucity of ports.

As our discussion showed, we were genuinely concerned that serious professionals wouldn't be able to find the horsepower they needed to keep doing their jobs from an Apple product line that was clearly teetering on obsolescence.

Things did get better later in the year. Remember that Apple was still shipping Intel Macs only. Apple introduced a much more capable Mac mini after years of ignoring it. A year later, Apple upgraded the Mac Pro to a very powerful but incredibly painfully expensive model. And a year after that, in 2020, Apple replaced the butterfly keyboard with what they now called the Magic keyboard (it was Magic, presumably, because it didn't constantly piss off its users).

Also: Migrating to M1 Macs: How I'm upgrading my small fleet of older Apple desktops and laptops

So if this were still 2018, as the situation was in 2018, the absence of a new Mac introductions would have been serious indeed. Back then, creative professionals and power users who relied on Macs had no headroom to grow. There was a lot of discussion about whether it was time for Mac users to move to Windows PCs.

Keep in mind that pros look at computers differently than regular users. For pros, their computer choice is often about what applications run on what platform, and a switch can be a huge effort, especially when a lot of specialty workflow is tied to a given platform. So while someone who just surfs the web or uses Microsoft Office could easily jump from Mac to Windows, someone who has built petabytes of videos in Final Cut Pro (which only runs on Macs) has a much more challenging issue.

In 2018, Apple hadn't articulated its future plans (it was undoubtedly working on the Apple Silicon transition), making planning decisions difficult for Mac-using pros. Apple hadn't even done processor spec bumps for many of its Macs, leading to a relatively well-justified speculation that Apple was phasing out its interest in Macs.

Also: Apple Silicon, Rosetta, M1, M2, SoC: Why these terms matter to every computer buyer

Now, let's fast forward to today. Apple's support of the Mac platform now is nothing short of spectacular. The M1 and M2 lines of Apple Silicon are incredible performers. Nearly everyone who has bought an M1 or M2-based Mac has found substantial performance leaps over the previous Intel-based platform. Pro users are no longer existentially concerned that Apple is abandoning the Macintosh platform.

So, in late 2022, how difficult is it to live without an M1 or M2 Mac Pro, and a 27-inch iMac based on the same technology? Let's look at each in turn.

New Mac Pro

What defines a Mac Pro? Fundamentally, it's supposed to be the Mac that delivers all the power needed by the most power-hungry professional Mac user. It's supposed to be everything the Mac experience offers, with no compromises.

Also: Introducing my design for an Apple Silicon-based Mac Pro

While the old 2013 "trash can" Mac Pro fell far short of that promise, the current 2019 Intel Mac Pro still mostly delivers as much headroom at the top of the Mac line as most people are likely to need.

Yes, fully equipped, it's insanely expensive. But, fully equipped, it supports 1.5 terabytes of RAM. The 8- to 28-core Cascade Lake Xeon-W processors are dated, because Comet Lake, Rocket Lake, and Ice Lake processor generations have been released since Cascade Lake. But Cascade Lake is still no slouch. Neither are the graphics options. While the base AMD Radeon Pro W5500X isn't half bad, by the time you upgrade to dual Radeon Pro W6800X Duo graphics processors, you've got some serious oomph.

So, Mac users in dire need of performance can still turn to the 2019 Mac Pro and get their needs met. Even better, though, is the second option: the Mac Studio.

The Mac Studio is Apple's extremely powerful new desktop Mac. It can be equipped with Apple's stupendously powerful M1 Ultra chip with 20-core CPU, 64-core GPU, and 32-core Neural Engine and up to 128MB RAM. Some early benchmarks even show that the vastly less expensive Mac Studio is 20% faster on multi-core performance and 56% faster on single-core performance than the Mac Pro.

The fact is, pro users in need of Mac power are no longer left hanging, wondering if staying on the Mac platform is career suicide. Instead, there are two very good options that can take these top-end users wherever they need to go.

That means it's okay to wait for Apple to redesign a new zero-compromises Mac Pro based on Apple Silicon.

Whether it's the time to allow for an insane number of CPU and GPU cores, as some of the current rumors imply, or my design for a super-modular and scalable blade system, there's enough power available right now to allow Apple the time to get the new Mac Pro just right.

New 27-inch iMac

Once again, we should ask: what defines this model? What is the essential DNA of a 27-inch iMac?

The simple answer, of course, is the display. The 27-inch iMac has always had an exceptional display in Apple's signature all-in-one computer. But the 27-inch iMac has supported configuration options that put it at or near the top of the power curve (not counting the Mac Pro, of course).

The iMac Pro, launched in 2017, pushed that power curve even more, producing an all-in-one professional workstation that was playing in Mac Pro territory.

When it first came out, a 27-inch display was a nice piece of kit, even something of a luxury. But with the availability of wide screen monitors like the 34-inch 5K 5120 x 2160 LG 34BK95U-W and even ultra wide screen monitors like the 49-inch, 5120 x 1440 DQHD Samsung S95UA, a 27-inch monitor on an iMac seems unnecessarily restrictive.

Personally, I rock the 38-inch LG 38UC99-W monitor I bought with my tricked-out Mac mini back in 2018, and it's a godsend for video editing. I know. You can add additional displays to iMacs. I hung three additional monitors off of my old 2013 27-inch iMac. While I couldn't hang a 38-inch display off that old iMac, current model iMacs certainly support wide screen external displays.

So, that begs the question: should Apple even release a 27-inch iMac? If it's going to come out with a high-end all-in-one in 2023, shouldn't it come with a bigger display so users aren't forced to hang wide-screen monitors to compensate for the 27-inch iMac's display shortcomings?

There has been almost no rumor mill traffic about an Apple Silicon 27-inch iMac, other than occasional speculation that Apple is going to simply discontinue the model in favor of combining the 27-inch Studio display (there's that 27-inch limit again!) or 32-inch Pro XDR display with a Mac Studio. The Mac Studio doesn't take much desk space and, as we discussed above, is quite powerful.

As for the current needs of pro users, combining a Mac Studio with one of Apple's displays or one of the many wide-screen displays on the market is a perfectly functional (and I would argue, better) solution than the iMac.

So, sure. Apple may come out with an iMac with a larger screen than the currently shipping 24-inch, but until it does, there are other great substitute solutions that will get the job done.

Final thoughts

So there you go. Yes, there are some Mac models missing in action based on Tim Cook's promise of a two-year transition.

But since Apple has produced such a solid range of Apple Silicon products currently on the market, along with continuing to ship a legacy Mac Pro that has what it takes, power pro users will not be left in the lurch waiting for these models.

Heck, even the MacBook Pro models currently on the market, especially the 16-inch M1 Max-based unit, can produce the level of power that can mostly satisfy even the most demanding of pro-level users.

What do you think? Are you holding out for a Mac Pro or bigger iMac? Let us know in the comments below.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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