Apple is, for the moment at least, no longer selling the Mac Pro in Europe. Is Apple annoyed with us for still buying BlackBerries or siding with Samsung in the courts? No, it’s because an amendment to the IEC 60950-1 regulation increases requirements around electrical port protection and the fan guards in the system.
That’s almost as boring as the Mac Pro itself. Boring? The mighty Mac Pro? How so?
The tower system for Mac professionals who like adding things other than stickers to their computer looks damn cool. It’s a cold aluminium mountain of pure power.
You can add new graphics cards, four hard drives and all sorts to its clinical innards. It boasts Hyper-Threading technology for up to 24 virtual cores, for heaven’s sake. It has more ports than the coast of China. It can pack up to 64GB of RAM. You can take one side off and use it as a sledge.
The trouble with the Mac Pro isn’t just the amendment to the IEC 60950-1 regulation. The thing that makes the Mac Pro so boring is that it hasn’t really changed for a decade. Really. Just take a look...
The original Power Mac G5 is on the left. The latest Mac Pro is on the right. Ports have changed – although there's still no Thunderbolt or USB 3.0, despite Thunderbolt being around for over two years! The presence of two optical-drive slots shows just how old the Mac Pro is – Apple spits at such things these days.
Back in June 2003, when the iMac still looked like an Anglepoise lamp and the iPod had buttons on the front Apple unveiled the Power Mac G5, which shipped with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. The G5 marked Apple’s move away from Motorola chips to IBM. Yes, Intel was still an Apple enemy in those days.
Steve Jobs looked like a chubby bearded Eric Cantona. Apple had just launched the iTunes Music Store, but Jobs was dismissive of movie downloads: “We don't think that's what people want,” he told Rolling Stone.
Busted were riding high in the pop charts. Finding Nemo was in cinemas. The Pope who’s just retired was still a cardinal. Tony Blair and George Bush had only two months earlier toppled (but not captured) Saddam Hussein. Concorde was still flying. One of the Best Actress nominees for this year’s Oscars wasn’t even born.
David Bowie has released two albums since the Power Mac G5 arrived on the scene*.
You get the idea. 2003 was a long, long time ago. And Apple’s professional Mac system looked pretty much identical to the one that is still on sale outside of Europe.
If looks could kill, the little-changed Mac Pro is dead already
In terms of technology design ten years is equivalent to the time between the Triassic and Cretaceous periods. While it’s true that during that 10 years no other workstation company has designed anything as majestic as the Power Mac G5/ Mac Pro it shows a distinct lack of ambition in Jony Ive and co in sticking with the same design. Even the Mac mini changed its looks occasionally. Apple probably thought more about the colours of iPod socks than they did changing the pro desktop Mac.
The last time Apple updated the Mac Pro – albeit with Intel's two-year-old Westmere-EP architecture rather than the newer Xeon E5 – it boldly slapped a “New” sticker on its image in the Online Store. After getting up the next day and looking at itself in the mirror Apple shame-facedly removed the shiny label.
CEO Tim Cook has made a very vague suggestion (“We’re working on something really great" – not insanely great, just really great) that Apple would be upgrading its professional desktop sometime later this year. But it’s clear that Apple just isn’t that bothered by its professional users any more – discontinuing Xserve and apparently dumbing down Final Cut Pro.
When it dumped the Xserve Apple told users to switch to the more powerful Mac Pro. If Tim’s nod to a major upgrade doesn’t come to pass then we can expect the iMac to take over professional duties. Yet it took Apple two years to update the iMac in 2012 – but at least it looks wildly different to the Bondi Blue iMac.
Apple no doubt is looking at diminishing Mac Pro sales. But this is a vicious circle. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Tim and Jony know more than anyone that the less things change, the less likely Apple fans are to buy them.
* I'm including Bowie's new one, as you can stream it all on 2003's other big release, the iTunes Music Store, and it's out on old-school formats in a week anyway.