Apple’s October 2018 Event

Apple came to my home turf this past Tuesday, following up its iPhone-focused September event with iPad and Mac announcements. Some were welcome, some were surprising, some were long overdue. Some thoughts on what was announced follow:

New MacBook Air—Somewhere, something went terrible wrong in Apple’s notebook lineup. The MacBook Air arrived in 2008 as an impossibly thin albeit expensive and underpowered notebook that basically kickstarted the “ultrabook” category that makes up an increasing number of all laptops. Over the years it grew cheaper and faster, ultimately replacing the MacBook as the “consumer” segment of Apple’s consumer/pro laptop dichotomy. If you were a prosumer who needed extra power, you got a MacBook Pro; everyone else got a MacBook Air and liked it.

When the retina MacBook came out, I assumed it would follow a similar trajectory, with this new model eventually replacing the MacBook Air. The retina MacBook (also called the MacBook One, the MacBook Adorable, or confusingly just the MacBook by Apple itself) was impossibly thin, expensive, and underpowered. However, more than three years later, the retina MacBook remains $1299, and its limitations haven’t gone away. More confusingly, Apple kept a MacBook Air mostly unchanged since 2015 as a “zombie” product in its lineup, while introducing a MacBook Pro model that featured MacBook Air internals for a higher price.

I and many were hoping Apple would finally address this mess of a lineup on the low end, and the new MacBook Air partially does. It’s a slimmer version of the MacBook Air of old, with a retina screen and some tech updates. However at $1199 (with the zombie non-retina MacBook Air still hanging on at $999) and the retina MacBook and MacBook Pro “Escape” still existing, buying choices are still a muddle.

My opinion: Apple should just dump the MacBook. It’s more expensive than the new MacBook Air model while simultaneously being more limited (the only points in its favor are more flash storage standard and half a pound of weight.) While the new MacBook Air seems like a solid product, who it’s for is confused with a bunch of un-updated machines littered around it.

New Mac mini—The poor Mac mini has labored unchanged since a rather poorly received 2014 update; now a good four years later, it finally gets a substantial update. Surprisingly, Apple decided not to make it a small puck to take on the Intel NUCs and smaller PCs that have cropped up since the mini started existing, instead orienting it more towards pro functions. That shows in its new higher $799 price, but on the plus side, there’s no “zombie” $499 legacy option still kicking around. The new models have twice the RAM and a much faster SSD replacing the 5400 RPM spinning drive of the outgoing options; while it hurts to have to pay more, I think Apple is better off offering a good entry level model rather than one whose only virtue is it hits a price point.

In addition to powerful quad and hex-core i5 and i7 processor options, the Mac mini also returns to user-replaceable (albeit not easily accessible) SODIMMs, although the flash storage is soldered to the board and controlled by the bespoke T2 chip. The machine also keeps legacy USB-A and headphone jack while adding Thunderbolt 3 ports. Keeping more advanced features while adding back in ones that were stripped out was very much not to be expected. A surprise, but a welcome one.

New iPad Pros—The iPad Pros got the iPhone X treatment, shedding a lot of non-screen real estate and getting thinner while adding Face ID, more powerful processors, a redesigned pencil, and USB-C. The ditching of Lightning for USB-C makes a lot of sense for an iPad pitched as a replacement for a classic PC; ditching the headphone jack on such a machine makes far less sense. That and the camera bump notwithstanding, these look like pretty impressive updates that will make people happy, but that happiness will again come with a substantial price tag.

Odds and Ends—The iMacs were not updated at this event, perhaps surprisingly. They are now, with the release of the new Mac mini, the only machines Apple sells that still have spinning boot drives, so hopefully that will be addressed and we can embrace a much nicer all-flash future, more than eight years after the original MacBook Air showed us what was coming.

Mentioned briefly and taking the “it’s a product in our lineup” spot away from the Mac mini was the iPad mini; I suppose this bodes well that it will eventually be upgraded from its circa 2014 internals. (Another product still sporting an A8 processor from that era: the iPad touch. I wonder if it will be bumped to newer guts again, or just killed entirely.)

Not mentioned whatsoever was the Mac Pro, still slated for 2019. It’s encouraging to see the Mac mini as evidence that Apple understands elements like upgradable RAM are important, less encouraging to see proprietary flash storage connected to proprietary SSD controllers as a harbinger of a more locked down system. I expect at this point we won’t hear about the machine until WWDC in June; there haven’t been any new details on Intel Xeons that would work for the Mac Pro (let alone refreshing the iMac Pro) so it doesn’t seem like we’ll get a quicker turnaround.

A consistent trend of the event was new products at higher prices—the MacBook Air, Mac Mini, iPad, and iPad accessories such as the pencil are all more expensive than the models they replace. In some ways, this is justified; on the other, aside from a few notable exceptions (the $329 iPad introduced at the Apple Education Event earlier this year, for example) Apple has been consistently creeping up prices on all its products. The motivations for this are obvious—now that most product categories have reached saturation, the alternative if you want to keep making money is raising the average selling price—but it doesn’t feel any less of a jerk move. This especially extends to the build-to-order upgrade prices; upping your Mac’s storage from 128GB of flash to 256GB (really the base comfortable storage option if you have any number of apps and documents) costs $200, the same price as four years ago despite the decreasing cost of SSDs. It comes off as unnecessarily predatory. Unfortunately I don’t see this changing any time soon until the market decides it can’t bear it, but it feels like Apple is hastening the Mac’s own demise by making it a niche item for more and more people with the means to actually afford a decent product from them.

Apple’s 2018 September Event

iPhone XR in Yellow
iPhone XR in Yellow (Apple Pressroom)

Compared to the breakneck speed of some of Apple’s previous keynotes, this one moved at a rather leisurely pace. It helped that there were only three products to introduce.

Apple Watch 4th generation

I’ve been holding off on getting an Apple Watch. They are pricey, and the improvements each generation have been significant. If you’re interested in keeping your tech for a while, though, the 4th gen watch might be the tipping point. The new watches are larger (boo) but have much larger screen-to-body ratios, and are slightly thinner (though still not as thin as the original ‘Series 0’ watches.) The new models are packed with more sensors, including an EKG. This seems like the model to get.

iPhone XS/ XS Max

The new names for Apple’s flagship phones are dumb, no doubt about it. But as has been proven time and time again with iPod, iPhone, MacBook, iPad—it doesn’t really matter. We’ll get used to them and move on. People pronouncing the roman numeral X as “ecks” rather than “ten” is as old as Mac OS X, which came out the better part of two decades ago. Life marches on.

The new models have nicer cameras, higher storage tiers (though you will pay dearly for them), and faster FaceID. I’ve seen plenty of sentiment that this is a lackluster “S” year, but I think the problem is this conflates the X with the iPhone 8, whereas it’s actually a higher-end SKU.

iPhone XR

Thus, the real phone to look at is the XR, which starts at $250 less than the XS in the US. It’s very much a copycat of the XS, just with a bit thicker edges and a less impressive screen. If you don’t care about the 2x optical zoom of the more expensive models or 3D touch, though, it’s a pretty great value.

The XR is truly the spiritual successor to the iPhone 5C in that it comes in candy colors. They are all rather brilliant, with the coral and yellow especially being rather striking with glass backs and aluminum accents along the edges. There are going to be people who buy these just for the colors.

My reservations about the XR come down to size; my current iPhone 6 was always slightly larger than my ideal phone would be, and the XR basically means you have to buy an iPhone Plus-sized phone at the low end, with the problems related to reaching distant items on screen in a one-handed grip exacerbated by the fact that more of the phone’s front is now screen.

The iPhone SE was quietly killed off at the event, and while it’s possible they’ll bring it back in some form as a mid-cycle model like the original SE was vis a vis the 6S, it doesn’t make much sense to wait for an upgrade that might never come.


  • Augmented reality still seems like an idea that like VR is flailing around looking for truly compelling use cases that would break it out into the mainstream.
  • The iPhone X is gone, which possibly strengthens the connection of the XR to the 5C (as reportedly Apple couldn’t make the 5 cheap enough and thus axed it entirely.) I imagine a lot of people are going to jump on used X phones versus the XR or spending more on an XS.
  • Aside from the optical zoom, the other benefit of the second lens on the iPhone X was the ability to do depth of field blur. Apparently that’s come to the single-lens XR as well; I’ll be interested in seeing how well the software implementation is.

The MacBook Pro Kerfuffle

Just last week it seemed life was promising. There were new MacBook Pros with beefy specs, and life was good.

Then, this week, spurred in part by a Youtuber and more detailed reviews of the shipping machines, reality reared its ugly head.

The latest Apple snafu, as it turns out, is that several SKUs of the MacBook Pro throttle heavily under intensive workloads. In some cases this means they drop down below their advertised base core clocks, to say nothing of their turbo boost speeds, and as a result are in fact slower than the last-generation Intel CPUs in the 2017 models.

There’s blame to go around here. The problem starts with Intel, who is currently facing some troubles and renewed competition from AMD. With their original CPU roadmap now terribly late, Intel tried to compensate and bumped the core counts for the 28-watt and 45-watt chips the 13 and 15″ MacBook Pro models use. The result is a far more power-hungry chip that upsets the general computing trend of better performance-per-watt with each generation. Intel released a bad product.

Of course, Apple still had a role to play in this. At this point they’ve become famous for extremely tight tolerances on their products, so much so that they admitted they designed the Mac Pro into a “thermal corner” where they could not easily refresh the machine and ended up making the 2013 redesign of the product an evolutionary dead end. With the 2016 MacBook Pro refresh Apple once again made the notebooks thinner, and while its size and thermal dissipation solution was adequate for Intel’s previous offerings, placing the new chips in the same cooling solution has resulted in some bad results. It’s a bit naive to expect Apple to drastically redesign their product every year when it turns out Intel has released a dud, but at the same time they put themselves in a tougher situation than it needed to be. And at the end of the day, people aren’t going to blame Intel for this—they’re going to blame Apple.1

It’s not all doom and gloom. Early indications are that the new ‘quieter’ third-generation butterfly keyboards on the 2018 models actually do feature much more robust protection from paralyzing dust, and the keys themselves are easier to service without requiring a full top replacement. And the new MacBooks aren’t necessarily forever crippled; Apple could update their firmware to have more aggressive fan curves, for instance, which would help mitigate some of the throttling by anticipating the extra heat. But it’s still not a great look to have your most expensive SKUs on a product targeted to professional users turn out to have a big asterisk by their specs. People have been complaining about Apple prioritizing thinness and quiet performance over raw power and cooler temperatures for years now, and it seems like those complaints have caught up to them decisively.

The gentlemen at Accidental Tech Podcast are (uncharacteristically?) bullish about this news, arguing that Apple has already turned a corner and that a “Mac renaissance” is coming, albeit slowly to outsiders given the amount of time it takes to change course. Apple’s response to the MacBook Pro throttling issue, and whatever form the Mac Pro takes next year, will be the indicators to watch to see whether that prediction holds.

EDIT (07/24/2018): Apple released a supplemental update to address the slowdown, blaming a firmware issue. We’ll see if that quells the complaints.

  1. This is also more fuel on the fire that is whether or not Apple should ditch Intel and create their own Mac processors, as is rumored. It still remains to be seen whether Apple’s industry-leading A-series chips in their iOS devices could scale to adequate pro-level performance, but Apple controlling the stack and having a much better idea of where chips are headed seems like it would have presented a blunder of this magnitude.

Apple Updates MacBook Pros

Amid swirling rumors of new MacBooks and (maybe) the Mac mini being updated, Apple updated its MacBook Pro line. The big news is that with the move to Intel’s 8th generation processors, the entire line gets a core bump, with the 13in models getting quad core i5/i7 and the 15in models getting hex core i7/i9s. Along with this move comes DDR4 RAM and a boosted max of 32GB on the 15in model; the battery has likewise gotten larger to accommodate the power-hungry RAM.

The good:

  • People who use their MacBook Pros as desktop replacements and workstations now have more and faster RAM. Especially if you’re running use cases like rendering and virtual machines, this is a major upgrade. Likewise, the added higher storage options (4TB) make it a more capable machine.
  • The press release mentions an “improved third-generation keyboard” for quieter typing. Presumably there’s also additional design done to mitigate or stop the higher-than-normal keyboard failures that have cropped up. People will probably have to wait a year to see if it’s as problem-prone as its predecessors under the repair program. It’s probably also not going to mollify people whose issue with the keyboard was not its reliability but its feel, but early impressions seem positive.

The bad:

  • Not updated: the non-touch bar 13in MacBook Pro, and the 2015-era 15in model was also discontinued. This means Apple continues to have weird pricing holes in their lineup. The consensus seems pretty clear that for most people, even if they like the touchbar, they’d like paying a couple hundred bucks less even more, and now the base price of a 13in model has crept up to $1800, while the 15min model is $2400—that’s a bump in price of $500 and $400 respectively from the equivalent machines in 2015. Keeping the non-touchbar model around without updates is another “zombie Apple” problem as of late—there’s a lot of models to avoid because you’re paying high prices for outdated hardware, and that problem still remains throughout their lineup.

Tipping Point

I’ve noticed that there’s been a curious tipping point in the tenor and timbre of the Apple press as of late. At this point, there have been many pieces lamenting Apple’s lack of attention to pros (since basically 2011, although even before that), but it seems like things are rapidly coming to a head. It’s not just Apple’s pro hardware that has suffered from a lack of upgrades—it’s Apple’s entire Mac lineup.

How bad is it? Bad enough that a well-respected and well-known Mac developer publicly complained about it:

It’s very difficult to recommend much from the current crop of Macs to customers, and that’s deeply worrisome to us, as a Mac-based software company. For our own internal needs, we’ve wound up purchasing used hardware for testing, rather than opting to compromise heavily on a new machine. That isn’t good for Apple, nor is it what we want. […] Apple could and should simply provide updates and speed bumps to the entire lineup on a much more frequent basis. The much smaller Apple of the mid-2000s managed this with ease. Their current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood.

Of course, Rogue Amoeba has a horse in this race—they produce Mac software, and a lack of new hardware hurts their business directly as they develop on those machines, and indirectly as Apple’s actions threaten the erode the Mac ecosystem. But they’re not wrong; Apple in the earlier 2000s was delivering updates to its lineup at a tremendous pace compared to now; the MacBook, for instance, historically saw closer to two updates a year rather than more than a year without one.

There’s a lot you can complain about the current Mac lineup—very slow 5400 RPM hard drives that make the entry-level models of its desktops inadvisable to purchase, for instance—but the simplest complaint is that updates are slow. Intel’s continued delays on delivering chips is part of the reason, and that’s certainly something outside Apple’s control, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. While Apple has publicly admitted they backed themselves into a “thermal corner” with the 2013 Mac Pro design especially regarding the GPUs, that doesn’t fully explain why they failed to update the processors in the machine; after the December 2013 release of the Intel Ivy-Bridge-EP Mac Pros, Intel released compatible replacement Xeons in September 2014 (Haswell-EP) and June 2016 (Broadwell-EP) that Apple failed to do anything with.

Today’s personal computers last much longer than the Macs of yesteryear; I’m still using a 2010 Mac Pro as a work machine in 2018; the idea of using a a PowerMac G4 from 2002 as a daily driver in 2010 would have been laughable. To a certain degree, especially considering how small Apple’s Mac sales are in comparison to the rest of its product lineup, it makes a certain amount of sense to slow down updates. But you can’t slow to an 18-24 month cycle that is opaque to outsiders who need to purchase machines and expect them to be happy never knowing when or even if new hardware is coming.

Thus far, Apple’s missteps in hardware haven’t critically hurt its Mac sales longterm, which have remained pretty steady over the past few years. But it certainly seems that as more and more of its product lineup falls prey to what ails the Mac mini and Mac Pro, that might change. In which case, the Mac is dying from an entirely self-inflicted wound.

WWDC 2018

Today was the kickoff for Apple’s 2018 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC, or “Dub Dub” if you must shorten everything.) The focus-grabbing part of WWDC is the opening keynote that kicks everything off and provides a basic, press- and consumer-friendly overview of features that will be coming in the next few months to new versions of Apple’s products.

This year was a year that was all about software—no new hardware products were shown, which continues a trend in the recent Apple era that it’s roughly a 50-50 shot that WWDC will feature hardware.1 That’s probably a bummer to people who think their MacBook Pro’s keyboard is a ticking time bomb, but there was a ton to cover and only few slow parts of the keynote as Apple execs had to cover new versions of iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS.


Version 12 of iOS came with a slew of new features and changes. Apple led off with augmented reality (AR) additions, such as the .USDZ AR file format, and its own augmented-reality measuring tape tool. AR at this point looks cool but still feels gimmicky (holding out your phone or your iPad to view digital LEGO constructions seems like it’d get tiresome fast) but Apple is definitely making sure that if AR takes off, it won’t be left behind, and it’s possible that this is all underpinning some unreleased product (AR glasses?) that Apple has in the works.

Another chunk of the iOS segment was taken up with “digital health” features. Basically, if you’re addicted to your phone, Apple has some features to try and wean you off, such as muting the phone and notifications during hours you should be sleeping, letting you see just how much time you spend Instagramming, and setting limits to try and stop you from spending just that much time Instagramming. Not much use for me, but I imagine for parents especially these are probably welcome features. At the very least, I’m curious what my graph will show as my big time-wasters.

Grouped notifications were a big wishlist item for users that got checked off today, but also up there was Apple creating “Shortcuts”, an application to create customized voice-controlled workflows—allowing you to create a command that will execute a series of chained events based on that. Combined with other updates to the Siri voice assistant that allow third party integration via customizable commands, this seems to be Apple’s answer to criticism that Siri isn’t as fancy or full-featured as Alexa or Google and other voice assistants out there. Personally, I mostly use Siri for the stuff it gets right 90%+ of the time—setting timers and alarms, dictating notes, and answering my uncle’s queries as to just how tall that celebrity is. But the possible workflow powers that this gives iOS users (and it’s pretty clear that Apple’s purchase of the similar automation app Workflow underpins a lot of Shortcuts) could be a huge boon.

There were a few other updates here and there, but Apple spent a lot of time demoing “Memoji”, a version of their face-tracked animoji that turn you into a cartoon avatar that you can slot into video calls or send messages. Mostly, memoji are hilarious in that they totally blow Samsung’s creepy animoji alternative out of the water; they look fun, very customizable, and not at all uncanny and dead-eyed (although the ability to stick the cartoon version of yourself on top of your live-action body does look odd.) There were probably plenty of people who hate that so much time is taken up by these Snapchat-esque features, but it’s pretty clear that emoji are hugely popular and creating even more of an ecosystem lock-in with Apple’s Messages is good for Apple.


When the Apple Watch was unveiled, Apple positioned the device as a precise timepiece, intimate communication device, and a powerful fitness tracker. The first prong of their strategy was arguably shooting fish in a barrel, the second didn’t really pan out, but the fitness element is clearly what Apple has zeroed in on as the most important part of it. The Apple Watch has gotten GPS and cellular networking and become waterproof to make it a better fitness tracker, and Apple’s watchOS updates are clearly about pushing that forward with more ways to metagame your fitness goals and manage your workouts.

Surprisingly, though, the Walkie-Talkie feature—which turns your Watch into, well, a Walkie-Talkie—does circle back to that second prong of the device’s genesis. Using your Watch as a rapid push-to-talk mechanism gives it a distinct identity and utility beyond the phone and digital touch options, and the little David inside me just finds it cool, even if its novelty might be the biggest lasting part of the feature. Like with a lot of the health features, you’re going to need friends and families with Watches of their own to make greater use of these.

Also of note—the original “Series 0” generation of the Watch, released April 2015, is not going to receive this update. Always sad to see a device sunsetted, but like the original iPhone the OG Apple Watch was terribly underpowered and probably a millstone around the necks of developers who want to support the platform.


There was basically nothing of note in the tvOS category; in fact it seemed strangely like the only one that didn’t have much relevance to developers. New screensavers and Dolby Atmos support (which was already confirmed coming) did not make for an interesting segment.


The next macOS version, Mojave, will probably be most striking for its system-wide Dark Mode. As someone who always liked the dark versions of the menu bar and dock that became available with OS X Yosemite years ago, I will probably give Dark Mode a whirl, although I think I remind a bit old-fashioned in my preference for lighter interfaces (I still crank up the brightness of the UI in After Effects, for all the good that does these days.)

Another big change is turning the desktop into a sort of pseudo-folders in folders setup with “stacks”. This seems more a concession to people who can’t tame their messy desktops rather than a useful feature for those who are already organized, but it’s still kind of neat to be able to scrub and drag items from these stacks.

The new, redesigned Mac App Store follows in the footsteps of its iOS brethren, and Apple announced new developers coming to the store, but I’m not sure if it solves the problems inherent with the Mac App Store—apps are more limited than the unsandboxed ones you can download from elsewhere, and for a developer you can’t offer free trials or paid upgrades, meaning a more inflexible product and purchasing environment. We’ll see what these changes do towards addressing those problems (perhaps there have been changes to Apple’s terms that make it more attractive to devs?)

Finally, Apple added a slew of privacy features, most notably in trying to prevent web sites from creating a hardware fingerprint to track you. This is awesome, and it’s nice to see Apple continuing to lock down user information and resist the general tide towards users-as-product strategy employed by Google and others.

Overall, I think the conference was enjoyable, and the new features look promising. No new hardware is always disappointing, but software is arguably more important anyhow.

Stray thoughts

  • Some find Apple’s brand of comedy a bit kitschy or cringe-worthy, but in general I’ve found it enjoyable in a knowing, dad-joke-level casual lightheartedness. The opening skit, “Developer Migration“, poked fun at its developers with a Planet Earth-inspired nature documentary format, followed up at the end by a more heartfelt thanks. Jokes about executive Craig Federighi’s hair never fail to amuse me, and little easter eggs like the subject lines of mail in a screenshot reward keen-eyed watchers.
  • I found something kind of amusing about this shot, from the pre-show livestream crawl:
    A decade ago, Blackberry was still scoffing at upstart Apple, believing that their smartphone dominance would remain. Now, they basically exist as a zombie that barely produces phones and has been relegated to a messaging app slide on a competitors’ banner of applications on their platform.
  • There seemed like there were noticeably more women presenting than at past Apple events. Make of that what you will, but it certainly seems like they have a deeper bench of people they’re pulling onstage than in previous years, where the male executives (Cook, Federighi, Eddy Cue) took up most of the time.
  • Apple positioned some of its features as “pro tools that regular joes can also benefit from”, which is an interesting positioning and also probably aligns with Apple’s return to courting pro users.

  1. By my reckoning, since 2006 (the kickoff of the ‘modern’ Apple era of Intel PC hardware) the years 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2017 had some kind of hardware announcements, while 2007, 2011, 2014–2016, and now 2018 did not.

Apple’s Darker Days

It’s a bit hard to remember (literally, in my cause, as I was still forming memories) but the 1990s were dark days for Apple. A succession of CEOs were unable to reverse the ailing company’s fortunes and lackluster hardware and software. How bad was it? Bad enough that Intel was directly purchasing ads in MacWorld to entice users to jump ship.

(From the January 1994 issue of Macworld, preserved via the Internet Archive.)

No New Mac Pro in 2018

Rather surprisingly, Apple had TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino back to Apple for a story that just released today. The title of the article is “Apple’s 2019 Mac Pro will be shaped by workflows“, with the key detail being confirmation that the new modular Mac Pro replacement for the 2013 model won’t be coming until 2019. If you need pro hardware, you have to either wait or buy an iMac Pro.

This is disappointing, though perhaps not surprising, and will surely stoke the conspiracy theories that Apple really wants to get rid of the Mac Pro and is trying to push everyone to the iMac instead. But the tone of Panzarino’s article and what it touches on with Apple’s pro scene in general suggest much more that Apple is undergoing a big reinvention within its walls; that after years of neglecting a segment of its consumers, Apple has elected to basically rebuild from the ground up.

In [the April 2017 roundtable], Apple SVP Phil Schiller acknowledged that pro customers including developers were hungry for evidence that Apple was paying attention to their needs.

“We recognize that they want to hear more from us. And so we want to communicate better with them. We want them to understand the importance they have for us, we want them to understand that we’re investing in new Macs — not only new MacBook Pros and iMacs but Mac Pros for them, we want them to know we are going to work on a display for a modular system,” Schiller said.

Now, it’s a year later and Apple has created a team inside the building that houses its pro products group. It’s called the Pro Workflow Team and they haven’t talked about it publicly before today. The group is under John Ternus and works closely with the engineering organization.

Apple creating a pro team is big news, especially since it’s generally been the case that Apple moves around personnel from hardware and software projects as needed. The description of the Pro Workflow Team suggests to me this is a dedicated group, and bringing in a wide variety of pros to test this hardware is a good idea, given that one of the complaints with Apple’s current hardware is less its power and more its lack of flexibility.

Ternus promises the new Mac Pro will be tuned to current pro needs with an eye towards where tech is heading in the future, which is simultaneously promising and worrisome. There are plenty of people out there who just want the return of the “cheesegrater” Mac Pro, a paradigm of “big tower with expansion slots” where RAM, hard drives, and graphics cards were simple swaps, and even CPU upgrades didn’t require a lot of effort (I’ve done it myself.) The fact that Apple hasn’t shipped a product like that, and the talk in Panzarino’s article about Thunderbolt-connected eGPUs and iOS peripherals, suggests that’s not what they have in mind.

On Pro Mac Pricing Trends

A while back, Marco Arment wrote a piece on Mac Pro pricing trends over time. Inspired by some discussion on the MacRumors forums and the Incomparable Members Slack, I went ahead and charted all pro desktop Macs’ pricing trends since 1999. In addition, I’ve added another two lines representing the original prices in $USD adjusted for inflation to November 2017 (via CPI).

Here’s the data, pulled from and the MacTracker application:

ProductLaunch dateBase PriceBase Price, Adj.High End PriceBase Price, Adj.
PowerMac G3 1,1 (B&W)Aug-99$1,599.00$2,360.41$2,999.00$4,427.05
PowerMac G4 3,1 (AGP/PCI models)Dec-99$1,599.00$2,336.63$3,499.00$5,128.31
PowerMac G4 3,3 (Digital Audio)Jul-00$1,599.00$2,282.54$3,499.00$4,994.76
PowerMac G4 3,4Jan-01$1,699.00$2,393.44$3,499.00$4,929.15
PowerMac G5 3,5 QuicksilverJul-01$1,699.00$2,361.07$3,499.00$4,862.51
PowerMac G4 3,6 MDDAug-02$1,699.00$2,319.25$3,299.00$4,503.38
PowerMac G4 3,6 (FW800)Jan-03$1,499.00$2,034.99$2,699.00$3,664.06
PowerMac G5 7,2Jun-03$1,999.00$2,684.22$2,999.00$4,027.00
PowerMac G5 7,3Jun-04$1,999.00$2,599.32$2,999.00$3,899.63
PowerMac G5 7,3 (2005)Apr-05$1,999.00$2,533.87$2,999.00$3,801.44
PowerMac G5 11,3 (Late 2005)Oct-05$1,999.00$2,475.36$3,299.00$4,085.15
Mac Pro 1,1Aug-06$2,199.00$2,660.25$3,299.00$3,990.98
Mac Pro 2,1Apr-07$2,199.00$2,624.39$3,999.00$4,772.60
Mac Pro 3,1Jan-08$2,299.00$2,686.62$4,399.00$5,140.69
Mac Pro 4,1Mar-09$2,499.00$2,897.98$5,899.00$6,804.11
Mac Pro 5,1Jul-10$2,499.00$2,827.50$6,199.00$7,015.35
Mac Pro 5,1 (2012 bump)Jun-12$2,499.00$2,686.21$6,199.00$6,663.39
Mac Pro 6,1Dec-13$2,999.00$3,174.27$6,499.00$6,878.82
Mac Pro 6,1 (2017 price cuts)Apr-17$2,999.00$3,025.31$4,999.00$5,042.85

And here’s the resulting graph:

Pro desktop Mac prices 1999-2017

The results show that Arments’s observation that Mac Pro prices have steadily increased over time actually holds for the pro desktop lineup in the modern era, although factoring in the real dollar cost with inflation shows that it’s not as steady a slope as the unadjusted dollars would suggest. Starting in 1999 with the release of the Blue & White PowerMac G3, which had an entry-level price of $1599 (or $2360 today), the entry-level cost of a new PowerMac and later Mac Pro slowly but steadily drifted upward, to $2999 with the release of the Mac Pro 6,1 at the end of 2013. The only significant model to buck the trend is in 2003, when Apple released the PowerMac G4 3,6 (or FW 800 Mirrored-Drive Doors) at a record-low $1499 price, just six months before it was replaced by the far-more-capable PowerMac G5.

Another interesting observation—the very end of the G4 era and the G5 era is interesting in the price difference between lowest and highest processor SKUs was at its smallest; the delta has since ballooned in the Intel era.

When considering the price of the upcoming Mac Pro, it’s worth considering the wider context of the pro desktop line. When the PowerMac G4 hit the scene, Apple was at the height of its famous four-product matrix. The iMac retailed for $999, a mere $600 dollar difference to jump from Apple’s cheapest consumer computer to their cheapest pro machine. That’s a far cry from the $2500 difference today to get you from the lowly and neglected Mac mini to the less lowly but similarly neglected Mac Pro.