The Mac is back?

Apple / Musings

Listening to ATP #194 where John Siracusa is bemoaning the apparent exit of Apple from the “Display business”, I had an idea that might cheer him and other Mac Pro users.

It started with this thought, after John said he may have to just switch to iMac in future: Apple is not out of the display business, and they likely never will be. iPhone, iPad, MacBook, MacBook Pro and iMac all come with amazing displays.

In fact the only computers Apple make without displays are the Mac Mini and Mac Pro.

So where we are now in terms of Mac products:

  • MacBook Pro is updated
  • MacBook Air is not long for this world, Apple don’t need three laptop lines
  • MacBook is reasonably likely to get ARM chips next year
  • iMac is a bit stale, chip generation likely to be bumped and conversion to all USB-C/Thunderbolt 3
  • Mac Mini looks like an increasingly anomalous product, really kept around only for niche macOS server tasks (Xcode Bots etc.).
  • Mac Pro is insanely out of date, needs CPU and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 upgrade soon

As John was saying in the podcast, a great many people who buy Mac Pro would buy an Apple 5K display.

Well, what if the plan is to solve that problem by always shipping a display with a new all-singing USB-C/TB 3… iMac Pro?

iMac has been getting thinner and thinner. Maybe there comes a point where it is “Pro enough” to replace “Mac Pro”, with the addition of an extra lump for some more GPU cores and more Thunderbolt 3 ports.

There’s some symmetry to this that Apple seems to be rolling out across their product lines; a regular and a Pro version. All the other product name modifiers appear to be going. In terms of “current” products minus “Airs” and iPod Touch, we have:

  • iPhone & iPhone Plus (remember rumours of iPhone Pro?)
  • iPad & iPad Pro
  • Macbook & Macbook Pro
  • iMac
  • Mac Mini
  • Mac Pro

Do you see it? There’s no “Mac”. The company world-renowned for changing computing with the Mac, known as the people who “make Macs”, has no “Mac”.

The iMac is the only Mac product using what is now “mobile product” naming. What if we had just Mac & Mac Pro.

Picture this: the iMac loses the “i”, and gains a “Pro” tier that takes the already strong iMac performance and adds more GPUs, greater RAM expansion and bus speeds to be a Pro product? It comes with a 5K display that is built in. iMac is after all what many “pro” people are using right now, but without a high end price premium for extra “Pro” performance.

I have absolutely no evidence to back this up, I just feel that if it was my product line and I wanted to “double down” on the Mac, this would make sense as a goal:

  • MacBook (future ARM) & MacBook Pro (Intel)
  • Mac (formerly iMac) & Mac Pro (new iMac on steroids)

(Yes, I missed out Mac Mini. I suspect it will hang around but unmentioned, maybe dropped in future if Xcode build tools are ported to Linux. Something perhaps not so outlandish with Swift on Linux.)

Consumers just need to pick laptop or desktop, and regular or Pro. Every product contains all the parts you need, the original Macintosh ethos.

In future maybe the non-Pro products move to ARM first and later the Pro products follow once it has become accepted.

Call me crazy, but this seems like a much cleaner product line compared to the past, almost getting back to the Jobs-era product quadrants. Let’s see what next year brings.

The Author

Marc Palmer (Twitter, Mastodon) is a consultant and software engineer specialising in Apple platforms. He currently works on the iOS team of Concepts sketching app, as well as his own apps like video subtitle app Captionista. He created the Flint open source framework. He can also do a pretty good job of designing app products. Don't ask him to draw anything, because that's really embarrassing. You can find out more here.