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Is Apple Actually Listening to Pro Users or Just Grandstanding?

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Is Apple Actually Listening to Pro Users or Just Grandstanding?

Last week at WWDC, Apple spent an unprecedented amount of time talking about teraflops, GPUs and high-efficiency video coding. 4K and 5K iMacs got a huge update—and we got the introduction of a product called the iMac Pro. We even got performance updates to the new MacBook Pros, that came out just five months ago.

All that to be said, Apple seems to be finally giving Pro users what they want. But are they actually listening to what they need or just grandstanding?

A Long History

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Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.

Apple has a long and storied history with the word “pro” and the use of it in its products. Before the company began piling more and more of its resources into annual updates of the iPhone, Apple was known for its reputation in the professional creative fields. Between its well-designed, powerful desktops and its cutting-edge software, iMacs and MacBook Pros were the go-to home products for video editors, designers, musicians, and photographers.

Rewind to Oct. 27 of last year, when Apple announced the highly-anticipated new lineup of MacBook Pros. CEO Tim Cook took the stage and fawned over the Touch Bar, the company’s fancy new OLED bar that replaced the top row of function keys on the new MacBook Pros. While the Touch Bar is admittedly cool (and ergonomically smart), it didn’t exactly please pro users, who were looking for more practical tools and updates.

Other products with the “Pro” designation were getting features cut or hidden to make them more accessible, especially in Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X. These two pieces of proprietary professional software saw some significant changes in the past few years that professionals haven’t been all that happy with (especially on the Final Cut Pro side of things). It doesn’t help that the company now has an iPad “Pro” as well, which clearly isn’t made with professionals in mind in any significant way. It’s left the market confused at about who these products are really made for.

Apple’s announcement came on the heels of Microsoft’s big Surface event where it announced two products designed specifically for professional creatives: the Surface Studio and the Surface Book With Performance Base. The Surface Studio is an all-in-one desktop computer that packs a ton of power and features a couple of important features that visual designers and artists will love. The focus was on the creativity that the product empowers, not the technical prowess of the desktop. Microsoft was acting like Apple—at least, the old Apple that pro users remembered.

As someone who has watched a lot of Apple keynotes, I’ve never heard the company put so much attention on trying to impress the audience with technical specifications. It seems like Apple has heard the complaints about pro users’ dislike of Apple’s new direction, especially concerning the new MacBook Pro. But is the response we got really what pro users have been waiting for? Or is Apple just putting on a front to quiet them down?

What Pro Users Want

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People that are pushing Apple systems to the limit are a fairly small group. It really comes down to scenarios such as video editors working in 4K or gamers pushing the graphics power with things like VR technology. Outside of that, there aren’t many scenarios where an iMac or MacBook Pro wouldn’t suffice.

So while I think there are less people out there who actually need the amount of power they clamor for, there’s no doubt that pro users and gamers have been neglected in the past few years. Even precluding the amount of internet knee-jerk reaction, Apple really has left this important segment of its user base out to dry lately.

The Mac Pro was announced in early 2013 and came out later that year. At the time, Apple executives claimed it was the “future of the pro desktop.” While that may have been true for awhile, it only took a couple of years for the rumbling to start up again. Where was the update? Those who bought the Mac Pro in late 2013 have now missed three generations of Intel processors.

While the idea of replacing your (at least) $2999 every couple of years might make some scratch their heads, it’s not all that crazy for professionals whose jobs rest on the power of their computers. A simple processor update—similar to what Apple just did to the MacBook Pros—is pretty much all that fans are asking for, but Apple keeps holding back.

Meanwhile, massive performance updates to the iMac and the introduction of the new iMac Pro would seem to please this same audience on the surface—and perhaps Apple truly thought it would. While the iMacs are great, the iMac Pro left a lot of pro users shaking their heads once again. It’s impressive that Apple has been able to build this amount of insane power into an all-in-one computer, but the lack of expandability makes it fairly limited in the long run. Why shell out (at least) $4999 on a desktop that you can’t expand or upgrade in the future? For most people, it’s just not worth the price of admission, regardless of how well it performs.

What pro users really want is a new Mac Pro that’s got an updated processor, some updated I/O, and some revamped professional software. Like much of what Apple does, though, it chooses to do things its own way rather than giving people exactly what they want.

It’s hard not to applaud them for the quick spec update to the MacBook Pro (and MacBook Air!) and new iMacs, but until Apple addresses the real issue of expandability and pricing, it is going to watch as pro users continue to raise their fists in protest—and possibly even take their money elsewhere.

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