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Re: What if there actually IS a new Mac Pro?

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Walter Soyka
Re: What if there actually IS a new Mac Pro?
on Mar 14, 2012 at 3:18:40 pm

[Craig Seeman] "What business/profit motive would Apple have in continuing to make a Xeon class machine? It's only worthwhile if they can increase revenue. Either they move more units or create a "compelling" situation for more frequent replacement. Do you see another business model viable to Apple? Do they have a business motive to produce basically the same box with the addition of a couple of Thunderbolt ports? I don't mean this rhetorically, please do explain."

I don't think that Apple's really in position to encourage workstation replacement on their own. Apple is entirely dependent on Intel's continuing microarchitecture advances for the big performance gains and new technologies that drive workstation replacement. If Apple takes away expansion, they take away a big part of the Mac Pro's value proposition.

Let's look at Thunderbolt again for a moment.

Editors used to buy workstations because PCI expansion was the only way to get video I/O and high-performance RAID systems. Those are the folks who still have 2006 or 2008 Mac Pros in service. People who bought workstations for performance are likely on a shorter replacement schedule, because even a fully-loaded 2008 Mac Pro provides poor computational performance by modern standards.

Thunderbolt means that customers who bought Mac Pros just for expansion can now buy an iMac instead. That will result in fewer Mac Pro sales. However, Thunderbolt offers little for customers who bought Mac Pros for computational performance. Even though total Mac Pro sales will likely decline, the average refresh period could get dramatically shorter as the higher proportion of remaining power users chase performance.

On the other hand, with Thunderbolt and good-enough performance for many customers coming from iMacs, cannibalized Mac Pro sales may ultimately encourage Apple to kill the line, just like they did with XServe. Further, Apple hasn't offered speed-bump updates or high-performance graphics/GPGPU cards, so Apple's interest in performance-oriented customers is questionable.

I think it's clear that Apple is not playing offense in the workstation market anymore. They are playing defense, doing the bare minimum necessary to offer machines to users like you and me who need high computational performance.

I doubt that Apple would actually enter the workstation market today if they weren't already in it. They may be hesitant to blatantly abandon the creative, development, and scientific research niches that depend on Mac Pros, but I don't seem them doing anything to stop attrition.

Look at me -- if you had asked me four years ago if I'd have a workstation provided by HP under my desk, I'd have laughed. If you'd asked me that this time last year, I might have thoughtfully nodded. Ask me about it today, and I might try to sell you one.

That's in part why I started this thread. I'm curious to figure out what's in it for Apple. I'd like to understand their business model and value proposition better. I know why I used to buy Apple workstations, and at this point, I'm not sure I have any compelling reason to continue doing so. I'd like to learn why other people are still choosing Mac Pros, and what value they see coming from Apple.

Could it just be the halo effect? My 3 Apple workstation purchases over the last 10 years have been accompanied by 2 iMacs and 9 laptops. Of course, that was before the post-PC era, and now Apple may get all the halo they need from iPhones and iPads.

Walter Soyka
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