Apple is working on a new Mac Pro, reveals company VP Phil Schiller

Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi. Picture courtesy of Apple

Apple is developing a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them. But, says Apple blogger John Gruber, the “not-so-great news” is that the next generation Mac Pro and pro display will not be released this year. There are, however, new iMacs in the pipeline for release this year.

Gruber was reporting from Apple’s ‘Product Realization Lab’: “This is where they make and refine prototypes for new Mac hardware. We don’t get to see anything cool. There is no moment where they lift a black cloth and show us prototypes of future hardware. The setting feels chosen simply to set the tone that innovative Mac hardware design — across the entire Mac lineup — is not a thing of the past.”

He was there with Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, and John Ternus, vice president of hardware engineering, as well as five other technology journalists. Schiller told them: “With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking the Mac Pro’. We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.

“As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a pro display as well. Now you won’t see any of those products this year; we’re in the process of that. We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do. In the interim, we know there are a number of customers who continue to buy our [current Mac Pros]. In the meantime, we’re going to update the configs to make it faster and better for their dollar. This is not a new model, not a new design, we’re just going to update the configs. We’re doing that this week.”

Federighi added: “I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will. We designed a system with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture. That that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped. Being able to put larger single GPUs required a different system architecture and more thermal capacity than that system was designed to accommodate. So it became fairly difficult to adjust. At the same time, so many of our customers were moving to iMac that we saw a path to address many, many more of those that were finding themselves limited by a Mac Pro through next generation iMac. And really put a lot of our energy behind that.”

Gruber comments: “The word ‘mistake’ was not uttered, but this is about as close as we’re going to get to Apple admitting they miscalculated with the current Mac Pro’s concept. One word that was uttered, however, was ‘sorry’. Here’s Schiller, after being asked whether they already had an external design in mind for the next-gen Mac Pros: ‘We’re not going to get into exactly what stage we’re in, just that we told the team to take the time to do something really great. To do something that can be supported for a long time with customers with updates and upgrades throughout the years. We’ll take the time it takes to do that. The current Mac Pro, as we’ve said a few times, was constrained thermally and it restricted our ability to upgrade it. And for that, we’re sorry to disappoint customers who wanted that, and we’ve asked the team to go and re-architect and design something great for the future that those Mac Pro customers who want more expandability, more upgradability in the future. It’ll meet more of those needs’.

“My takeaway,” writes Gruber, “is that the Mac’s future is bright. Mac sales were up in 2016, once again outpacing the PC industry as a whole, and the new MacBook Pros are a hit, with sales up “about 20 percent” year over year. The Mac is a $25 billion business for Apple annually, and according to the company there are 100 million people in the active Mac user base worldwide. Yes, those numbers are all peanuts compared to the iPhone, but everything is peanuts compared to the iPhone.”