Two possible MacPros: two futures for Apple

Over the last few days there have been a couple of pieces of evidence that point to Apple launching a new version of the MacPro very soon – in time for their Worldwide Developer’s Conference next week.

What does this mean for Final Cut Pro X users, and users of other post-production software?

Many in the industry have accused Apple of giving up on professionals in order to go after the consumer dollar. The basis of this accusation is fact that the MacPro hasn’t been updated in almost two years and that Final Cut Pro X was launched without many features found in Final Cut Pro 7 and that it seemed to be designed for novice consumers.

My guesses as to why Final Cut Pro X was launched the way it was are for another time. My question is: What will it mean if Apple announces a new MacPro next week?

The two MacPros

When it comes to a new MacPro, there are two scenarios:

1. The new MacPro is similar to the previous models in the series: the same case, a similar internal architecture but with upgraded CPU, memory speed, memory capacity, graphics card options and new Thunderbolt and USB3 ports.

2. The new MacPro has all the above improvements but also has a different case and new physical configurations – such as a version that can be installed in an equipment rack.

Option 1 would be seen as ‘the last MacPro we’ll get from Apple,’ option 2 ‘the first of a new generation of non-consumer Macs from Apple.’

In practice, a ‘last MacPro’ might be way to make a few hundred million dollars of profit from those who want a professional Mac without Apple needing to make huge investment in a new design and associated supply chain. It could be a sign that Apple is leaving the non-consumer hardware market to other companies. Final Cut Pro will live on – used to sell Macs: the high end of the portable and iMac ranges.

Option 2 would signify a big change for Apple.

While Apple has spent the last 10 years concentrating on consumers, their Final Cut Pro and Aperture apps are part of a previous strategy: make applications that creative professionals will want. If they want the software, they’ll buy high-margin Macs to run it on. Using a beachhead of the corporate creative department was the prototype for the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ trend that is forcing IT departments to accept technology that wasn’t part of their plans. Just as graphic designers insisted on Macs for desktop publishing in the 1980s, business people insist on using iPhones and iPads on corporate networks today.

Given the success of Apple’s consumer push since the launch of the iMac, they haven’t needed to depend on this older strategy, so a new commitment to a non-consumer Mac would mean a great deal.

Apple and iOS developers are busy showing that the majority of office work and work at work does not require old-fashioned computer hardware and software. It can nearly all be done on consumer-focused technology: an iPad and physical keyboard. Pundits say we’ll soon be living in a ‘post-PC’ world.

Consumer technology isn’t enough

Where does that leave those of us that have requirements not best served by an iPad or a phone? Post-production requires faster access to many times more data than normal office work. We need access to hundreds of multi-megabyte files at almost the same time. We need powerful graphics that can combine video streams while applying complex effects in real time.

So while the rest of the PC industry is attempting to keep up with Apple, Samsung and Lenovo in producing post-PC devices, a next-generation MacPro would point towards Apple’s definition of the next generation of non-portable personal computers – a ‘Post-PC’ PC

My fantasy ‘Post-PC’ PC

Once possibility would be a drawing board sized version of an iMac with a multitouch screen optionally connected to a unit that sits on the floor. The front would be used at 45 degrees – a 48″ variable resolution multitouch screen. The central area could be retina-style at 360dpi, with the surrounding areas at half and quarter resolutions – 180dpi is good enough when seen from more than twice the distance, 90dpi is fine for the edges of a 48″ screen. Such a large screen would have a great deal of space on the back for memory, SSDs and a couple of slots for PCI-express cards.

This main computer would have an optional optical Thunderbolt link to a floor standing rack that could have slots for more PCI cards and storage. The advantage of an optical Thunderbolt link would allow co-processing CPUs and GPUs on cards to communicate with CPU in the the main computer at the same speed as they would if they were inside the same computer case. Given the spec of the optical version of Thunderbolt, the drawing board computer could connect to a rack kept in a machine room elsewhere in the building.

Given that we cannot spend eight hours plus moving our hands and arms across a 48″ area, most interactions will be carried out by holding our hands close to our faces and having small gestures in the air scaled up to manipulate content on the screen a couple of feet away. It’s a matter of producing a bracket that we can rest our elbows on…

I’m looking forward to next week with great interest!

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