Apple’s introduction this week of the M1 Ultra-powered Mac Studio means the company already offers a Mac that delivers more performance than many of its users need. With that in mind, people now are asking, who will the M-powered Mac pro be for?
The Mac Pro — not for the rest of us
The mainstream tech press likes to insist that Apple will always be a niche player in personal computing. But this completely ignores the rapid market share gains Apple has made on strength of Apple Silicon.
When unveiling the Mac Studio, Apple execs told us the company has seen Mac sales climb across each of the last six quarters. That’s not the trajectory you get from a niche player — and Mac Pro will push the company further.
Running some iteration of Apple’s M-series chip, Mac Pro won’t be for the rest of us. Why would it be?
Consider that even the entry-level M1 Mac mini immediately delivered such huge improvements across most creative apps that for a vast number of users it became all the computer they need.
The first generation of M1 machines has already reset expectations across the industry. The M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max or M1 Ultra, the four chips deliver power, performance, and performance-per-watt that puts Macs at or near the top of the industry.
In truth, even the entry-level machines provide the kind of computational performance you once had to purchase high-end computers (at high-end prices) to achieve. The new Mac Studio kicks right into some of the highest-end markets.
When is better better than best?
What Apple offers right now is already enough for almost every pro user in almost every field. You can never have too much computational performance, of course. Every few seconds saved handling the most complex calculations at least represents a better work/life balance, and — at the most demanding levels — probably means higher profits and productivity.
But at what point does the performance improvement cease to represent need in the here and now, and instead becomes a solution suited to challenges we haven’t met yet?
[Also read: One year on, developers still love Apple Silicon Macs]
I think this is what we’ll see in Mac Pro — a computer, possibly powered by at least one pair of M1 Ultra processors, capable of handling absolutely any task you throw at it. Think of it as an Apple workstation built for tomorrow’s challenges, rather than a pro machine (as it had become) struggling to keep up with the needs of today.
That’s a very different animal.
So who will buy it?
The Mac Pro, then, will be a high-end machine aimed at very distinctive markets:
- Wealthy Apple fans who just want the best.
- Computing professionals with demanding niche needs in fields such as biochemical research, data analytics, engineering, machine learning, or risk analysis.
- And developers.
For developers, the big opportunity will be in building applications that stretch even Apple’s Mac Pro. Just like Apple’s own product designers, they will be empowered to dream and build entirely new solutions for yet unseen questions — software that isn’t possible on other platforms, yet.
It is interesting to consider, for example, that some of the new AR experiences you will eventually find on platforms outside Apple’s will likely be created using computers Apple provides. That Apple also now has an increasingly visible roadmap for future processor development is very important.
It means developers creating new solutions and high-end customers adopting them can be confident they won’t hit some platform-driven dead end. It also means consumer users can be relatively certain that this boosted power and performance will eventually reach entry-level Macs.
The dominant PC brand?
They will also be cheaper to run than other systems. Intel’s Core i9-12900K does perhaps compete with M1 Ultra performance in some real-world tasks, but requires much more energy to run. “Other companies may create laptops or workstation SoCs with more performance, but Apple’s goal is to beat them in performance per watt,” notes Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin.
This combination of power, performance, and energy efficiency means Apple will eventually become as dominant in personal computing as it is in smartphones. And the Mac Pro will become the computer other PC vendors aspire to beat.
I bet few had expected to say that about Apple.
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