Apple’s Mac Pro delivers plenty of power for its price, but its tight integration with macOS means pro users also get the kind of performance they need.
Putting Metal to the Mac Pro
When Apple announced Mac Pro, it told us that the big names in graphics and video had already adopted, or were about to adopt, the Metal graphics API framework.
It is fair to say that Apple did its bit to encourage this when it announced plans to deprecate OpenGL and OpenCL, but big names, including Adobe, OTOY, Blackmagic Design, Autdesk, Pixar, Foundry and others followed its lead.
Jules Urbach, the CEO and founder of OTOY, stressed his company’s animation industry standard application, Octane X, had been, “rewritten from the ground up in Metal for Mac Pro,” calling it “the culmination of a long and deep collaboration with Apple’s world-class engineering team.”
Apple’s Pro apps team
Apple hasn’t only explored engineering problems for its high-end Macs. It has also explored what problems its pro users face getting things done.
One illustration of this approach in the Mac Pro is the inclusion of an internal USB slot for dongles. Pros had been concerned these get broken and stolen when left poking out of machines.
To help it identify where improvements can be made, Apple has teams of professional users who help it explore real workflows. As I understand it, these teams comprise relatively loose groups of professional users working in the real world, creative pros working inside Apple, and groups from the company’s own development teams.
Their mission is to figure out how Apple’s solutions can be improved to help professional users get things done. They look for hardware, software and synergistic improvements to make.
More of what you need
Their feedback is why Apple is now able to stress that the Mac Pro delivers things users have wanted for years, such as expandability, RAM upgrades and so on. (I can’t help but observe that professionals in the creative markets have always wanted this. Way back when I attended the launch of the Power Mac G4 all those things were also on the list.)
Apple’s teams also look at how the platform can improve different workflows.
People talk about the pro market as some form of homogenous entity, but it’s not. Photographers need something different than film editors; music creatives use different tools than animators.
They have different needs – and Apple’s Pro Apps team seeks out the different pain points and tries to mitigate them.
The evolution of Metal from a graphics layer for iPhones to an API across all Apple’s platforms is a good illustration of this. Metal now drives everything from the workflow of a video animator or musician to the end user experience of someone accessing that work.
You have to put the user first
In a sense, I think it is true to say Apple had to focus on high-end users to help the Mac survive. The new age of computing is pervasive.
Mobile devices handle many of the tasks consumers once used Macs and PCs for, which means those PCs that do get sold are either great for really complex jobs, or cheap machines for trivial tasks.
With iPhones, iPads and wearables cannibalizing the computer market, Apple had to find a way to make Macs relevant in a mobile age.
You can see it as a digital transformation project, if you like.
New technologies changed Apple’s market and in order to survive that change the company needed to focus on its customers and change itself.
It’s a lesson for any enterprise:
In any industry, successful digital transformation requires firms to invest the time it takes to ensure digital deployments meet real needs rather than introducing complexity. You don’t make your workforce more productive by making their lives more complicated.
That’s why every enterprise needs the equivalent of a pro apps team devoted to identifying where friction in existing business processes exist and figuring out technological solutions to improve them.
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