Why won’t Apple build a game-worthy Mac? [Friday Night Fights]

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Tell us, Apple!
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Mac users needn’t bother pre-ordering an Oculus Rift headset because they can’t use it. According to Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, that’s because none of the machines Apple offers are powerful enough to meet its recommended specifications.

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2They’re not powerful enough to play the latest games at high-settings, either. Even if you spend thousands on a high-end Mac Pro, you’re going to be disappointed with its gaming prowess — especially if you want to drink in some of those sweet, sweet 4K graphics.

So, is it about time Apple built a Mac that’s good for gaming?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we battle it out over this and more!

Killian-FNFKillian Bell — Writer, Cult of Android: When I decided to upgrade my MacBook to a desktop a few years, I knew I wanted enough power to play games. I have a PS4 and I play it often, but I think a lot of genres are better played with a keyboard and mouse.

It didn’t take me long to decide that I would have to move away from Apple machines. None of them have a GPU that’s suitable for playing the latest titles at high settings.

As noted by Luckey, you can spend $6,000 on a Mac Pro and you still wouldn’t have enough power to use the Oculus Rift. Even with two AMD FirePro D700 GPUs, you’re going to struggle to play recent titles in 4K. Yet a custom-built PC that cost just $1,000 can power Oculus Rift, and you wouldn’t need to spend much more to get a smooth 4K experience, either.

Now, I know Apple’s high-end machines are built with professional content creators in mind, and they do a great job at catering to that market. But with more and more people using Macs and virtual reality on the rise, I feel like Apple is missing out by not offering at least one desktop that’s suitable for playing games.

So, my question to you is this: Should Apple be doing more to accommodate gamers?

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl — Writer, Cult of Mac: This is a tricky one. Normally, I feel like I can spend our Friday Night Fights session arguing something that I believe to be true for both myself and Apple users in general. This week, I’m forced to admit that, as much as I’d love to see a high-end games PC equivalent made by Apple — particularly one that could be used for Oculus — it’s not necessarily something Apple should be in a hurry to pursue.

To start by addressing your Oculus Rift point, while it’s certainly true that even a Mac Pro couldn’t run Oculus, Palmer Luckey’s point does leave out a few things. It is highly likely that the spec for running Oculus will change over the coming years. I have no doubt that, if bringing it to Mac was a priority, Oculus’ creators could optimize for Mac. The fact that the team apparently paused development for OS X (and Linux too) isn’t purely limited to the technical capabilities of Apple’s computers.

Oculus also isn’t the be-all and end-all of VR. After all, you can get a passable VR effect on your smartphone or PS4, so the idea that a Mac wouldn’t be able to do the same thing is, frankly, ludicrous.

Macs will play games, but not like PCs.
Macs will play games, but not like PCs.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

As for whether or not Apple should do more to accommodate gamers, it’s a shame they don’t — but I understand why. It’s hard to believe now, but during the Apple II era, Apple’s computers were some of the best games machines around. Some of the biggest developers working today got their start on Apple machines. In that sense, it would be nice for Apple to embrace its heritage, but Apple is no longer focused on that crowd.

Today, Macs are more targeted at creatives and casual users. The priority is on making a computer that’s thin, silent to run, and — in the case of MacBooks — has a long battery life. An expandable Mac with an external GPU goes against Apple’s philosophy so much that it’s virtually impossible to imagine Tim Cook, Jony Ive and co. pursuing it.

It’s hard to blame them either, particularly when you look at the way that the PC market is declining, while Mac sales continue to grow year-on-year. PC gamers are a passionate, vocal crowd — but they still represent a niche, and Apple’s shown that it’s not interested in catering for niches, and nor is it interested in creating a wide variety of different machines (as you would find with PCs), each addressing slightly different use-cases.

It would be great to have a games PC with the attention to detail that Apple puts into its computers, and personally I’m convinced that VR is going to represent the next big game-changer in tech, but is it something Apple should do right now? I don’t think so.

Killian-FNFKillian: I’m sure the specifications for Oculus Rift will change over the years, but they’re not going to go backwards. If anything, the headset will just require even more powerful processors and GPUs to run even more impressive games. And yes, you can get VR on smartphones, but it’s not the same experience. Smartphone headsets costs under $100 for a reason, while Rift costs $599. I wouldn’t want to splash out on the latter for a subpar experience that’s been watered-down for Mac.

I don’t agree that it’s against “Apple’s philosophy” to offer an expandable Mac, either. Just four years ago, it was selling a Mac Pro that was more like a traditional PC, with PCIe slots that allowed for standard desktop video cards that could be upgraded. Why can’t it offer another Mac that offers the same? Why has it become so adverse to upgradeable computers?

I know Mac sales aren’t declining yet, but they will. They’re not going to die out anytime soon due to that creative market, which needs Macs no matter what, but there’s another market that will keep buying PCs regardless — and that’s gamers. A large number don’t want to play games on a tablet or even a console — they want the superior experience a PC brings.

Mac users are missing out on VR.
Mac users are missing out on VR.
Photo: Ste Smith / Cult of Mac

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: You seem very convinced that Mac sales are going to crash some time soon. In fact, it’s pretty much a repeated argument from you whenever we have these fun Friday get-togethers: “Yes, Apple’s doing okay now, but just you wait until [insert doom scenario].”

As I’ve said, I’d love to see a high-end Mac that could run Oculus and play top games. As it is, most of my gaming has to be done on consoles, since I’ve not taken your leap away from Macs and back into PCs. But I don’t think it’s something Apple is likely to do, and given the success it’s currently enjoying with its Mac sales, I don’t think there’s any reason to do it, either.

Let me put it to you another way: do you genuinely think a top-spec games iMac would really be anything more than a niche product for Apple? Executed correctly, I can see it appealing to a core group of gamers. But casual customers? Not so much.

Killian-FNFKillian: Well, whether the Mac business crashes or not, surely Apple would want more sales if it can get them? What if Mac Pro sales fall because those buying them decide that can get a more powerful PC and an Oculus Rift for half the price?

Virtual reality is taking off, and Apple is yet to do anything about it. You can buy a Google Cardboard headset for iPhone, but very few apps are available for it. If you want a greater experience — whether that’s with a smartphone or a desktop PC — you need to move away from Apple products.

I don’t disagree that it would be somewhat of a niche, but probably more so than the current Mac Pro. And if Apple could position it in between the iMac and the Mac Pro, many of those buying the former might consider paying extra for the machine that is capable of playing the latest games at respectable settings.

Let’s turn this over to the readers now. Would you like Apple to offer a Mac you can game on, or is it unnecessary?

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?