Can Apple outdo PCs with the new Mac Pro? [Friday Night Fights]

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Are you waiting for the new Mac Pro?
Are you waiting for the new Mac Pro?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple excited us all this week by revealing it is finally planning a major redesign for the neglected Mac Pro. Although we don’t know much about it just yet, we’ve been promised a modular machine that will be easier to update.

Friday Night Fights bugThis signals a return to a more traditional desktop form factor with user-upgradeable parts and more flexibility. But is it too little, too late? Has Apple already lost too many pro users, and will its next Mac Pro do enough to win them back?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we battle it out over Apple’s efforts to win back the professionals.

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: I’m delighted Apple is “rethinking” the Mac Pro. I’m even more excited that it has hinted at a “modular” machine that could allow for user upgrades like traditional desktop computers. But part of me thinks it’s too little, too late. I’m not sure Apple can do enough to make the Mac a better option than a powerful Windows PC in most cases.

Apple’s computers will always be prettier than the competition’s, but they will always be more expensive, too. Apple could solve a lot of the Mac Pro’s problems by making it upgradeable and using proper desktop graphics cards, but you will still be able to buy a Windows PC that’s just as powerful — if not even more so — for less.

This has always been the case, but it’s different now. Pro consumers used to be happy to pay the Apple tax, but in the four years that the trash can Mac has been on the market, many have already switched to Windows machines. I don’t see them switching back and paying extra just for a prettier machine powered by macOS now that they’re used to Microsoft’s platform.

The other demographic that’s willing to spend more for high-end specifications is gamers. And Apple has been so far behind in this space for so long that macOS just can’t compete when it comes to gaming. Very few AAA titles are Mac-compatible, and those that are don’t play as well on an Apple computer. I don’t see that changing with the new Mac Pro.

If you’re a professional user who is still committed to macOS, then the new Mac Pro can’t come soon enough. But I think Apple is putting a lot of resources into rethinking a machine that will appeal to very few computer users. What do you think?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: In some ways, I’m not sure this will be quite the “fight” our Friday sessions normally are. On the one hand, I’m incredibly relieved that Apple is finally embracing the pro market again for its Macs. This was Apple’s bread and butter during the “bad old days” of the 1990s and — while part of my love for that era is nostalgic — part of it is that Apple was making expandable Macs which didn’t just look nicer than the PCs of the time, but were far more powerful, as well.

There’s no denying that pro-level consumers are a small slice of the overall PC pie, but it’s a slice that’s very dedicated and aren’t going to switch to tablets any time soon. PC sales are declining each year, so I’d love to see Apple target the market that’s going to be around for the foreseeable future, rather than offering crippled products like the Touch Bar MacBook Pro, which is “pro” in name only.

My reservation comes from the fact that this latest announcement, which is very different from Apple’s usual modus operandi, feels like it may be a hasty decision made out of realizing they’ve gone awry, rather than genuinely having a pro-oriented plan.

If it’s not, though, I do think pro customers have a lot to benefit from. MacOS is still vastly superior to Windows in terms of both usability and security, and particularly if you work in a creative industry it’s the standard. You may well have a point about gamers, though. If Apple really can deliver the modular Mac they’re promising, this could be terrifically exciting — and worth waiting for.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: I agree pro users will need computers for the foreseeable future, but they don’t need to be Apple computers anymore.

Not only have pro users been upset with Apple’s recent decisions for the Mac Pro, but almost every Mac user has been disappointed with its software in recent years. As you’ve pointed out in previous Friday Night Fights, the level of quality control appears to have dropped, and macOS isn’t the super-stable operating system with an immunity to malware that it once was.

I was a Mac user for about nine years. I bought an iMac when I was 16, once I’d saved up enough money from my first job, and every computer I owned after that was a Mac. That was until around three years ago when I realized I could get a much more powerful PC for less, and install OS X on it if I wanted to. Now I’ve switched to Windows 10 completely, and I love it.

I don’t see myself switching back to macOS anytime soon. My PC does everything my Mac did. It does it faster and for a lot less. It also plays any game I want to play. I have macOS Sierra installed on another drive and I can boot to that in seconds if I want to — but I can’t remember the last time I needed (or wanted) it.

I don’t think Apple can just build a better desktop and expect users to come flocking back to it. Many pro users have already switched, and in the year or two years it takes for the new Mac Pro to arrive, others will have followed suit. They won’t spend thousands on a new Mac just for macOS after investing in Windows software.

And Windows PCs will continue to offer more flexibility in the future. Apple might allow us to upgrade things like the RAM and graphics cards, but other components will be locked down, or they will be propriety Apple parts that cost a heck of a lot more to replace.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: On the price side of things, you certainly have a point. Even in my aforementioned favorite Mac period (which was also, maybe not coincidentally, one of the worst periods for Apple financially) Apple had a “high right” approach: leading on both price and spec. Unless Apple shows a whole lot more flexibility than it ever has before, I don’t expect it to offer an expandable, pro-oriented Mac and one that’s significantly cheaper.

You’re correct that Apple’s quality control has slipped, but there are still plenty of reasons why a Mac is preferable. The seamless ability to hand things off to your iOS device is incredibly useful, the customer support is excellent, and the build quality and optimization is something you just won’t get from your PC in pretty much every case.

If Apple is looking to seriously embrace the pro market again, I think it can do it. The Mac Pro was a brilliant product when it came out, and one of my all-time favorite Macs was the G4 Cube. Neither of those allowed users to keep upgrading them, though, which meant it didn’t take long for them to be superseded. But Apple has changed its philosophy before, notably with the locked-down Macintosh 128K and the far more open Mac II.

You just have to look at the great work Microsoft’s doing right now with hardware, and compare that to the dark days of the Zune, to see that a company can learn from its mistakes. Apple has an enormous amount of goodwill with customers. Yes, there will be some who don’t care about aesthetics or iOS compatibility, and for whom price is the overriding factor in their decision making. Perhaps they won’t be Apple’s customers — but would they ever have been?

Let me ask you this, then: do you think Apple’s genuinely changed its tune with regards to pro customers, or do you think this is a stalling tactic and it’s got no idea how to win these customers back? Apple’s rarely been so open about problems it’s had. The fact that it’s admitting it screwed up and trying to make amends shows that the pro customers are an audience it wants to engage with. Now we just need to see if Apple delivers.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: I certainly think Apple has changed its tune, but I don’t think it will do enough to win back some users.

The new Mac Pro might end up being more flexible, but I still don’t think it will be flexible enough because it’s an Apple machine. As I mentioned before, certain components won’t be replaceable, or they will only be available from Apple at a premium. It will still be up to Apple to choose what kind of ports we should have, and how many of them. Form will continue to beat function.

Maybe Apple will surprise me, and I’ll be eating my words when the new Mac Pro finally drops. But for now, I’m still glad I switched to PC, and I don’t see Apple doing enough to convince me to switch back.

Let’s hand this over to the readers now. Are you excited for the new Mac Pro, and do you think Apple will make the right changes? If you’ve already switched to PC, can you see yourself switching back?

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?