The next version of the Mac Pro is coming sometime in 2019, but the only thing we know for sure is that it won’t look much like the Mac Pro we have now. After a small meeting with a few select press members last year and this month, Apple has made some statements about the upcoming Mac Pro, Apple’s workstation-class desktop.
EDITORS NOTE (06/10/2019): Apple announced the new Mac Pro desktop earlier this week, along with a 32-inch 6K monitor and assorted accessories. Both will be available this September.
Working To Get It Right
Apple says is taking steps to communicate more openly to potential Mac Pro customers to explain what’s happening with Apple’s workstation-class desktop. That’s a big change for a company that’s known for being exceptionally tight-lipped about upcoming products.
“We want to be transparent and communicate openly with our pro community so we want them to know that the Mac Pro is a 2019 product,” said Tom Boger, Senior Director of Mac Hardware Product Marketing, as reported by TechCrunch. “It’s not something for this year.”
Apple is also making major efforts to gather real-world feedback to learn what professionals need and where the pain points are in their widely-varied workflows. Since the Mac Pro is used by professions as widely varied as media pros – video editing, audio engineers and 3D animators, to name a few – as well as architects, scientists and software programmers, the hardware needs to support a wide range of workflows.
The that end, Apple has created what it's called the “Pro Workflow Team,” and internal group that works closely with both Apple’s hardware and software engineers, but also professionals from a wide array of disciplines. The group is studying how these disparate professions use workstation-grade hardware and how the upcoming Mac Pro can properly serve a diverse range of needs.
“I think this is very much a situation where we want to measure twice and cut once,” said John Ternus, vice president of hardware engineering at Apple, “We want to make sure we’re building a really well thought out platform for what our pro customers are doing today. But also with an eye towards what they’re going to be doing in future as well. And so to do that right that’s that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Stuck Between a Mac and a Hard Place
The timing also raises questions about whether Pro customers should opt for this year’s iMac Pro or wait until the new Mac Pro comes in 2019.
“We know that there’s a lot of customers today that are making purchase decisions on the iMac Pro and whether or not they should wait for the Mac Pro,” said Boger.
The recently released iMac Pro puts workstation-grade hardware into the familiar iMac form factor, but it aside from offering high-powered components, it lacks any options for upgrading the hardware. Even adding RAM requires taking the system in to an authorized Mac service center. The iMac Pro has been seen by many as a stop-gap measure to satisfy the ranks of professionals that need a workstation-grade Mac until the new Mac Pro launches next year. This is an especially important move given that the Mac Pro hasn’t seen a major update since it first came out.
Released in 2013, the current Mac Pro was designed with custom internals that offer hyper-efficient passive cooling and an impressively small size, but made it all but impossible for users to upgrade the single chip Xeon processor or dual AMD FirePro graphics cards inside. Equipped with the then-new Thunderbolt 2 ports, all expansion required external devices plugged into the back of the trashcan-shaped desktop, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of power users who had valued the modular expandability of the Mac Pros from 2010 and earlier.
“We made something bold that we thought would be great … and what we discovered is that it was great for some and not others,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing in a meeting with Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. “Enough so, that we realized we had to take another path ... and look for the next answer.”
The Mac Pro only just received a hardware update, with options available for a six-core and eight-core Intel Xeon E5 processors, and dual AMD G500 or D800 graphics cards.
What We Know (Or Strongly Suspect)
One of the few specifics that has been confirmed is that the new Mac Pro will feature Apple’s new standalone “pro display,” an Apple-branded monitor that is expected to meet or exceed the current 5K Retina display offered on iMacs. While it looked as if Apple was going to exit the display business when it partnered with LG last year for 5K monitors to use with Macbooks and other Mac products, the new Mac Pro looks like a change in direction.
We also know that, in one form or another, the new Mac Pro will be modular. Describing the new Mac Pro, Boger says the new desktop is “inherently a modular system and in looking at our customers and their workflows obviously that’s a real need for our customers and that’s the direction we’re going.”
There are still some major questions that have no official answers. The first among them is whether or not the new Mac Pro will feature the tried and true Intel Xeon platform that’s been offered in the 2013 Mac Pro and the recent iMac Pro, or whether it will be one of the first systems to utilize Apple’s new ARM processing hardware as the company moves away from Intel chips. Recent announcements suggest that the new chips won’t show up in Apple products until 2020, but with the long product life of Apple’s Pro products, that presents a significant overlap.
The other big question is whether or not the new modular approach to the Mac Pro will rely on an upgradeable internal design or will it use a variation on the Thunderbolt-connected external GPUs it’s recently started supporting on Macs running the latest update to macOS High Sierra.
We expect rumors to trickle out over the next several months, but Apple is expected to make the official announcement of the Mac Pro later this year, during Apple’s WWDC in June or during the company’s fall event, which generally deals with iPhone announcements.