Opinion: It's time for Apple to overhaul the Mac Pro's dated design

Macworld UK | 04 March 13

Apple is, for the moment at least, no longer selling the Mac Pro in Europe. Is Apple annoyed with us for still buying BlackBerries or siding with Samsung in the courts? No, it’s because an amendment to the IEC 60950-1 regulation increases requirements around electrical port protection and the fan guards in the system.

That’s almost as boring as the Mac Pro itself. Boring? The mighty Mac Pro? How so?

The tower system for Mac professionals who like adding things other than stickers to their computer looks damn cool. It’s a cold aluminium mountain of pure power.

You can add new graphics cards, four hard drives and all sorts to its clinical innards. It boasts Hyper-Threading technology for up to 24 virtual cores, for heaven’s sake. It has more ports than the coast of China. It can pack up to 64GB of RAM. You can take one side off and use it as a sledge.

The trouble with the Mac Pro isn’t just the amendment to the IEC 60950-1 regulation. The thing that makes the Mac Pro so boring is that it hasn’t really changed for a decade. Really. Just take a look...

The original Power Mac G5 is on the left. The latest Mac Pro is on the right. Ports have changed – although there's still no Thunderbolt or USB 3.0, despite Thunderbolt being around for over two years! The presence of two optical-drive slots shows just how old the Mac Pro is – Apple spits at such things these days.

Back in June 2003, when the iMac still looked like an Anglepoise lamp and the iPod had buttons on the front Apple unveiled the Power Mac G5, which shipped with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. The G5 marked Apple’s move away from Motorola chips to IBM. Yes, Intel was still an Apple enemy in those days.

Steve Jobs looked like a chubby bearded Eric Cantona. Apple had just launched the iTunes Music Store, but Jobs was dismissive of movie downloads: “We don't think that's what people want,” he told Rolling Stone.

Busted were riding high in the pop charts. Finding Nemo was in cinemas. The Pope who’s just retired was still a cardinal. Tony Blair and George Bush had only two months earlier toppled (but not captured) Saddam Hussein. Concorde was still flying. One of the Best Actress nominees for this year’s Oscars wasn’t even born.

David Bowie has released two albums since the Power Mac G5 arrived on the scene*.

You get the idea. 2003 was a long, long time ago. And Apple’s professional Mac system looked pretty much identical to the one that is still on sale outside of Europe.

If looks could kill, the little-changed Mac Pro is dead already

In terms of technology design ten years is equivalent to the time between the Triassic and Cretaceous periods. While it’s true that during that 10 years no other workstation company has designed anything as majestic as the Power Mac G5/ Mac Pro it shows a distinct lack of ambition in Jony Ive and co in sticking with the same design. Even the Mac mini changed its looks occasionally. Apple probably thought more about the colours of iPod socks than they did changing the pro desktop Mac.

The last time Apple updated the Mac Pro – albeit with Intel's two-year-old Westmere-EP architecture rather than the newer Xeon E5 – it boldly slapped a “New” sticker on its image in the Online Store. After getting up the next day and looking at itself in the mirror Apple shame-facedly removed the shiny label.

CEO Tim Cook has made a very vague suggestion (“We’re working on something really great" – not insanely great, just really great) that Apple would be upgrading its professional desktop sometime later this year. But it’s clear that Apple just isn’t that bothered by its professional users any more – discontinuing Xserve and apparently dumbing down Final Cut Pro.

When it dumped the Xserve Apple told users to switch to the more powerful Mac Pro. If Tim’s nod to a major upgrade doesn’t come to pass then we can expect the iMac to take over professional duties. Yet it took Apple two years to update the iMac in 2012 – but at least it looks wildly different to the Bondi Blue iMac.

Apple no doubt is looking at diminishing Mac Pro sales. But this is a vicious circle. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Tim and Jony know more than anyone that the less things change, the less likely Apple fans are to buy them.

* I'm including Bowie's new one, as you can stream it all on 2003's other big release, the iTunes Music Store, and it's out on old-school formats in a week anyway.


Marcoss Saldor said: I have both a G5 and a mac pro they are still look better than any PC on the market (ugly plastic things they are) but I am looking forward to the new one it will fit under my desk better.

Ancient said: Noubt wrong with the external appearance, its the innards that need a revamp, they need to provide us with an £800 mac pro, no xeons or fbdimms in sight, maybe even same case design just cheaper material, use a pair of standard haswells not xeons, standard ddr3 memory, improve drive accessibility button press release, roller bearing drive trays ? externally accessible. better sound proofing and air filtering / air flow, and make them last, and keep the graphics updated throughout its lifecycle by just releasing mac drivers for PC versions of the newer graphics cards ?

Alex said: mac pro = timeless industrial design. why change it?

David said: Just sold my old G5. Hard to see it go, it still looks good....Timeless industrial design.

Patrick Rynhart said: If it ain't broke....

Dhub said: We recently got a shiny new Mac Pro and i am afraid I have to agree with Simon, The Mac Pro is a fantastic tool, perhaps it has been around for a long time but there are some things that just simply work and unless you have got under the hood of one of these machines you will not be in a position to comment. The construction of this tower and the way in which it functions is incredible, those of you that have got under the hood will have no doubt loved how you get into the tower and these easy of sliding out the processors chip to gain access the memory and said chips. The aluminium case stays cool so for Apple this is one of their products which is very much function over form, and rightly so. Almost certainly there will be another design on the horizon, but don't only judge Apple on looks alone, hard to do I know...

Simon said: Still does it for me