Has Apple abandoned pro users?

Can it really be true that Apple is putting the Mac Pro out to grass?

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When Phil Schiller introduced the Mac Pro to audiences at WWDC 2006, he was clearly in awe. "I am so excited," he said, during the presentation.

"This is the Mac so many of our highest end customers have dreamed of."

At WWDC 2012, Schiller was excited about the Retina MacBook Pro. After two years of neglect, the Mac Pro received a derisory refresh: a speed bump to the processors, but no new graphics hardware, no Thunderbolt and no USB 3.0.

"The only high-end thing about it is the price," wrote Andy Hertzfeld, who helped design the original Mac. In 2009, Tim Cook said that Apple would "participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution." Is the pro market still one of them?

Say it with towers

Apple APerture

If by 'pro market' you mean 'Mac Pro market', then in financial terms the answer is probably no.

Apple canned the Xserve server in late 2010 on the grounds that hardly anybody was buying it, and the Mac Pro's position is looking similarly shaky: it's a tiny bit of Apple's PC business, which in turn is dwarfed by iOS.

In its most recent financial quarter, Q3 2012, Apple brought in $16 billion from the iPhone, $9 billion from the iPad and just under $5 billion from Macs, and of the four million Macs it sold, three million were laptops.

That leaves one million iMacs, Mac minis and Mac Pros, and while Apple doesn't break down the sales of its individual models it does say that its 1,010,000 desktop sales brought in revenues of $1,287,000,000. That works out as an average selling price (ASP) of $1,274.

That's just $75 more than the cheapest iMac and just over half the price of a basic Mac Pro, so it suggests that Mac Pros aren't flying out of Cupertino in enormous quantities.

It seems that copies of Apple's pro programs weren't flying off the shelves either, because Apple appears to be repositioning its pro apps towards the bigger prosumer market: the latest versions of Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are significantly cheaper than their predecessors, and in the case of Final Cut Pro X, many pro customers were appalled by a release that, they felt, skipped crucial features and backwards compatibility.

What's interesting about those programs is that you don't need a Mac Pro to run them. Could Apple's workstation go the way of the Xserve?

Mac Pro: oh no

Nvidia graphics

The argument for the Mac Pro is simple enough: while consumer Macs have become significantly more powerful in recent years - for example, Thunderbolt replaces the need for a big tower's various expansion slots and Grand Central Dispatch has been making the most of multi-core consumer Macs since OS X 10.6 - there's still a large gap between the maximum storage, RAM and processing power in a consumer Mac and in a Mac Pro.

Where ordinary Macs come with single quad-core processors, Mac Pros can be configured with twelve cores; where desktop Macs run out of RAM at 16 or 32GB, Mac Pros can handle 64GB, and so on. It's a machine for Apple's big-spending customers who expect cutting-edge tech.

This year, they didn't get it. As Andy Hertzfeld put it: "Still no Thunderbolt, still no USB 3.0, no SATA III or RAM speed improvements - it seems like it's stuck in time in 2010." And he's got a valid point: while maxing out the options list can take the 2012 Mac Pro well past the £10,000 mark, the top-end graphics option is a pair of £100 ATI Radeons that have been around since 2009.

Hertzfeld wasn't the only person with concerns. Instapaper creator Marco Arment wrote: "If you wanted to kill a product line, an 'update' like today's would be a good way to clear out parts and keep selling to a few desperate buyers for a bit longer without any real investment."