In an unusual admission last year, Apple announced work had begun on a new Mac Pro. A do-over, if you will, after it designed itself into a corner with the trash can-looking cylindrical computer.
Apple never promised a new Mac Pro for 2018 — SVP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller only said it would “take longer than this year  to do — and now we know he wasn’t kidding: The new Mac isn’t coming until 2019.
Yeah, it’s a bummer we’ll all have to wait that long, but it should mean Apple will have more time to design a machine that won’t turn off professionals.
In an exclusive report, TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino sat down with John Ternus, Apple’s vice president of hardware engineering, and several other executives to discuss the future of the Mac Pro.
Though Apple was predictably vague about any details — we know the new Mac Pro’s not coming out until next year, and Schiller said they’re “going to work on a display for a modular system” — we did get details that suggest they’re designing a system that’s truly optimized to address the pain points of creative professionals instead of simply jamming a bunch of powerful PC parts together and calling it a day.
Specifically, Apple says it has assembled a “Pro Workflow Team” to better understand the needs of professionals across a broad range of fields.
Fine-tuning hardware for software is key
From video producers, to 3D animators, to music producers, to artists, Apple says it’s looking into the bottlenecks that frustrate professionals. It’s not purely about getting more performance with a faster processor, or beefier graphics card, or more RAM.
Making the software work seamlessly with the hardware seems to be Apple’s top priority. Which makes sense because Apple’s always touted its advantage of owning the entire stack.
For the new Mac Pros, Apple is not only tuning its own apps, like Final Cut Pro X and Logic, to run at at peak levels, but working with many creatives to learn how to improve for the third-party apps they use.
Apple’s so focused on this optimizing that it’s even hired many creative professionals to give them invaluable insight on the types of issues they run into.
Ternus on the kind of problems they’re trying to solve for with the new Mac Pro:
“These aren’t necessarily always fundamental performance issues. These aren’t things that you’d find in a benchmark or an automated test flow. You know we have examples where we find something… like it’s a window that a 3D animator uses frequently to make some fine tweaks. The windows are not super graphically intensive in terms of processing and stewing but we have found an issue where that window was taking like 6 to 10 seconds to open and they’re doing that 100 times a day, right? Like ‘I can’t work on a machine like this, it’s too slow,’ so we dig in and we figure out what it was.
In that case we found something in the graphics driver was not right, and once you know where to look and you fix it, it completely changes the kind of live-on-ability for that system — the productivity for that user completely changed.”
Pushing the Mac Pro into 2019 also has another potential benefit: It could mean Apple might integrate more of its own silicon.
Currently, the iMac Pro uses a T2 co-processor chip to control hardware like the microphones, FaceTime HD camera, and for securely booting up macOS. On the MacBook Pros with Touch Bar, there’s a T1 co-processor chip that controls the touch strip.
There’s talk that Apple could add more co-processor(s) to its Macs (unclear which ones) that could improve app and system performance.
This could be an interim solution before Apple reportedly switches away from Intel processors to its own custom chips.
Apple’s opening its ears
Whatever happens, it’s now clear as day Apple is doubling down on professionals. It’s observing and taking notes.
What do professionals really need to get their job done? Because of the different needs of every professional, one interesting possibility is that Apple might have even more distinctly differentiated SKUs configurable for these folks. For example, a video producer might need a monster graphics card, whereas a music producer wouldn’t. It certainly would be a first for Apple if it did build specific models catered to different types of professionals.
This is all speculation of course. But it’s a safe bet that Apple’s learned its lesson after the trash can Mac Pro. Though it’s being developed in typical Apple secrecy, the new Mac Pro is shaping up to be the first Mac that might actually be designed from the feedback of its most loyal users. They deserve machines that work for them since they’re willing to pay top dollar for them and Apple seems willing to shed some of its arrogance to please them.