New (old) iMac Day

Well, not as old as yesterday’s iPads. But the non-pro iMac finally received an update to its internals after a little more than a year and a half. This update was also delivered via press-release, ahead of Apple’s upcoming press event on the 25th which is rumored to be exclusively about their video streaming service.

Jason Snell has some disappointments with the new iMacs, specifically with the fact that the $1300 base-model iMac still includes a traditional disk drive:

Not to belabor the point, but the iMac is the only remaining new Apple product that features a spinning hard drive. It’s also the only Mac in a couple of years to receive an update and not include an Apple-designed ARM processor for security and other features. (The two are probably related—so far as I can tell, Apple has designed the T2 to only use flash storage.)

Spinning disks had a good run, but they’re old tech. They’re far less reliable than flash storage drives, and are also generally much slower. The $1299 base-model 4K iMac ships with a slow 5400 rpm spinning disk. It’s almost unforgiveable.

I agree with Snell, it isn’t fair for Apple’s most price-sensitive customers to end up with unreliable and outdated storage methods. You can’t easily upgrade that storage at home, once you realize how slow that 5200 RPM drive is.

There is still a non-Retina, 21”, iMac at $1100. That iMac joins the non-Retina MacBook Air in the land of Macs that Apple forgot.

This may well be the year of the Mac Pro, but it is extremely unlikely that the successor to the trashcan  Mac Pro (I actually thought it looked kind of cool) will be below $5,000. It’s still a frustration that there aren’t reasonably priced, modular, Macs that can compete for desktop performance without the built-in displays of the iMac line, or the workstation parts, and price, of the Pro-lineup of desktops.

We’ll see what happens at the WWDC keynote in early June when the new Mac Pro will most likely be announced. I’m not sure the attendees who paid $1600 for the non-transferrable ticket, and thousands more for hotel rooms, will care that much about the high prices of these Mac Pros.

The 2017 iMac Pro

Lost during my recent travel was Apple’s release of the iMac Pro, the “pro” version of the iMac that was announced at WWDC. The iMac Pro gets you higher performance and what may be many features of the promised-but-yet-to-be-updated-since-2013 Mac Pro, but with a glued-on high-resolution (5120×2880 P3 color gamut) screen and absolutely zero upgradability of internal components.

For an iPad or iPhone, that’s fine, glue whatever you need together to make the device as thin and light as it can get. It’d be great if you could upgrade the storage in those, and if sometimes they would optimize for battery life over thinness, but here we are looking at a different beast. Despite the Xeon-based workstation hardware you get inside an iMac Pro, with modern desktops you really must be able to, at a minimum, upgrade the graphics processor in order to maintain performance for the lifespan of these devices

I don’t doubt that there are some people or businesses that would appreciate this design of high-performance in a completely sealed design computer, but I find some serious flaws in one of Apple’s proposed use-cases: the idea that this is for virtual reality developers.

Why would anyone deploy a VR app on a platform where the $5,000 iMac Pro is the only device that can support the final product? Sure you could do your work on the iMac Pro and cross-compile for Windows, but that seems like a bad idea if your main development computer isn’t also a device you can test for your primary distribution platform. This is the worst example of the inaccessibility of virtual reality today. Here’s a $5,000 computer and then you have to buy a $600 VR HMD to get started with using or playing VR. When a future VR headset is released any iMac Pro VR developers and users will either have to buy an external GPU or replace the entire computer. Anyone on a desktop tower using Windows can just upgrade their graphics card.

Of course if you’re working in video or audio production, or another field that requires high-end computation, this could be a good workstation for that. However, you have to also believe that Apple will continue to support the “pro” desktop platform that they have neglected for almost a decade with infrequent (Mac Pro) or half-assed (Mac Mini) updates.

This computer has so many caveats and despite the fact that the starting price is actually competitive with other similarly outfitted workstation computers that price is chief among the reasons why I don’t find it very appealing. Maybe the Mac Pro will actually ship next year and be truly modular to replace the Mac Mini as well as the 2013 “trash can” Mac Pro. 

I still dream of a modular desktop Mac that can do all these things and span a wider range of prices to include regular desktop parts (and prices) in addition to scaling up to workstation performance and price, without the glued-on screen. It’ll never happen, and that’s why even though I’m still writing this on my late 2013 MacBook Pro, I built a Windows desktop machine last year.