Switched On: Form in the USA

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|06.30.13

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Ross Rubin
June 30th, 2013
Switched On: Form in the USA

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

The Mac Pro might have been worthy of the "One More Thing" kinds of reveals that Steve Jobs used to do at Apple events. Despite being foreshadowed by Tim Cook as a product the company was going to make in the US, it was virtually carted in from left field at an event that focused broadly on new operating systems before a crowd of developers that could appreciate its power. That said, it will likely require OS X Mavericks, a thematically fitting release for a product that represents a new wave in Apple's design.

Some have said that iOS 7 may be the company's New Coke. The Mac Pro, though, is the new can. Its cylindrical form represents a new design for Apple, albeit one that jibes with the company's affinity for simple, rounded, iconic shapes. Like the new AirPort Extreme, it has a significant vertical profile, but is a fraction of the size of its predecessor designed to accommodate multiple optical drives and hard drives.

The new internals define a beast of a computer, which includes an Intel Xeon E5 chipset supporting up to 12 cores, a four-channel DDR3 memory controller running at 1866MHz, an AMD FirePro workstation-class GPU with up to 6GB of dedicated VRAM and PCI Express-based flash storage. All of this is cooled by a single, quiet fan that expels air through the top via backward-curved impeller blades (like you would be caught dead with forward-curved impeller blades).

The Mac Pro may now be small enough to vie for a place on a desk the way a Mac mini would, but it will be used and priced nothing like Apple's other diminutive desktop. Apple describes it as the most expandable Mac it has ever made via its ports, which include a complement of Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.0 connectors. In fact, its lighting-identified connectors accommodate up to 36 daisy-chained devices. You can bet that its externally simple design will need to be augmented by at least some external storage for many of its pro users.

The Mac Pro represents a series of revisits for Apple.

Even after dismissing an Apple price premium, those are the kinds of leading-edge components that will allow the type of margin that accommodates American manufacturing; this should have appeal beyond simple patriotism for Apple, a company that maintains meticulous control over each detail of its products. As the East Coast developer of a crowdfunded smartwatch recently explained, having your suppliers nearby makes it easier to react when there are problems; he keeps his no more than a six-hour drive away and praises their quality. The production of the Mac Pro, on the other hand, will cast a wider net, with elements of it occurring in Texas, Kentucky and elsewhere.

The Mac Pro represents a series of revisits for Apple -- a return to the high-end market and to US manufacturing. But its unique place in Apple's lineup may make it the exception in Apple's strongly consumer-leaning product line, where competitive pressure for iOS-based products requires higher prioritization of cost as well as other factors. When details about the Mac Pro are finalized, we will see if the symbolic "Made in the USA" sticker can avoid coming with sticker shock.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.
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