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Commentary

Apple's uncharacteristic candour good for everyone

Mac Pro maker makes apology and talks about new version long before its likely launch

"Can't innovate anymore, my a**!"

Those words, from Apple marketing honcho Phil Schiller during the unveiling of the cylindrical-shaped Mac Pro in 2013, would come back to haunt him.

For all its beauty, the 2013 Mac Pro professional desktop computer does not allow for much upgrade, especially with the graphics card. Furthermore, before last week's minor specs upgrade, it has not been refreshed for nearly four years - an eternity in tech terms, and much to the chagrin of creative professionals.

This has left many professional users wondering if they should buy such an old system or jump to a Windows machine (gasp!). I know of some who have quit waiting and made the switch.

But, last week, in a rare departure from its usual secretive stance on future products, Apple's three high-ranking executives met select journalists such as John Gruber of Daring Fireball and John Paczkowski of BuzzFeed, to assure everyone that Apple is still serious about the Mac Pro.

Now, the likes of Schiller, Craig Federighi (Apple's head of software engineering) and John Ternus (head of Mac hardware) giving information to the media is almost unprecedented.

Mr Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, introducing the Mac Pro in October 2013. Last week, he and two of his senior colleagues revealed that the next Mac Pro will be modular.
Mr Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, introducing the Mac Pro in October 2013. Last week, he and two of his senior colleagues revealed that the next Mac Pro will be modular. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Even more surprising was an apology from Mr Schiller ("we're sorry to disappoint customers", he said) about the restrictive upgrade nature of the current Mac Pro.

The three Apple executives revealed that the new Mac Pro will be modular and they are working hard on it. No word on when it will be launched, but it is definitely not this year.

These revelations are jaw-dropping on two counts. First, Apple has "unveiled" a product far ahead of its launch. Usually, the period between the unveiling and launch is less than an hour.

Second, Apple has seemingly admitted that it made a mistake with the Mac Pro. Okay, the word "mistake" was not actually used during the interview, but an apology is clearly an indication of a mistake.

One might see all of this as a sign of Apple being really afraid and trying to revive a failing product. But I see it as an honest attempt to win back the confidence of the professional users.

Apple does not need to do this, as its cash cow continues to be the iPhone.

In fact, the Cupertino giant could have let go of the Mac business, as it accounted for only 9.25 per cent of Apple's revenue in the first quarter of this year, according to market-research company Statista.

Instead, the company has come out to reassure professional Mac users. According to Apple, this group of users constitutes only 30 per cent of all Mac users, which means they form a really insignificant group in terms of overall sales, even if the Mac Pro they buy is one of the most expensive consumer desktop computers around.

Hence, I am inclined to believe that the reason for Apple's recent product relevations was down to the company's commitment to the artists, musicians, photographers, videographers and other creative professionals who use the Mac to create works of art.

Apple has always strived to be more than just a company about dollars and cents. It sees itself as the agent of change for the betterment of humanity.

In almost all the Apple keynotes that I have attended, "changing the world" is something I hear.

Some might see it as arrogance, while others might see it as hypocrisy.

But I think Apple truly believes in its mission.

And this instance of uncharacteristic candour can only be good for consumers.

Now, other PC makers cannot rest on their laurels, as they will want to lauch a Mac Pro killer even before the new Mac Pro arrives.

Thus, a switch from secrecy to accessibility from Apple is good for everyone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Apple's uncharacteristic candour good for everyone'. Print Edition | Subscribe