Editorial: Pro Display XDR and Apple's Grand Stand

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited July 2020
The internet lost its mind in June when Apple's VP of hardware engineering John Ternus debuted the company's new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR. For professionals, it was because of the bold new leap Apple was making to support real pro workflows. To content bloggers, it was an outrage that Apple's new $5,000 display dared to ship separately from its bespoke $999 aluminum stand. How dare Apple charge so much without some elaborate scheme to hide the real price?

Pro Display XDR
The rear of the Apple Pro Display XDR, with stand at WWDC 2019

Grandstanding

Reporting and commentary on the new Mac Pro and its new Pro Display XDR was quickly drowned out by internet commentators all announcing that they had a hot take on why Apple was way off base to mention the price of its Pro Display XDR monitor stand. Principally: consumers were watching! What might they think? Surely the solution was simply to hide the price so nobody would find out.

There were lots of dumb takes. Engadget climbed on a soapbox to proclaim "A $999 monitor stand is everything wrong with Apple today. It's an expensive gadget nobody needs." The Verge stayed on brand with "Apple's $1,000 Pro Display XDR stand is the most expensive dongle ever."

Sam Rutherford of Gizmodo pleaded, "How Ridiculous Is Apple's $1,000 Monitor Stand, Really?," actually writing that its price "could be used to purchase a brand new iPhone XS, a new 4K TV (or two), more than three Nintendo Switches" or as one meme suggested, a few textbooks.

9to5Mac chimed in with "Apple's $1000 monitor stand is a massive (and unnecessary) PR fail," explaining that Apple should have just added $1,000 to the cost, which nobody would have really objected to.

Perhaps people who didn't need the stand might object to paying an extra $999?

The obvious reality is that the market for Pro Display XDR is effectively limited to professional users working in a studio where there are likely already custom VESA mounts installed for reference monitors. Some units are also going to be used by people in other settings where being able to effortlessly adjust and position the screen is important. The choice to pick either a VESA mount or the stand Apple designed makes a lot more sense than inflating the price with mutually exclusive optional items, and then allow them to be removed-- all just to cater to an audience that isn't even remotely close to buying a $5,000 display for a $6,000 and up workstation.


This adapter allows Pro Display XDR to fit a standard VESA display panel mounting system


If the problem is the optics of price, the least perceptive solution one could share is that the price should be raised for everyone just to coddle people who aren't remotely likely to buy it. That's incredibly dumb to say out loud.

A look behind the memes

A variety of memes lampooned Apple's monitor stand and everyone near it. In the one below, a photo taken by Business Insider was used to suggest that various people were captivated taking photos of the stand all by itself-- as if monkeys excitedly hooting and waving their sticks around the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Image by Business Insider suggesting everyone is taking photos of a blank stand


In reality, Apple had positioned the stand on a table by itself in the hands-on area to show off its Augmented Reality experience running on iPads. Holding up an iPad, observers could graphically explore the inner workings of the stand's counterbalance mechanism as well as the layers of the Pro Display itself. I appeared in the photo because I was trying to capture the iPad's AR presentation of the inside of the counterbalance mechanism with my phone.


Opposite image of AR model running on iPad


The stand isn't just an expensive piece of metal; it's a counterbalanced, repositionable precision arm mechanism designed to allow the display to turn vertical or horizontal, and slide up and down effortlessly, holding its position exactly where it is set. Anyone who thinks that the stand isn't correctly priced should simply refuse to buy it, like its a Google Pixel 4 or a Zune or Surface or an Xserve. That's how markets work. Products that don't sell eventually stop getting produced.




Apple's AR tour of the inside of Pro Display XDR | via GIPHY


Beyond needing a custom design to make attachment of the heavy and delicate Pro Display possible, the stand also needs to be strong enough to securely hold a $5,000 or $6,000 display panel. This wouldn't be the smartest place to cheap out with a "commodity friendly, good enough" stand designed to hold up a lightweight TV panel. But does this mechanism need to cost $999, the same price that iPhone X debuted at when it was the state of the art in handheld mobile computers?

An entirely different market

Some sources have commented that the pro market Apple is now again targeting-- after a years-long period of absence following the misfire of the 2013 cylindrical Mac Pro-- doesn't seem to care too much about pricing. A review of other pro equipment seems to indicate that: seemingly simple brackets and other custom hardware easily cost thousands of dollars.

User RagnarKon commented on Reddit, "I used to work for a pro-video house, one of the last orders I made was for the Sony F-55 4K camera. Below is the breakdown:"

"Camera body: $29,000
Set of prime lens: $86,000
Memory cards: $7200
25" Monitor: $26,400
7" viewfinder monitor: $2900
Remote control panel: $1600
Misc Accessories: $9800
Heck... we paid $3000 for a piece of cardboard with colors on it. A $1000 monitor stand is a fricken bargain in that world."

It's not just that high-end pro users are willing to pay more. They are paying for different product tiers. Sony's F-55 camera is not a commodity 4K home camcorder. It's designed for an entirely different pro audience. It's not surprising that a Bobcat costs far more than a light-duty golf cart, despite both having four wheels. They are built for entirely different tasks.

It is, however, surprising that Apple could compare its new Pro Display XDR to a Sony reference monitor that costs $43,000, which it said still didn't "match the feature set of Pro Display XDR" priced at $4999, as the company detailed in its introduction of Pro Display XDR this summer.



Oddly enough, none of these tech bloggers compared Apple's Grand Stand to a Windows 10 Server standard license, which costs a grand just for a software license copy that costs Microsoft nothing to create. Perhaps Apple should give away the hardware and charge pro users a license fee for the intellectual property that went into designing it. Then it could also charge client access licenses per person who touches the thing. That would be so much easier for consumers to understand, and so much more lucrative for Apple.

Instead, bloggers like IGN Executive Editor Josh Norem compared it to a Playstation 4 with a consumer gaming TV and some video games. Really, why make movies or create soundtracks when you can play Spiderman?

Thousands vs millions

Beyond the qualitative aspect of pro-class hardware, there's also another factor: scale. High-end cameras, displays, and their accessories are very expensive not only because they are "better," but also because they are serving a smaller audience.

There are fewer potential pro users to bring the prices of their equipment down. Limited production runs are more expensive to build, distribute, and sell. That's an entirely different business from the consumer market that Apple has typically served.

From the Macintosh to iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and HomePod, Apple's consumer products have often appeared to be premium, expensive products. The reality, however, was that Apple was taking very expensive technology and making it much more affordable by creating a mass-market product that could build and sell by the millions. Working in that volume brought the price down due to economies of scale.

A major component of Apple's high volume production of iPhone, iPad, HomePod, Apple Watch, and Apple TV has been the development of Apple's own proprietary silicon. While extremely expensive to design, once the cost is spread across the hundreds of millions of devices Apple sells, this custom silicon ends up as an extremely valuable differentiator that enables the company to build more advanced products and lower cost.

The delicate balance

Every year, Apple has been able to sell the previous year's iPhone at a significant discount because the perpetual push toward more advanced technology also helped previous generations of components become cheaper to build. Google has shifted its weight back and forth in consumer gear, pushing advanced Honeycomb tablets that were more expensive than iPad, then trying cheaper Nexus tablets, then going back to premium-priced gear. That hasn't worked out well.

Apple has maintained a much more stable focus on what it has tried to sell. Rather than boiling prices of PCs and phones down to the cheapest possible price tiers, Apple has maintained a target on a sweet spot in pricing that allows it to deliver better technology with more fit and finish integration, smarter software, higher-quality screen calibration, better quality audio, and more advanced features and security protections. This has established Apple with a more trusted brand than any other mass-market consumer electronics maker.

That's a very delicate balance to maintain perfectly over time. In some cases it appears Apple has pushed too hard and too fast, resulting in ideas that didn't work out as expected. For example, the push to make Thunderbolt the main connectivity protocol worked pretty well for MacBook Pros, but wasn't as well-received as a solution for the 2013 Mac Pro, necessitating a return to a larger tower with more PCIe slots and extra power and bandwidth allocations. The butterfly keyboard design that was created to deliver an ultra-slim Retina MacBook introduced unanticipated new problems of its own. Incremental fixes helped, but Apple ultimately moved to a new keyboard design to deliver the level of quality and performance it wanted to offer.

In software, Apple has worked to balance the demands for faster support for new features, for feature-parity and compatibility with other systems, and its efforts to deliver differentiating features such as secure Touch ID, Augmented Reality, Metal graphics, computational photography, and support for powerful gestures. Yet when these improvements-- and the foundational changes that support them-- aren't managed perfectly, users experience interruptions, bugs, instability, and security flaws.

This year's macOS Catalina and iOS 13 were both widely regarded as noticeably less reliable and stable than previous releases. The obvious solution is to hold back progress, but that in itself is also a problem. When Apple held back advertised features such as iCloud Drive sharing, the complaints were about as bad as if it had released unfinished features in perpetual beta in the model of Google-- or perhaps even worse.

A similar engineering decision exists in the area of deciding what new markets Apple expands its efforts into. Does it dump out a more confusing, duplicative range of new products on consumers, from even larger phones to even smaller tablets? Does it start making TVs? Does it create $200 HomePods to rival the tide of $30 loss leaders from Amazon? Does it create $10,000 to $20,000 pro workstations that could only possibly sell to an audience of perhaps hundreds of thousands of professionals capable of earning a profit from high-end gear? What if that requires building accessories too expensive for the typical iPhone user?

Apple's loudest critics are nearly always on the wrong side of reality. It's not because they are bad people. It's just because they don't know anything.
lkruppwatto_cobratmay
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 119
    Not sure I’ll ever change my opinion that $1000 for a hunk of aluminum is reasonable. It’s no worse, however, than a $55 piece of rubber that we buy from Apple to protect our phones that likely costs less than a buck to make. 
    appneckbonobobdavgregchemengin1dysamoriawilliamlondonPezaphilboogietyler82applesnoranges
  • Reply 2 of 119
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,032member
    Not sure I’ll ever change my opinion that $1000 for a hunk of aluminum is reasonable. It’s no worse, however, than a $55 piece of rubber that we buy from Apple to protect our phones that likely costs less than a buck to make. 
    1) If you see this as just of hunk of aluminum I feel bad for you. You're just a hunk of commonly sourced elements in a bag of water, but to use that as a way to determine your value would be silly.



    2) I don't use a case so I'm not sure what $55 case you're talking about. Could you link to it? Also, can you source how you determined that the case has a COGS of under $1?
    neo-techlkruppchabigcornchipddawson100pscooter63StrangeDayschiaMacProJWSC
  • Reply 3 of 119
    bigtdsbigtds Posts: 167member
    You can spin it any way you want, but $1000 monitor stand is still a joke.
    appneckdavgregpscooter63chemengin1dysamoriawilliamlondonPezaphilboogietyler82zoetmb
  • Reply 4 of 119
    neilmneilm Posts: 917member
    I don't know that there was any need to reopen and reargue the whole Pro Stand issue, much less in 1,955 words. But this article is nonetheless completely on point: the stand is an elaborately engineered product, built in low volume for the professional market. (That Sony 4K rig shopping list provides a telling comparison.) Don't like it? Then don't buy it. 

    As usual with such things, the loudest voices of internet outrage are from people who aren't even remotely part of the target market.
    neo-techmac_dogMisterKitchabigpscooter63Rayz2016StrangeDayschialkruppJWSC
  • Reply 5 of 119
    I think they should have phrased it differently, because it overshadowed the fact that $5k is an awesome price for the specs, which compare and exceed those of significantly more costly displays.

    Even on the less costly end of "pro" displays the price isn't absurd, a 32 inch "pro" display comes in at around ~$1,700, and that will have a significantly poorer pixel density of around ~140ppi versus the XDR's 218ppi - the XDR also has significantly better colour gamut and a HDR capability which isn't b/s.

    The moment you hit consumer displays your ppi is back to around 100ppi, which is utterly painful if you do anything but play computer games.

    edited November 2019 watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 119
    The last line ad hominem wasn't needed and undermines the rest of the article.
    bonobobchemengin1stompydysamoriawilliamlondonPezaphilboogie
  • Reply 7 of 119
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,628member
    Not sure I’ll ever change my opinion that $1000 for a hunk of aluminum is reasonable. It’s no worse, however, than a $55 piece of rubber that we buy from Apple to protect our phones that likely costs less than a buck to make. 
    And what’s it to you anyway? The Mac Pro, the XDR monitor and its stand were not designed for you in the first place.
    chabigStrangeDaysMacProwilliamlondonlollivercat52uraharawatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 8 of 119
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,628member

    sarrica said:
    The last line ad hominem wasn't needed and undermines the rest of the article.
    If that last line describes you then too bad. That last line perfectly describes the crowd that lives here in the AppleInsider forums. That crowd needs to be called out on a regular basis and Dilger is more than capable of doing that. That his editorials trigger these types into rage is proof of their veracity.
    chabigprairiewalkerpscooter63Rayz2016StrangeDayswilliamlondonmacpluspluslollivercat52urahara
  • Reply 9 of 119
    Not sure I’ll ever change my opinion that $1000 for a hunk of aluminum is reasonable. It’s no worse, however, than a $55 piece of rubber that we buy from Apple to protect our phones that likely costs less than a buck to make. 
    No business wanting to stay in business charges their customers the marginal cost of making a product, which is what you’re suggesting. 


    chabigStrangeDayschiamelgrosslollivercat52watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 10 of 119
    Not sure I’ll ever change my opinion that $1000 for a hunk of aluminum is reasonable. It’s no worse, however, than a $55 piece of rubber that we buy from Apple to protect our phones that likely costs less than a buck to make. 
    Hey, try buying a lens hood for a Nikon or Canon camera sometime. $60 for a plastic ring.

    And I'm fairly certain you can even buy the leather case for less than $55...
    chabigcornchipStrangeDaysmelgrosslolliverwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 11 of 119
    Anyone who's actually used VESA arms for a monitor knows that: A. They have a tendency to slowly succumb to gravity and move out of the exact position you wanted B. Changing the position of the monitor can require a fair amount of fiddling around with loosening and tightening the tension in the arm That means that if Apple has created something that can change positions effortlessly AND hold that position without eventually drooping, it really could be worth $999 to someone.
    chabigpscooter63StrangeDayschiawilliamlondoncaladanianfastasleeplollivercat52philboogie
  • Reply 12 of 119
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,486member
    Not sure I’ll ever change my opinion that $1000 for a hunk of aluminum is reasonable. It’s no worse, however, than a $55 piece of rubber that we buy from Apple to protect our phones that likely costs less than a buck to make. 

    What is worse (or stupid) is that you paid $55 for something you think isn't worth anything more than a $1. Value is a matter of perception, it's objective. No one who this display is targeted towards cares about the opinion of someone who thinks the stand is just a "hunk of aluminum".

    Is $1000 too much for a monitor stand? Yes. To me it is. Does that make the price of this stand ridiculous? No. It does not. Why? Because the people who need this type of equipment probably use it to make a living for themselves and more than likely support the living of others. They are willing to pay for things that are highly engineered and can appreciate the level of detail and thought put into it.
    SoliStrangeDayswilliamlondonlollivercat52watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 119
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this thoughtfully written and precisely executed editorial.  I couldn't agree more.
    chabigemoellerlkruppRayz2016lollivercat52alexonlinerundhvidwatto_cobraWTimberman
  • Reply 14 of 119
    Before we have an apoplectic fit over what at first glance appears to be ridiculous pricing for a monitor stand, and if you're truly upset about this, we need to examine the "why".  

    Products like this stand, at first glance, appear simplistic, but when you view the illustrated breakdown of the mechanism you must recognize that it's not "just" a hunk of aluminum, but a complex design, something that likely required a substantial investment by Apple for the design and prototyping.  In addition, consider that in order to produce the components of the mechanism, additional investment for the tooling is required.  None of this is free, and of course we always have the unavoidable "overhead costs".  

    Once you have a design, you have the cost to actually produce the components, assemble the product, and make it available to market.  Now, take a guess at how many of these devices are going to be sold when it's likely that VESA mounting will far outpace the use of these stands.  

    What you have now, is essentially a "custom built" monitor stand for an expensive display.  I say "custom", because the market is likely very small, but Apple can't just ignore that segment of the market, so they support their customers anyway, it just costs a little more to buy.

    My conclusion:  I think it's very likely that Apple is essentially selling the monitor stands at cost, so get over it!


    JWSCcat52rundhvidwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 119
    I'll say it again.... I have been told by someone in the know (has had one for 6 months now) that the display comes with a stand included in the box. Just not the Pro stand.

    And holy cow! I bought a little quick-release setup for my Red camera for $1500... a 480GB SSD rehoused in a RED enclosure is still $1450... For professional work, this is not that expensive. Especially if you see that a color correct monitor has usually been at least 3 times the price of the Pro monitor and Pro stand!

    They will sell thousands of them if not tens of thousands. But not millions of them.
    chabiganomeJWSCfastasleepcat52watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 119
    John Ruskin once said that people who focus on price alone are the legitimate prey of marketplace value leaders.

    Apple's loudest critics know plenty ... including the price of everything.  But they know the value of almost nothing at all.
    chabigStrangeDaysJWSCfastasleeppscooter63FileMakerFellerlollivercat52alexonlinerundhvid
  • Reply 17 of 119
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,628member
    John Ruskin once said that people who focus on price alone are the legitimate prey of marketplace value leaders.

    Apple's loudest critics know plenty ... including the price of everything.  But they know the value of almost nothing at all.
    Way back in dinosaur days I worked as a salesman for very high end products (namely electronic and pipe organs for churches). My boss sent me to various sales training seminars, one of which was “Selling your price in today’s market.” That seminar focused on explaining to prospects (in my case church committees) why the price of our product was justified vs a lower priced competitor. My boss had Ruskin’s quote framed behind his desk.

    "There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that man's lawful prey."
    jmoore5196StrangeDayschiaJWSCcaladanianpscooter63macpluspluslollivercat52alexonline
  • Reply 18 of 119
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,032member
    mjtomlin said:
    Not sure I’ll ever change my opinion that $1000 for a hunk of aluminum is reasonable. It’s no worse, however, than a $55 piece of rubber that we buy from Apple to protect our phones that likely costs less than a buck to make. 
    What is worse (or stupid) is that you paid $55 for something you think isn't worth anything more than a $1. Value is a matter of perception, it's objective. No one who this display is targeted towards cares about the opinion of someone who thinks the stand is just a "hunk of aluminum".

    Is $1000 too much for a monitor stand? Yes. To me it is. Does that make the price of this stand ridiculous? No. It does not. Why? Because the people who need this type of equipment probably use it to make a living for themselves and more than likely support the living of others. They are willing to pay for things that are highly engineered and can appreciate the level of detail and thought put into it.
    It has always struck me as odd when people try to determine the value of a product to them by looking at its MSRP compared to what they believe are its costs, or using Apple's profit margin to argue that the iPhone, for instance, is overpriced while some crappy Android phone is a better value because the company making it can't figure out how to turn a profit.
    edited November 2019 StrangeDayschiapscooter63FileMakerFellerlolliveralexonlinewatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 119
    I am NOT in the target audience for these products ... but i see the rationale for the price ... However ... didnt the iMac G4 with 15,17,20 inch monitors have a built in stand that did the same things? I understand that this monitor is much larger ... but that old iMac monitor was a joy ... touch with your pinkie and it moved and stayed where you put it. Beautiful piece of engineering ...
    dysamoriaFileMakerFellercat52philboogiewatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 119
    The stand is a nice bit of engineering but in no way is worth $1000. In the end it is a monitor stand.

    Comparing a handful of machined aluminum parts to a complex pro grade, multi-element lens is also a bit of a stretch. For a while I worked as a Pro photographer (pre-digital) and understand what is involved in high quality lenses.

    Now, if you are someone who can write off the stand on your taxes it probably is just something you will complain about and then buy. However, there is a significant market for people who want a high quality display but have no desire to be robbed of $1000 just because it was "designed by Apple in California".

    This fashion mentality where $20 Levi 501s made in America become designer "jeans" that cost hundreds of Dollars has infected Apple. Charging high prices just because you can evokes the kind of rapacious pricing of medical equipment where a simple lamp is intentionally put on a proprietary mount and priced 10-100x more than a similar lamp with a standard mount. It may be legal but it is not good business.

    I am planning on ordering a Mac Pro when it becomes available but will not be buying the display. I simply have better uses for the money.
    dysamoriawilliamlondonphilboogielina_joe
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