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The new Mac Pro is a long-anticipated development for Apple's high end pro users, but it sure looks as if the company also created the machine for its own strategic benefit -- specifically to help make its Metal API become a dominant standard for GPU-intensive software. That could have big implications for Macs, iOS devices, and Apple GPUs going forward, with history providing some insight into why this matters.
Apple's presentation of Mac Pro focused extensively on its graphics capabilities
Over the last decade, GPU maker Nvidia has established its CUDA platform as the most popular way to build intensive compute workflows in parallel computing, 3D and CGI rendering, and in machine learning--the company has claimed an 80% share of the inference processing market. CUDA is also widely adopted in video game software engines and professional film, music, and image editing software. This strategy has paid off, as using CUDA software requires an Nvidia GPU.
That raises the question of how Apple can expect to launch its new Mac Pro into the professional space without any apparent support for Nvidia's latest GPUs. It's like Apple launching the original Macintosh without support for DOS software, or iPod without any way to playback Windows Media Player files, an iPhone without Java, or iPad without Adobe Flash. It's boldly insane to pundits, but it's also exactly the kind of high stakes gamble that has regularly worked out well for Apple and its customer base.
Bear with me through a brief history of how we got to the current situation in GPU-accelerated computing tasks, and take a look at where the industry is headed as we begin a new decade of technology in the 2020s.
The software of GPUsLong ago, the first Macs of the 1980s handled graphics operations in software running on their CPU. While Apple has long been considered a hardware company, the Mac's truly differentiating features -- its graphical user environment powered by QuickDraw and later its pioneering video capabilities from QuickTime -- were the results of the company's sophisticated software.
That software was so good -- and its role was so valuable and important--that Microsoft and Intel worked to steal Apple's code representing proprietary video acceleration techniques to deliver a functional Video for Windows in the early 1990s. That launched a dispute that wasn't resolved until Microsoft agreed in public to invest in Apple and continue writing Office for the Mac in 1997.
Despite that deal, and Apple's first-mover position in bringing Xerox PARC's research-grade graphical computing to mainstream audiences, Apple overwhelmingly lost its fight to stop Microsoft from appropriating its work across the 1990s. Apple was also unable to successfully keep up in the development of high-end, state-of-the-art graphics--in part because its executives pushed out Steve Jobs, who then took a whos-who of Apple's talent with him in 1986 to target the high-end of graphical computing at NeXT, Inc.
NeXT sucked away Apple engineering talent to pursue higher-end graphical computing
The graphical computing market itself was also changing rapidly, as graphics hardware accelerators quickly escalated in sophistication. Two companies founded in 1985--ATI and VideoLogic--began selling specialized video hardware, initially for other PC makers and later directly to consumers, to enhance graphics performance and capabilities.
By 1991 ATI was selling dedicated GPU cards that worked independently from the CPU. By enhancing the gameplay of titles like 1993's "Doom," ATI's dedicated video hardware began driving a huge business that attracted new competition. In 1993, CPU designers from AMD and Sun founded Nvidia, and the following year former employees of SGI created 3dfx.
Apple was not only competing against NeXT and Microsoft as a graphical desktop computing platform, but the Macintosh was also being outgunned in pro markets where various high-end UNIX workstation vendors, including Silicon Graphics and Sun, were quickly shifting to far more powerful new RISC CPUs while also developing their own specialized, high-end hardware to drive graphics supercomputers used to render CGI and perform simulations and research.
Graphics capabilities were exploding while component prices were rapidly falling. In 1991, Apple replaced its ultrafast high-end, barely a year old Mac IIfx--with a starting price well above $17,000 in today's money--with the much faster and more powerful Quadra 900, priced closer to a current-day $13,000. Apple was also publicly working to introduce PowerPC, a new RISC CPU that would be even faster. Imagine being a graphics pro at the time, trying to survive while hardware values were collapsing into obsolescence so quickly.
On the high end, SGI was selling its $250,0000 Onyx workstations outfitted with the company's RealityEngine graphics architecture, composed of a series of boards containing a dozen RISC CPUs and scores of huge custom ASICs. All this hardware was required to perform graphics operations that today appear comical (below).
The work to design and build integrated graphics hardware and software was incredibly expensive. It was also being performed in parallel by several companies competing over relatively small pockets of demand. The industry was begging for some sort of collaboration.
SGI adapted its RealityEngine graphics architecture into a single chip GPU and began licensing its internal Graphics Language to others as OpenGL, a common platform intended to make it easier to write code that could run across the graphics hardware on different computing systems. This helped create a competitive market for GPUs, specialized processors optimized to perform simple, parallel tasks at high speeds that make them ideal for handling the repetitive pixel operations required in 2D and 3D graphics. SGI's OpenGL was given to an Architecture Review Board in 1992, with members eventually including Apple, ATI, Dell, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NVIDIA, SGI, Sun and 3dfx.
While OpenGL was aimed at high-end workstation graphics, Apple delivered its own, simplified QuickDraw 3D API for 3D graphics on a Mac in 1995. Microsoft similarly acquired RenderMorphics in early 1995 and shipped it as Direct3D, aimed at making DOS PC gaming dependent upon Windows 95. Mac sales were low enough that QD3D hardly mattered, but Microsoft's Direct3D began challenging OpenGL's objective of having an open graphics library that worked across vendors.
Contention between OpenGL partners and Microsoft resulted in the 1997 Fahrenheit project to merge the two, to make OpenGL work on Windows NT workstations, similar to how IBM was working with Microsoft to merge its OS/2 platform with Windows. But Microsoft backed out of both and focused on Direct3D and Windows NT in a bid to tie all graphics-intensive software exclusively to its Windows platform, leaving OpenGL and OS/2 for dead.
That occurred just as Apple was acquiring NeXT. When the returning Steve Jobs reviewed Apple's assets and prospects in 1998, he determined that Apple should drop QD3D and adopt OpenGL, creating significant new support for the open API and allowing Apple to focus its efforts on other technologies while benefitting from the existing work invested in OpenGL and its broad support across existing GPU architectures. Rather than reinventing OpenGL, Apple developed a sophisticated new display server and graphics compositor for its next-generation Macs.
Mac OS X debuted with an advanced graphics compositor
Mac OS X shipped in 2001 with that new Quartz Compositor software drawing its windows using techniques pioneered in video games, resulting in a fluid new Aqua appearance (above) with slick animations, live video transforms, shadows, and alpha translucency that made it clearly distinct from the flat, simple bitmapped graphics still used by Windows XP.
In 2005, as Microsoft struggled to catch up with own compositing engine in Vista, Apple released Quartz 2D Extreme, which took another page from video games to hardware accelerate its graphics using OpenGL commands that could run directly on a GPU.
When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, its buttery smooth animation was the direct result of Apple's extensive work in leveraging a GPU to deliver a satisfying graphical experience with responsive multitouch input. Years later, Google was still struggling to make its jerky, stuttering Android as smoothly, graphically responsive as iOS, complicated in part because its cheapskate partners didn't want to spend much money on GPU hardware, a factor Apple had made a priority.
Understanding and appreciating graphics was key to Apple successfully launching the Mac in the 1980s, fueled Apple's rise from the ashes in the 2000s in a world utterly dominated by Microsoft, and then set the stage for the most successful consumer electronics product launch to ever occur, and then helped to prevent Google and the rest of the consumer electronics industry from collectively taking away Apple's iOS crown and the trillion-dollar business it conferred. Graphics are a really big deal.
Making the GPU do more than graphicsAdopting OpenGL twenty years ago enabled Apple to develop higher-level graphics software that could run on any major GPU. Apple subsequently used GPUs from ATI/AMD, Intel, and Nvidia on the Mac, and Imagination Technology's PowerVR mobile GPUs in its mobile devices.
Apple standardized on OpenGL two decades ago
In 2007, Nvidia released CUDA to make it easier to run general-purpose computations on GPUs, known as GPGPU. GPUs are explicitly designed for graphics operations but have characteristics that also make them ideal for plowing thorough huge sets of non-pixel data. CUDA intended to make GPGPU easier for researchers and developers who weren't already experts in low-level graphics but could benefit from being able to delegate their parallel computing tasks to a GPU, where they could run faster than a CPU. Nvidia was, of course, seeking to expand the addressable market for its GPU hardware.
AMD launched its own similarly proprietary "Close To Metal" project for its GPUs, kicking off a GPGPU platform struggle similar to what had occurred before in graphics. In 2009, Apple released OpenCL, an open API for GPGPU that wasn't tied to a specific GPU architecture. Apple gave it to the OpenGL standards body to maintain. AMD abandoned CTM to adopt OpenCL, but Nvidia continued to pursue CUDA. Like Microsoft a decade earlier, Nvidia realized that getting software developers to write and optimize code for its own proprietary graphics API would cultivate an exclusive market for its platform, in this case, Nvidia's GPU hardware.
Nvidia GPUs were once common in Macs a decade ago
That same year, Apple and Nvidia also had a larger falling out related to the defective Nvidia GPUs in MacBook Pros that resulted in extra support costs and bad optics for Apple. There was also an IP dispute between Intel and Nvidia that had forced Apple to change the architecture of its 2008 MacBooks.
Nvidia may also have maintained a grudge over having acquired PortalPlayer in 2006 as part of a strategy that was expected to make Nvidia a chip partner in Apple's increasingly successful mobile efforts. That involved Nvidia's Tegra mobile chip, which Apple never ultimately used. Tegra chips were subsequently hyped into the stratosphere by Microsoft Zune and then Surface RT fans and then by Google's Android fans who were enamored with Nvidia's marketing that bragged of Tegra's supposedly amazing mobile GPU. The chip never managed to catch up with Apple's own mobile SoCs, in part because the vendors who used Tegra couldn't sell their hardware.
The "quiet hostility" between the once-close partners resulted in no new use of Nvidia GPUs in Macs. That included the new architecture of the 2013 Mac Pro, which only offered AMD graphics and had no PCIe slots for end-users to install their own.
At the time it also looked possible that Apple might be losing any interest in the shrinking market for "pro" Mac hardware entirely. That same year, Apple had surprised the market with iPhone 5s and the world's first 64-bit mobile chip, its custom-designed A7 with a PowerVR GPU, which took the wind out of the sails of Nvidia's new, but still 32-bit, Tegra 4 and effectively destroyed the remains of Nvidia's mobile armada.
In 2013, AMD also launched Mantle, its new low-level graphics API targeted at video gaming, competing with OpenGL and Direct3D and once again setting off a new platform struggle similar to what had occurred before in graphics and GPGPUs.
Apple debuts MetalThe next year, Apple surprised again with the release of Metal, a new graphics API specifically optimized to run "close to the metal" of the GPU in its new A7 and subsequent Apple-designed SoCs. At WWDC14, Apple GPU software engineer Jeremy Sandmel told developers, "we're incredibly excited" and said of Metal, "we believe it's literally going to be a game-changer for you, your applications and for iOS."
Metal was designed to strip away much of the overhead imposed by the cross-platform nature of OpenGL, particularly for "state vector," or all of the details associated with each draw call prepared by the CPU and handed to the GPU. This process involves a lot of expensive "bureaucracy" under OpenGL. Because it's optimized to run specifically on Apple's GPUs, it doesn't have to deal with all of the differences in competing GPU architectures. At the same time, Apple was also freed to add support for new GPU features without the external dependencies of working within a standards body.
Apple also introduced its Metal Shader Language to write "shaders," the specialized computer programs designed to be rapidly run by a GPU. Initially, a "GPU shader" was code that described how to apply the smooth shades of color needed to create realistic surfaces on a 3D model. In today's more general terms, a shader can be any sort of image or video processing, from calculating the geometries of an animated 3D model, to rendering individual pixels of a scene, or creating a motion blur effect on a frame of video. Shaders can also be used to package GPGPU computational tasks for rapid execution on the GPU. This allows Metal to replace both OpenGL and OpenCL, spanning graphics and GPGPU.
OpenGL compiles shader object code on the CPU into GPU machine code before it can run. This enabled it to support a wide variety of different GPUs, each of which needs to have the required shaders compiled specifically for its chip architecture. Because Metal only runs on the GPUs that Apple uses, it can identify tasks that can be precompiled in advance so that they can execute without delay at runtime. That results in a huge jump in both GPU utilization as well as a reduction in CPU overhead, freeing up the system to do other things.
In 2015 Apple released Metal for macOS, with support for Mac GPUs running back to 2012: Intel HD and Iris GPUs; AMD Graphics Core Next GPUs; and the Nvidia Kepler GPUs that Apple had used in its Macs. Last year's macOS Mojave and the current release of Catalina now require a Metal-supported GPU. This more directly positioned Metal as its officially sanctioned way to build video games, leveraging its substantial weight with iOS to influence development decisions on the Mac.
Just two years after crushing Nvidia's Tegra mobile aspirations, Apple was now dropping Metal into its Mac platform where Nvidia still had some relevance. That same year Apple also recruited away Nvidia's director of deep learning software Jonathan Cohen, who remained at Apple for nearly three years before returning to Nvidia.
Nvidia's director of CUDA Libraries and Software Solutions machine learning
AMD effectively scuttled its internal Mantle development the same year, donating it to the OpenGL standards body to maintain as Vulkan starting in 2015. Vulkan offers a modern graphics API similar in approach to Apple's Metal and Microsoft's Direct3D 12, giving former OpenGL users a path forward on Android, Linux, and Tizen.
In 2017 Apple introduced Metal 2, a further expansion into Nvidia's CUDA territory, with a new shader debugger and GPU dependency viewer for more efficient profiling and debugging in Xcode; support for accelerating the computationally-intensive task of training neural networks, including machine learning; lower CPU workloads via GPU-controlled pipelines, where the GPU is able to construct its rendering commands and schedule them with little to no CPU interaction; and specialized support for virtual reality rendering and external GPUs.
This year, Apple incrementally advanced new Metal 2 features in macOS Catalina in anticipation of its new hardware, enabling professional content-creation pro apps to take advantage of Metal Peer Groups to rapidly share data between multiple GPUs in the new Mac Pro without transferring through main memory. Metal Layer API enhancements also provide access to the High Dynamic Range capabilities of the Mac Pro's new Pro Display XDR.
Like Microsoft since the mid-1990s and Nvidia over the last decade, Apple realized that getting software developers to write and optimize code for its own proprietary graphics API would cultivate an exclusive for its platforms, in this case, Apple's Mac, iOS, and other hardware.
Looks like Apple wants to own its graphics technologyThe release of Metal 2 emphasized that Apple was looking to displace Nvidia's CUDA API, particularly in the areas of machine learning, artificial intelligence, research, and other GPGPU. Of course, Nvidia has long been working to own GPGPU, particularly in deep learning, the massive processing requirements inherent in self-driving vehicles, and other emerging technologies. By tying these types of applications to its CUDA APIs, Nvidia hopes to keep demand strong for its GPU hardware.
Nvidia's newer Maxwell, Pascal, and Turing-architecture GPUs are not supported under Mojave and Catalina, the two most recent macOS versions that now require Metal graphics. There isn't a clear answer if the issue is Nvidia refusing to support Apple's Metal, or Apple refusing to officially approve Nvidia's drivers. It appears to be both. Apple pretty clearly has a vested interest in expanding industry support for its Metal API, the same as Nvidia with its CUDA platform.
Currently, Apple has thoroughly won this skirmish in mobile devices, where Nvidia barely has any remaining relevance after the stinging defeat of Tegra. Apple effectively owns the market for premium mobile phones, tablets, and wearables, despite vibrant and unrestricted competitive efforts from Samsung, Huawei, Google, and others. That's almost immaterial because Nvidia's CUDA doesn't have any relevance on mobile devices anyway.
In consumer markets, Apple has also established Metal in partnerships with video game developers including Aspyr, Blizzard Entertainment's WoW and SC2 engines; Feral Interactive; Unity; and Epic Games' Unreal Engine. A variety of other graphics-oriented Mac software developers have also embraced Metal, including Adobe, Autodesk, Pixelmator, and Affinity Photo's Serif.
Moving to Metal is attractive for developers because it delivers higher performance than OpenGL, and provides access to Apple's huge installed base of affluent iOS users and its significant base of 100 million higher value Mac users. At WWDC17, Apple cited 148,000 applications that make use of Metal directly and another 1.7 million that benefit from higher-level frameworks that have been optimized for Metal. There are more users on Android, but those users don't pay for software the way Apple's platform buyers do.
Apple has depreciated, but not yet removed, macOS support for OpenGL. But there is increasingly little reason to keep maintaining it because even OpenGL's standards body is seeking to move to a new, more modern and optimized replacement in the form of Vulkan. Vulkan code can even be hosted on top of Metal using MoltenVK. The other major alternatives are DirectX, used by Microsoft in Windows and Xbox, and CUDA, which is limited to Nvidia hardware.
Apple's late arrival to the pro graphics party is pure MetalWhere uptake of Apple's Metal had been weakest-- and Nvidia CUDA strongest-- is in higher-end markets for research, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and other professional work. Nvidia has invested in efforts to create scientific modeling, medical imaging, and other specialized software and workflows dependent upon CUDA, and therefore its GPU hardware, for a decade now.
Apple hasn't even introduced a new Mac Pro since it first debuted Metal, making the new Mac Pro its first-ever built exclusively for Metal, and the first Metal Mac with PCIe slots apart from the 2010 Mac Pro models that were supported in Mojave if upgraded with a Metal GPU card. Those aging machines are no longer supported Catalina.
Across the last several years, Apple has been working with a variety of pro app developers, as well as AMD, to develop pro-tier Metal support. Apple's prominent focus on the graphics capabilities of Mac Pro, including the mention of AMD's Radeon Pro Vega II Duo as "the world's most powerful graphics card," pairing two GPUs together on one card connected by Infinity Fabric Link, wasn't just boasting. It was signaling potential applications of the new machine.
When Apple detailed that two of those MPX mega boards could be installed in tandem, providing "56 teraflops of graphics performance" and a combined 128GB of super-fast, dedicated GPU RAM, it was a nebulous claim to make about graphics but a powerful statement about how much raw processing power a Mac Pro could provide in the area of GPGPU capacity.
Apple has also been making a strong case for machine learning on the Mac. Its new Create ML lets developers create and train models-- such as object detectors, image, and sound classifiers, word embeddings and transfer learning for text classification, and recommendation engines-- using libraries of sample data right on their machine, without needing to rely on a model training server. ML training is one example of a non-graphical use of GPU hardware, to crunch through computationally complex ML training sessions. It also has direct relevance to Mac app developers, building on Apple's massive installed base of users and the ecosystem of coders it sustains.
Comments from Metal developersAlong with ML, Apple has various other aspirations in what is now Nvidia's CUDA territory. In the immediate term, it has largely focused on the more easily attainable goal of getting more high-end, creative professional software to embrace Metal. It started these efforts well before it publicly unveiled the new Mac Pro. In June, it offered a list of beaming messages of support from Adobe, Avid, and others, indicating significant outreach by Apple to bring more software to the Mac, leveraging the efficiency of Metal and the processing capacity of the new Mac Pro.
Sebastien Deguy, Adobe's vice president of 3D and Immersive, stated that "we're incredibly excited about the new Mac Pro, which represents a strong commitment from Apple towards creatives working in 3D. We've already started porting the Substance line of tools, as well as Dimension, to Apple's new graphic API Metal to fully take advantage of the immense power the new Mac Pro hardware offers and empower 3D creatives in unprecedented ways."
Jules Urbach, the CEO and founder of OTOY, stated he was "incredibly excited about the all-new Mac Pro and how it will empower our users.," adding that his company's Octane X "has been rewritten from the ground up in Metal for Mac Pro, and is the culmination of a long and deep collaboration with Apple's world-class engineering team.
"Mac Pro is like nothing we've seen before in a desktop system. Octane X will be leveraging this unprecedented performance to take interactive and production GPU rendering for film, TV, motion graphics and AR/VR to a whole new level. Octane X is truly a labor of love, and we can't wait to get it into the hands of our Mac customers later this year."
Note that Mac Pro not only took Apple years of engineering but also involved a "long and deep collaboration" with pro software developers like OTOY, with Metal at the center of that work. Metal is pretty clearly a big priority for Apple.
Blackmagic Design CEO Grant Petty similarly called his company's DaVinci Resolve not only "the world's most advanced color correction and online editing software for high-end film and television work" but also "the first professional software to adopt Metal."
He added that "with the new Mac Pro and Afterburner, we're seeing full-quality 8K performance in real-time with color correction and effects, something we could never dream of doing before. DaVinci Resolve running on the new Mac Pro is easily the fastest way to edit, grade and finish movies and TV shows."
Maxon CEO David McGavran similarly stated that his company is "excited to develop Redshift for Metal," adding that "we're working with Apple to bring an optimized version to the Mac Pro for the first time by the end of the year. We're also actively developing Metal support for Cinema 4D, which will provide our Mac users with accelerated workflows for the most complex content creation. The new Mac Pro graphics architecture is incredibly powerful and is the best system to run Cinema 4D." That's a lot of Metal work.
Francois Quereuil, Avid's director of Product Management, stated that "Avid's Pro Tools team is blown away by the unprecedented processing power of the new Mac Pro, and thanks to its internal expansion capabilities, up to six Pro Tools HDX cards can be installed within the system - a first for Avid's flagship audio workstation. We're now able to deliver never-before-seen performance and capabilities for audio production in a single system and deliver a platform that professional users in music and post have been eagerly awaiting."
At WWDC19, Mac Pro was shown running Avid Pro Tools with 6 HDX cards installed
Pixar's vice president of Software Research and Development, Guido Quaroni, stated, "we are thrilled to announce full Metal support in Hydra in an upcoming release of USD toward the end of the year. Together with this new release, the new Mac Pro will dramatically accelerate the most demanding 3D graphics workflows thanks to an excellent combination of memory, bandwidth, and computational performance. This new machine clearly shows Apple is delivering on the needs of professionals at high-end production facilities like Pixar."
Amy Bunszel, the senior vice president, Autodesk Design and Creation Products, stated "Autodesk is fully embracing the all-new Mac Pro and we are already working on optimized updates to AutoCAD, Maya, Fusion, and Flame. This level of innovation, combined with next-generation graphics APIs, such as Metal, bring extremely high graphics performance and visual fidelity to our Design, Manufacturing and Creation products and enable us to bring greater value to our customers."
Jarred Land, the president of Red Digital Cinema, said "Apple's new hardware will bring a mind-blowing level of performance to Metal-accelerated, proxy-free R3D workflows in Final Cut Pro X that editors truly have never seen before. We are very excited to bring a Metal-optimized version of R3D in September."
Foundry's chief product and customer officer Jody Madden said, "with the all-new Mac Pro, Apple delivers incredible performance for media and entertainment professionals, and we can't wait to see what our customers create with the immense power and flexibility that Mac Pro brings to artists. HDR is quickly becoming the standard for capturing and delivering high-quality content, and the Pro Display XDR will enable Nuke and Nuke Studio artists to work closer to the final image on their desktop, improving their speed and giving them the freedom to focus on the quality of their work. We look forward to updating our products to take advantage of what Mac Pro offers."
Bill Putnam Jr., the CEO of Universal Audio, stated, "the new Mac Pro is a breakthrough in recording and mixing performance. Thunderbolt 3 and the numerous PCIe slots for installing UAD plug-in co-processors pair perfectly with our Apollo X series of audio interfaces. Combined with the sheer processing power of the Mac Pro, our most demanding users will be able to track and mix the largest sessions effortlessly."
Matt Workman, the developer of Cine Tracer, said "thanks to the unbelievable power of the new Mac Pro, users of Cine Tracer will be able to work in 4K and higher resolution in real-time when visualizing their projects. And with twice as many lights to work within the same scene, combined with Unreal Engine's real-time graphics technology, artists can now load scenes that were previously too large or graphically taxing."
Kim Libreri, the CTO Epic Games, said, "Epic's Unreal Engine on the new Mac Pro takes advantage of its incredible graphics performance to deliver amazing visual quality, and will enable workflows that were never possible before on a Mac. We can't wait to see how the new Mac Pro enhances our customers' limitless creativity in cinematic production, visualization, games and more."
Unity's vice president of Platforms, Ralph Hauwert, stated, "we're so excited for Unity creators to tap into the incredible power of the all-new Mac Pro. Our powerful and accessible real-time technology, combined with Mac Pro's massive CPU power and Metal-enabled high-end graphics performance, along with the gorgeous new Pro Display XDR, will give creators everything they need to create the next smash-hit game, augmented reality experience or award-winning animated feature."
Simonas Bastys, the lead developer at Pixelmator, stated, "he new Mac Pro is insanely fast -- it's by far the fastest image editor we've ever experienced or seen. With the incredible Pro Display XDR, all-new photo editing workflows are now a reality. When editing RAW shots, users can choose to view extended dynamic detail in images, invisible on other displays, for a phenomenal viewing experience like we never imagined."
Cristin Barghiel the vice president of Product Development at SideFX, stated, "with the new Mac Pro's incredible compute performance and amazing graphics architecture, Houdini users will be able to work faster and more efficiently, unleashing a whole new level of creativity."
Serif's managing director Ashley Hewson said, "Affinity Photo users demand the highest levels of performance, and the new, insanely powerful Mac Pro, coupled with the new discrete, multi-GPU support in Photo 1.7 allows our users to work in real-time on massive, deep-color projects. Thanks to our extensive Metal adoption, every stage of the editing process is accelerated. And as Photo scales linearly with multiple GPUs, users will see up to four-time performance gains over the iMac Pro and 20 times over typical PC hardware. It's the fastest system we've ever run on. Our Metal support also means incredible HDR support for the new Pro Display XDR."
Building on Metal into the futureSimply having a super-powerful Mac Pro model with vast expansion capability won't necessarily sell millions of the new machines. The market for high-end workstations remains relatively small. But it will allow Apple to find fresh interest in new industries and help bring more software -- particularly high end, specialized, creative pro work titles -- to the Mac, optimized for Metal. That will benefit users of any Mac. Additional developer interest and experience in coding for Metal will also benefit iOS, Apple TV and even Apple Watch development.
It remains to be seen if Apple will keep actively investing in its Mac Pro and deliver regular upgrades that keep it up to date. However, the Apple of today is far better positioned to do this than the Apple of 2010, back when it was struggling with Xserve and desperately trying to keep Google's new Android consortium from destroying the iPhone. As I've noted since at least 2016, Apple effectively lacks any real consumer competition. It's now graduating into the high end of computing to take on new bosses.
Apple's new Mac Pro caters to a different tier of buyers
Rather than expanding into the territory of larger and more entrenched rivals, as Apple was forced to do with Macs, iPod, iPhone, and iPad over the past two decades, the company is now setting its sights on smaller rivals with less capital and influence: Spotify, Netflix, and Nvidia. It has to, because Apple is now vastly larger and more influential than ever, and its rivals are all now relatively smaller, and weaker.
One can be righteously indignant that Apple isn't subsidizing everyone else with support for their platforms, whether CUDA, Vulkan, or even Android. But such emotions won't have any bearing on the final outcome of who wins and who loses in the market for developing and commercializing the graphics technology of the future. Apple supporters in the 1990s didn't have any impact on how things turned out, no matter how well-reasoned their ideological arguments were as they typed them into the Internet.
What remains to be seen is how well Apple as a company implements its strategies, and how effectively it delivers hardware and software products that solve the needs of its customers. Big companies in the lead have fallen behind before by growing complacent.
Since 2012, Apple has proven it can incrementally iterate in software on an annual cycle with both iOS and macOS, and deploy new software rapidly across a unified installed base of users. And this year, Apple has dramatically expanded into Services, with both Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ acting as content factories that can directly benefit from this parallel push into professional production tools, generating the creative work that induces the new and advancing software that enriches its ecosystem.
Apple appears to be entering the 2020s as if it was an Atari, a Disney, a Pixar, a Microsoft, an Intel, a HP, a Canon, a Sony, and a Nokia all rolled into one. It should be an interesting decade ahead.
A closer inspection of Apple TV 4K's internals reveals Apple's streaming box includes what appears to be Lightning connector terminals hidden in its ethernet port, potentially providing a direct path to critical system hardware.
In a review of iFixit's 2017 teardown of Apple TV 4K, Apple TV hardware and tvOS specialist Kevin Bradley on Thursday spotted solder joints on the device's logic board that correspond to Apple's Lightning connector protocol.
Bradley, better known by his Twitter handle nitoTV, suggests the Lightning port might be used to gain access to Apple TV 4K firmware, a route that could lead to a jailbreak.
"[N]one of us looked THAT closely to the hardware of the AppleTV 4K [sic] and the magic locked in the ethernet port until fairly recently. its [sic] going to take time to figure out what is possible and how," Bradley said in a tweet.
A subsequent tweet from self-described "maker" Steven Barker reveals Apple slyly disguised external access to the Lightning contacts with sliding slat at the back of the ethernet port. Shifting the door up exposes the set of pins, but it appears that a specialized connector is required to interface with the terminal.
Developer Steven Troughton-Smith believes the Lightning pins are used by Apple for hardware debugging. The company has a history of incorporating similar "hidden" connectivity elements in its hardware for internal purposes.
For example, Apple secreted away an Apple Watch data port in a groove designed to accept watch straps. The company has since utilized the port for diagnostics and connection to an interactive pedestal previously used to display the device in Apple stores.
What, if anything, can be accomplished by accessing the Apple TV 4K terminal is at this point unknown, but the presence of Lightning is an interesting find considering the device was released more than two years ago.
Apple's high-end pro market has long wished for a seriously fast Mac workstation. The premium new system Apple debuted at WWDC19 is one of the most expensive Macs ever, but it is being sold at a time when unit sales of desktop Macs are small and not really growing. Will Apple have to brainwash the masses to buy it?
As pictured is worth $10,000
The flawgic behind Apple's billion brainwashingsPrevious segments looked at how Apple plans products and builds them. Here, examine the criticism that Apple brainwashes the world to pay too much for its products.
It's common to hear that Apple's global sales -- at Average Selling Prices that are often several times that of its rivals -- are just a matter of the company being able to fool people into thinking that they need something that is wildly overpriced and should actually be half the cost, and really should have been delivered two years ago.
A couple of decades ago, this idea would be a little easier to swallow. Apple once had--much like Microsoft Surface or Google Pixel today--a tight, cult-like following of a few million people, mostly in the U.S., who paid a premium for a brand that they had an emotional relationship with. Calling them "brainwashed" was an excessive pejorative, but they were not representative of the masses.
Today, more than half of the active mobile activity in the U.S., Japan, and other affluent Western countries comes from iOS. Apple's billion and a half active devices in use very much do represent mainstream consumers. If you're more popular than a religion, you're not a religion.
Apple's minimal ad budgetApple has frequently won awards for its marketing, most recently 2019 Creative Marketer of the Year from Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. But while many of Apple's ads have been iconic, memorable, or even tear-jerking, they haven't necessarily pushed significant numbers of people to buy a specific product with obvious impact.
Last year's critically acclaimed Spike Jonze spot promoting HomePod didn't immediately turn Apple into the leading speaker vendor or convince Alexa and Assistant buyers to pay for a premium speaker rather than a accept a much cheaper loss leader microphone. The four minute ad was more of a work of art than overtly messaging. Viewers might easily have mistaken it for an FKA Twigs video than even being aware that it was selling a new home speaker product.
Similarly, Apple's most famous ad ever-- perhaps the most famous ad ever-- the 1984 Super Bowl spot introducing Macintosh, was talked about incessantly, but didn't coincide with Macs flying off the shelf. Macintosh sales didn't gain traction until a couple of years later when it started to become apparent that desktop publishing was a valuable new capability and that Macs were exceptionally good at graphic design and printing with LaserWriter fidelity. Then as now, the main thing driving ongoing Mac sales is "customer sat" not advertising.
Apple's "1984" ad portrayed IBM as 'brainwashing,' but the ad itself didn't really help sell many Macs in 1984
Apple's supposedly brainwashing ad budget is a fraction of Samsung's. It also comes up less than most other advertisers, including Microsoft-- which spent billions on ads trying to sell products like Windows Phone and Surface. Google leveraged its prime search engine real estate to push Pixel, and drove Pixel fire sale ads across billions of empty display ad inventory, all quite ineffectually.
It is worth noting that much of the advertising for the iPhone isn't Apple's. Billboards and print ads for iPhone are often paid for by mobile carriers, who are contractually obligated to place ads to sell Apple's hardware.
This isn't an Apple ad; it's from Deutche Telekom
Apple has also long leveraged other forms of free advertising, ranging from prop product placement in TV shows and movies to the company's keynotes and events, which grab and retain the interest of the media unlike anyone else's. Apple's recent advertising is largely just product recognition. Apple rarely runs ads comparing its features to the competition, or even explaining what its products do.
The free market ignores being told what to doWe have a pretty good system for democratically evaluating and voting for corporate winners with our dollars. That free-market system has consistently awarded Apple with the most global profits around the world for many years now.
There is also a broad and deep media network of bloggers from Engadget and the Verge, along with various newspapers who have hired their former employees. They are all consistently contradicting, in unison, the choices of billions of people making their own independent purchasing decisions.
Customers are deluged with online editorial content from high power content outlets like Vox Media and Fox Corp., which has long and consistently insisted that "Android is winning," while regularly and stridently advocating that people buy Google Pixel phones, Microsoft's Surface PCs, and Samsung Galaxy products, and to please delay buying the next iPhone because, as they've recently started repeating in suspiciously creepy unison, everyone should be happy sticking with their iPhone 6s.
If media brainwashing were a thing, it should be apparent outside the comments section of The Verge articles, out in the global market for hardware. Yet neither these bloggers nor the ad network that monetizes them have been able to convince any commercially significant number of people to buy what they endorse, nor have they been unable to stop the masses from wanting more gear from Apple.
Think of all the invented crisis panics and attempts to impeach Apple with allusions to Watergate: antenna-gate, bend-gate, beauty-gate. These did confuse and mislead some people, but they had no apparent impact on Apple's success in leading the market.
Apple's teaser ad was shown in movie theaters, but didn't make audiences rush out to drop $3,000 on a Mac Pro
Conversely, Apple has also on many occasions tried to sell things that just never found an audience, and its advertising was unable to make a difference. Steve Jobs once tried valiantly to sell Xserve to corporate users. Apple has created everything from Aperture software, to a solid gold Apple Watch, to AirPort routers, to consumer monitors, to the canister Mac Pro from 2013. It has found that some of its products just won't sell in enough quantity to sustain their continued production no matter how great it's advertising.
The last Mac Pro was cinematically, bombastically advertised in movie theaters, but individuals weren't turned into zombies that dutifully marched out to buy it.
That tells us that if the new 2019 Mac Pro is going to remain in sustained production going forward, it will need to find a real audience willing and capable of paying for it. Or, alternatively, that Apple will subsidize its production for a strategic benefit.
Fairy tale journalism is just entertainmentReading the work of bloggers, newspaper columnists, and the comments of their readers, it's pretty clear that virtually all of them actually believe that product development at Apple consists of its chief executive sitting on a royal throne of technology where inventors, brought in from all across the land, approach him and show off their new product ideas with the hope that His Executive Highness will snap his fingers and decree that factories in China will begin building this new thing and that Apple's legions of copywriters will set to work crafting their enchanting spells that convince everyone in the global Apple kingdom to go out and buy it.
That explains why they keep repeating the idea that Apple is "out of innovation," or worry that some slip-up in marketing-- or a carefully coaxed "crisis-gate" story-- will perhaps break the spell and cause everyone to wake up and instead buy a cheaper copy from the same factory but branded "Huawei."
It also explains why they often conclude that perhaps Apple's real problem is Cook himself, and that the company desperately needs a new comic book caricature of an Executive Decision Maker who more closely resembles Tony Stark in his ability to dazzle on stage with cinematic applause lines and blue steel charisma while introducing some new exciting invention from China that magically activates everyone's salivary glands and vibrates their wallet.
If that sounds like an exaggeration of the tech media's juvenile depiction how Apple delivers its new products, consider that in just the last year, the Wall Street Journal paid Tripp Mickle to publish his weirdly fantastical account of Jony Ive's design group at Apple, which read as if it was seeking to conjure up the mystique of The Dark Crystal within the broad strokes of a superhero graphic novel.
It told the story of Apple as a lost company that has only been sleepwalking through its decade under Cook as the magical fairy dust of the late Steve Jobs evaporated away, with only Ive, "the living embodiment of his spirit," holding back the inevitable collapse of the cursed Apple universe.
Mickle cartoonishly sketched out that Apple's design -- copied around the world -- had grown "rudderless, increasingly inefficient, and ultimately weakened," and fabricated tales of epic executive schisms "eroding the product magic created by Mr. Ive and the late Steve Jobs." His virtual all-caps narration panel worried that Apple's board has been "increasingly populated by directors with backgrounds in finance and operations rather than technology," a notion that would only be believable to a child huddled in a sleeping bag, sounding out the words accompanying dramatic pictures in a ten-cent comic book.
He is not an agent of the WSJ! He is a writer of comic books!
Yet rather than being summarily laughed at by industry observers-- apart from Neil Cybart of Above Avalon, who tweeted that the piece "literally" made him laugh out loud -- Mickle's fictional tale of spirits, magic, and board members who offer technology advice was greeted with the thunderous, thumping applause of bloody stumps from the same people who spent the first half of 2019 clapping their hands off for the Samsung Galaxy Fold while purporting it to be the embodiment of "innovation" and a pinnacle of captivating product management, agreeing amongst themselves that Apple should really be paying attention and taking notes. Where is Apple's folding phone-tablet!?
And while Cook wasted no time dismissing Mickle's entire piece as simply being "absurd," bloggers who generally get Apple wrong nodded along with the Wall Street Journal as if it were a serious piece of thoughtful journalism.
Brian X. Chen, the blogger who made up sources and falsely attributed his own opinions to other people in his Wired article claiming that Japan "hated" iPhone, tweeted that he preferred to believe Mickle and was "not convinced" by Cook's statement. He now writes for the New York Times, where he recently turned in a review for iPhone 11 that was so bitter that John Gruber of the Daring Fireball described as sounding like a "mindless dogmatic crusade" rather than a product evaluation.
Dieter Bohn of The Verge tweeted that Mickle's piece on Ive was an "absolute must-read." His colleague Tom Warren called it "spot on," while Nilay Patel blasted contempt for "professional Apple apologizers" and pointed out that Apple didn't give a statement to Mickle.
Another writer at the same site actually wrote that Mickle's claim that Cook "showed little interest in the product development process" would "help to explain" why Cook "sometimes appears to be seeing products for the first time in the hands-on area after Apple events," referencing a photo of Cook and Ive (below) looking at a Mac Pro at the WWDC19's studio area showing off the new hardware.
The Verge cited this photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images as evidence that Cook was so disinterested in Apple products that he appeared to be seeing the Mac Pro for the first time in the hands-on area, hours after he introduced the machine on stage.
Despite some ambitious completion, that remains the stupidest line I have read this year. Cook introduced the machine on stage in its keynote address!
And far beyond that, Apple didn't come up with the design for the new Mac Pro because Cook saw somebody's blog or read an email begging for a high-end workstation and then decided on a whim to invest billions of dollars into the multi-year strategies that resulted in the new hardware.
I think I know what drove Apple to embark upon building a fantastically fast, powerful, and expensive new Mac Pro, and I'll outline that thinking in the next segment.
Apple is radically changing the design of the Mac Pro but still plans to continue building it in the United States. That doesn't mean, however, that it can do the same for everything else it makes. Here's a look at why.
Apple intends to build the new Mac Pro in the U.S.
The flawgic of Apple's Chinese predicamentApple isn't the only company building products in China but it does get an extraordinary amount of scrutiny over it, in part because it has been the most successful Western company in China. That's somewhat ironic because Apple was among the last major manufacturers to leave the U.S. for overseas production of its computers. Across the 1980s, Steve Jobs worked to build out a dream of automated factories that could build Macs right in California, using the same manufacturing processes he'd witnessed in Japan.
After Jobs left Apple in 1986, he again worked to establish an American factory in Fremont, Calif., capable of building his new NeXT machine in 1990. But building self-sufficient factories for computers in the US. proved to be disastrous. The problem wasn't the cost of American labor, as both factories were highly automated. It was the lack of any modern manufacturing culture, including the schools and apprenticeships needed to train specialized mechanical engineers.
Steve Jobs' American factories were automated, so it wasn't expensive labor that killed them
Apple shuttered its Mac factory in 1992, and NeXT pulled out of hardware entirely the next year. In part, what had forced both Jobs and Apple to stop attempting to build computers in America in the 1990s was the continued outsourcing of high volume PC manufacturing lead by IBM, HP, Compaq, and others, who had to shave down their costs to survive on razor-thin margins.
Their investment in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and ultimately the Special Economic Zones that China opened up to western investment in the 1980s, helped to build not only supply chains of components feeding the factories, but also a human chain of skilled workers needed to keep the factories running.
This cycle of investment built sleepy coastal villages into massive cities such as Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. At the same time, high tech manufacturing in the U.S. grew increasingly difficult. Wages were indeed higher, but a much bigger problem than the cost of assembly-line labor was rapid, unfettered access to specialized components. And with fewer manufacturing sites, the demand for specialized tool and die maker machinists also dried up. These workers create and maintain the sophisticated machines used to shape metal, punch and drill holes, and otherwise convert raw materials into the precise shapes sketched out by designers.
Shenzhen, China grew from a sleepy village in 1980 to a massive metropolis
Building an assembly line capable of producing millions of precision devices per week requires far more than just hiring assembly workers; those assemblers need sophisticated, custom machines to operate; staff to test, maintain and repair that equipment; and bins of hundreds of bespoke components in exacting quantities. Order too many extra and you've become unprofitable, order too few and your factory production grinds to a halt.
By the time Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was irrefutable that building high volume PCs in the U.S. no longer made any sense, particularly when competing against commodity PC makers building overseas. Rather than taking a third shot at setting up an American factory, Jobs recruited Tim Cook, who brought in his extensive experience in managing global supply chains, first at IBM and then at Compaq.
Before Apple could "innovate," it needed to operate. Cook's operational overhaul of Apple's existing Mac business turned Apple from an inefficient mess of warehouses sitting on aging products to a streamlined system driven by data, capable of planning well into the future, and operating at scale.
Operating at scaleIn the 2000s, Apple began to shift from being a custom PC maker that mostly delegated away the work of custom component development and increasingly began to tweak the design of parts from its supply chain-- in much the same way that Microsoft and Google are trying to do today. And just like Microsoft's Surface and Google's Pixel operations, Apple was producing around 4 million Macs per year, not nearly enough to drive operational economies of scale.
However, with the development of the iPod, Apple's operational savvy rapidly built out a design, manufacturing, distribution, and retail empire capable of making and selling tens of millions of units. That quite uniquely positioned Apple to jump into smartphones at a premium tier. By the end of the 2000s, Apple had fully transitioned from a custom PC maker selling just over 4 million Macs into a leading electronics maker selling more than 75 million devices annually.
That's particularly impressive when you compare it against other attempts to get into high volume hardware sales, such as Microsoft's Surface division growing from less than 4 million to just slightly more than 4 million across the 2010s, or Google's Nexus/Pixel sales growing from well, they didn't really grow at all; Pixel is still phoning it at just over 4 million, like Apple's Mac business back in 2000 when the company was written off as hopelessly irrelevant.
Across the 2010s, Apple has moved from 75 million devices to the production of a quarter-billion units per year. Apple's growth in device unit sales has come largely from sales of iPhones and iPad. Mac sales have grown, but certainly less dramatically: from around 4 million back in 2000 to just about 20 million this year.
Mac sales have also dramatically shifted in their form factor mix. In 2000, Apple sold just shy of a million notebooks and about 3.5 million desktops, 2 million of which were those bubbly translucent consumer iMacs. Ten years later, things had flipped dramatically: it was selling nine million Mac notebooks but only 4.6 million desktops, which included Xserve, Mac Pro and all of its desktop Macs. The slight increase in desktop Macs was coming entirely from iMac growth. A couple of years later, Apple stopped breaking down Mac unit sales entirely, but the trajectory was clear: desktops were waning, and sales of the high-end Mac Pro were growing scarce.
Source: Data Visualisations
Increasingly, the work devoted to designing and building new higher-end Mac desktops was becoming a labor of love, not of commercial enterprise. That's why there was a real concern that Apple might just discontinue the Mac Pro after its last update in 2012, the same way it had backed out of the Xserve market after a final update in 2009. After Jobs passed away in 2011, the fears that Apple couldn't survive without him created more uncertainty for the Mac in general. Macs were associated with Jobs, where Cook was often represented as being an iPad user of the iPhone generation.
Instead of getting out of the Pro market, Cook assured pro users that Apple would be doing something new with them in mind, which turned out to be the compact 2013 Mac Pro. Rather than being a big expandable box, it aimed at delivering a trio of fast CPU and GPUs that could attach to external PCIe expansion, storage, and displays. That Mac Pro has since been reviled by some critics as a grave mistake, but the biggest problem for it was that the potential demand for a $3,000 and up Mac desktop was incredibly small to being with.
The last official numbers for Mac desktops from Apple were provided in 2012, showing the same 4.6 million units as the previous two years-- and most of those were iMacs. In contrast, Mac notebooks saw two years of double-digit growth reaching 13.5 million sales that year. So Mac Pro sales were already small as a big aluminum box, and likely only shrunk further because a lot of potential buyers were likely waiting for the 2013 Mac Pro to get its first processor upgrade and to gain modern Thunderbolt 3. That never happened.
Small batch productionIn the same way that Apple needed iPod-- and then iOS devices-- to achieve the scale to survive and thrive, Mac Pro will need to find some expansion of capability to attract enough sales to matter. At the same time, the small production scale of Mac Pro as a product also allows Apple the capacity to build it in the U.S., offering a token to critics who don't understand why Apple can't just open an iPhone factory in Wisconsin.
It also seems pretty obvious that the new Mac Pro is also indulging in the art and craftsmanship of building a specialized product that casts a halo of technological savvy, sort of like a mainstream automaker building a low-production supercar on the side.
Mac Pro erects a halo of muscle and technological savvy
A previous article discussed the simplistic fallacy of Apple being merely a whim machine that survives on a diet of genius invention ideas, with the implication that it could starve to death at any moment if it fails to be "innovative enough."
Here, let's take apart another fairy tale idea: that Apple is dangerously stuck in China, that it could move assembly line jobs to the U.S. if only it cared enough, had the moral fortitude, and lacked the greed, providing good-paying jobs to unskilled workers living next to rusting American factories from the 1960s. The reality is a bit more complex.
What if Google created jobs in America?
As is often the case when wondering "what if Apple had instead...?" we have a control group in our experiment in the form of Google. That company actually did go out an buy an American manufacturer and set up phone assembly in the U.S., creating exactly the kind of modular, customized Android product that bloggers at Wired and The Verge had invented in their columns as being what consumers really want.
Google spent $12.5 billion acquiring Motorola Mobility. The subsidiary's CEO Dennis Woodside claimed at the time that "it's a myth that you can't bring manufacturing here [to the U.S.] because it's too expensive."
In 2013 Google opened its U.S. factory building the Moto X, which Steve Levy described as "the first in a series of hardware products that Google hopes will supercharge the mother company's software and services." Remember when journalists-- even Apple bloggers-- thought that 'Google was getting better at hardware faster than Apple is at services?" Good times!
Google created some American jobs for a few months
Google's factory closed in 2014. It was not a lack of inventive ideas, or courage, or genius, or billions of dollars that determined the outcome of Google's stab at American cell phone manufacturing. It was insufficient competence in developing and implementing a feasible strategy. Google blindly ignored the realities that Apple had suffered through in the 1980s and 1990s, and decided that throwing vast amounts of cash around could fix anything.
Rather than turning a company losing hundreds of millions of dollars into a profitable operation poised to deliver new generations of technology, as Cook did with Apple in the late 1990s, Google converted a profitable American manufacturer into a money pit bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter, then gave up and sold the scrap to Lenovo.
The tech media unanimously cheered Google on through the whole thing, contrasting how bad Apple was for not doing the same thing. And after things collapsed and Google literally sent Motorola's high-value American jobs to China, writers at The Verge shrugged and called the whole thing "unfortunate," as if there had been too little lucky magic involved rather than just too much arrogant incompetence.
As if creating an observable pattern, Google later partnered with HTC to assemble the initial generations of its Pixel phones. After nearly destroying the Taiwanese company, Google acquihired nearly all of its phone engineers and delegated the design and engineering work of the value-engineered Pixel 3a to that team in Taiwan. Nobody cared that Google was not only outsourcing its phone assembly but also actively sending its more valuable design and engineering work overseas as well.
Google offshored not just Pixel 3a assembly but also sent valuable design and engineering work overseas
What if Apple created jobs in America?Google was given a complete pass on incinerating double-digit billions of dollars while destroying American icon Motorola in the very same year that analysts and the media took Apple to task for spending $3 billion to acquire Beats Electronics, another American firm.
In 2014, the New York Times credited Ben Sisario, Brian X. Chen, and David Gelles with writing an article about Apple's planned acquisition, stating that Beats sold headphones "at prices of up to $450 apiece," then farcically cited unnamed "headphone designers" who "estimate the cost of making a fancy headset is as low as $14."
The astounding implication that the markup on Beats headphones was 3200% was echoed by Mark Gurman, who smirked through a Bloomberg video last year, recounting how Beats was infamous for "extremely high margins," while letting viewers in on "a little secret," that they also "weren't very good."
Gurman claimed at the time that Apple was preparing to launch its own over-ear set of headphones with noise cancelation that would have better audio quality on par with its AirPods, and that these new headphones, which he called "Studiopods," would arrive by the end of 2018 and eat up sales of Beat headphones, attributing all this news to "people familiar with the product plans."
Gurman added that "what makes this so interesting" was that Apple had paid $3 billion for Beats "just a few years ago," implying that Apple as a company was just as stupid and incompetent and directionless as he portrays it as being in every article he writes about the company. Bloomberg did not appear to fact check anything in the segment.
The problem was, Apple had six months earlier already released its Studio 3 Wireless over-ear headphone with noise cancelation, using the same W1 technology as AirPods, under its Beats brand. And rather than actively cannibalizing the brand it had just acquired to replace it with new products of its own, Apple has subsequently released Powerbeats 3 Pro, a premium-priced, sport-oriented alternative to its white AirPods, using the same new H1 chip and featuring a longer battery life-- under the Beats brand.
Gurman was wrong about literally everything--not just the predicted product release, but also Apple's current lineup, its future plans, and its overall strategy--yet he was still regarded as some sort of authority because he carried along the media narrative that implies Beats are crap, Apple's acquisition was stupid, that the company can't keep anything secret, and that any fool can see the company is just a complete train wreck of incompetence and dramatic infighting.
Nobody likes to spend too much ink on it, but Apple's Beats subsidiary resulted in Apple Music, the second-largest media streaming service after Spotify, as well as the vast makeover of Apple's audio hardware across MacBooks, iPhones, and iPad. Apple spawned AirPods and HomePod and upgraded Beats' own headphones to its custom W1 and H1 silicon. All of this new business activity developed billions of dollars of value in America, creating real jobs in engineering, creative, and marketing, not just dreary minimum wage assembly line positions.
Western tech media doesn't say a word about any of this on the subject of Apple and American jobs, but they have invented a series of catastrophic buffoonery targeting AirPods, suggesting made up health risks and the fact that they wear out, can be lost and can't be refurbished by end-users.
Hot take, thought experiment, self explanatory, why is this happening?
Writing for Vice, Caroline Haskins even claimed AirPods "can't be easily recycled, because there's no safe way to separate the lithium-ion battery from the plastic shell. Instead, the AirPods sit in your drawer forever," or until you return them to Apple for free recycling, but whatever.
Yet when Google, Samsung, Amazon, Microsoft and everyone else finally showed up with their own take on AirPods, the story changed to say Apple now had scary competition, not that earbuds themselves were a threat to humans and the environment.
Apple sells 40 million AirPods alongside global sales of 1.4 billion Androids that have a similar life expectancy, generate significantly more ewaste, and really have no coherent recycling plan. But let's worry about AirPods, and only the Apple-branded ones.
These are the same people crafting the narrative of Apple in China. It's intentionally slanted, factually incorrect, outrage-inducing entertainment.
Checking off the boxesAlongside the fallacy that Apple could mass-manufacture its mobile devices at scale in the U.S. if only it cared enough, it's also popular for tech media thinkers to suggest that Apple really just customizes commodity tech from China. This implies that any other company with a few billion dollars and good ideas can also order their own inventory of commodity tech and effortlessly be the next Apple, probably with better pricing and fewer restrictions on how things work.
Reading their work, it sounds as if it's simply a matter of checking off the correct product order options: yes to "removable battery," "headphone jack," and "side-loads apps," and definitely no to "light and thin," "butterfly keyboard," or "camera bump."
Yet if it were that easy, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and so many other companies who actually did that across the past decade should have been able to compete with Apple in hardware and should have been able to build similarly successful businesses that make money the same way Apple does. Again, Apple's success is not fueled by smart inventions or lucky whims. It is successful because it puts incredible work and thought into competently implementing long term strategies.
Google found this out when it tried to do Apple-like work in developing its own custom Pixel Visual Core camera silicon. It's both really hard and exceedingly expensive to put that much effort into building original products that can stand out in the market. And afterward, your work faces the threat of being copied or bested by competitors.
That's a principle that tech bloggers understand in the context of Apple: there has always been lots of speculation that rivals would quickly catch up with technologies like Face ID-- which they haven't yet-- but almost no anticipation that Apple could match and improve upon once-exclusive Android features like Dark Mode.
Bloggers created the impression that nobody could catch up to Google's single lens Dark Mode cameraphone
Apple's expensive work in keeping its premium products differentiated is seen as a massively difficult thing to keep continuing every year, but the occasional stab at a premium feature by Google, Samsung, and others isn't seen as problematic to maintain at all, even though none of these companies can maintain a pace of innovation on par with Apple in driving profitable sales of premium devices. It appears that mainstream tech writers don't care because that doesn't fit with their narrative of Apple being perpetually on the precipice of failure.
This fallacy also suggests that companies already in China are a step ahead of the game, and can simply ship direct, including the "Apple of China," as the tech media once christened Xiaomi. The actual name of that company is an allusion to communist revolution, which is sort of the opposite of being an "Apple," but who cares.
If you ideologically believe in "invention" and discount the efforts of implementation and management, communism starts to sound magically wonderful. Tech journalists have become the forefront of defending ideological notions of "free," "open," and "decentralized community." According to the similar-sounding rhetoric of communism, the State is supposed to just go away, leaving the People to enjoy sharing everything they need for free, helping out as needed.
In reality, communist experiments invariably end up just like Android, where the original idea was a software world free and open and not under the control of one greedy company. The reality involved a lot of unanticipated costs in personal security and privacy, and pretty onerous control by an actually very necessary power structure that is desperately afraid of losing its control and works to kill any potential forks that stray away from the party.
Not invented hereAndroid fans also like to point out that Apple uses lots of components from Samsung and others, as if this should be a point of shame for the iPhone maker. Somehow this logic isn't also applied when noting that Samsung adopted Apple's AirPlay 2 protocol and its iTunes TV app, after failing to build any support for its own various initiatives in TV streaming and its failed attempts to sell content online, despite being the world's largest TV maker.
Earlier this year, Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal even spun Samsung's use of Apple technology as a groveling concession of the failure of Apple TV hardware from a desperately witless Apple struggling to "pivot" into being a media company that tricks us into paying for those ongoing subscriptions we all hate.
Apple portrayed AirPlay 2 televisions as booster for Apple TV, not as a sales sacrifice
And of course, at the same time Apple is contrasted with the real winners in content, including Amazon Prime, Disney, Netflix and Spotify, which only delight us with those subscriptions everyone loves. Isn't it interesting how all the great minds work in one direction?
Tech observers also like to suggest that Samsung's use of ARM core reference designs is basically the same thing as Apple's architectural license used to develop its ARM ABI-compatible custom processors. Yet for a decade, Apple's Ax mobile silicon processors have increasingly outpaced the collective efforts of Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Texas Instruments to build mobile CPUs. Apple has also delivered its own mobile GPU, which similarly blows past mobile graphics competitors. The majority of Apple's very valuable silicon design work is done in the U.S., but again that doesn't seem to be newsworthy.
Apple is now working to deliver its own baseband modem silicon-- rescuing the the baseband unit of American icon Intel and 2,200 employees-- and once again, tech media observers are betting that the fox with $50 billion in annual profits, mostly from mobile devices, will again be mobbed by the sheer number of headless chickens currently scrambling to beat Apple to deliver the first 5G modems.
Surely, this time around temporarily being first in 5G will matter far more than Android being first in 4G, or Nokia and Windows Mobile being first in 3G, because now China is funding Huawei! And Huawei also claims to have "5G" silicon, the same way it claimed to have a drop-in replacement for Android and Google Play ready to go. It didn't.
Journalists like to talk about how Huawei has 5G and Apple doesn't, but they don't often understand that Huawei's 5G silicon is limited to operating on sub-6 GHz frequencies, which can't deliver the astoundingly fast data speeds associated with mmWave 5G being built out in the U.S. Of course, Huawei also can't really operate in the U.S. at all. And Apple is aligned with Qualcomm for its initial 5G modems, which would be "real 5G," but whatever, who cares, right? Huawei "has" 5G. And because it isn't Apple, Huawei a media darling even if it is interwoven with the political structure driving China.
Apple fails to declare war on ChinaAlong those lines have you noticed the pearl-clutching regarding the idea that Apple might be doing things to purposely avoid conflict and controversy with the Communist Party in China? Unspeakable! The company must be held accountable for not boldly disobeying Chinese laws.
After all, within the U.S., Apple routinely flouts the law in hiring immigrant talent from banned Muslim countries and in blocking Trump Administration efforts to deport its Dreamer employees. Apple even refuses to pay American taxes imposed as tariffs on its Chinese imports. Oh wait, actually none of those things are true. The reality is that Apple holds its nose and seeks to work with, not antagonize, oppressive and totalitarian countries around the world. It has to, because it's a corporation, not a superpower.
Meanwhile, the same journalists and bloggers who are seeking to take Apple to task for obeying laws in China have no problem with the fact that Huawei closely works with the PRC to roll out the very programs that Apple is reviled for not singlehandedly overturning as a minority player in the Chinese economy.
Phony displays of "principles" only apply as moral imperatives for Apple. The New York Times isn't going to get a Pulitzer Prize for writing about labor conditions related to the Chinese production of electronics that are not related to Apple, for the same reason that absolutely nobody has ever previously been concerned about the environmental and human impact of other Western companies producing goods in China and elsewhere, and certainly not about the Chinese companies that produce Androids so cheaply that it might make a curious person wonder what sort of shortcuts are involved. But not, say, a tech journalist.
Again, who cares about the environmental impact of the 1.4 billion Androids produced with the unfettered help of children and slave labor each year? We have 200 million iPhones to worry about, and Apple types up a Supplier Accountability report for us. Apple solved a problem? That's evidence there was a problem, and that Apple found out about it! And that's also your headline. Boom.
The idea that Apple doesn't add any material value to the products it builds in China, that it builds products in China purely out of greed, but that it alone has complete responsibility for all the problems related to Chinese production is all quite shaky logic. It also raises the mystery of why Apple is now seeking to assemble its Mac Pro in the U.S.
Yet the reasons Apple gives for building most of its products in China-- principally the massive, established supply chain and trained workforce of experienced tool and die engineers required to rapidly build seasonal waves of hundreds of millions of devices-- also explains why it can build low volumes of a high end, specialized, and very expensive workstation domestically.
The next segment will examine Apple's plans for delivering Mac Pro at pricing well beyond what most consumers would expect to pay for a PC, and the notion that Apple's marketing is brainwashing the world to ignore better alternatives.
After years of frustratedly waiting in the dark and suffering through some painful periods of construction work, the new 2019 Mac Pro appears to finally deliver above and beyond what even the most optimistic had hoped for. But its appearance wasn't merely a whimsical executive decision made in response to a customer email, and is instead the latest deliverable of a long term strategy unfolding at Apple.
Mac Pro 2019
Writing opinions on the web requires zero expertise and no real understanding of how anything in the real world works. So let me factually take apart for you three obstructing fallacies that will help solve the mystery of why Apple has dramatically changed its computing product strategy, moving from the two former computing tiers of the last decade-- the under $1,500 mass market for iOS devices and a $1,000 to $5,000 market for prosumer Macs-- to now include a third, wholly unique new tier occupied by the $6,000 to $25,000 Mac Pro workstation.
The flawgic of Tim Cook's executive whims of inventionFirst, let me destroy the idea that Apple makes its multibillion-dollar product decisions largely on an executive whim. Apple's executives do listen to feedback from customers; Apple's chief executive Tim Cook in particular likes to talk to investors about the importance of "customer sat," or making products that will "delight" users. That requires addressing the features buyers want and need, which requires listening to them.
Apple's executive committee doesn't form its strategic direction for products from emails and blog postings or the public comments that get posted on them.
There are a lot of Mac fans who like to dream up new product categories and then advocate that Apple should go out and build this new thing, whether its the "headless Mac," some sort of personal home media server, or a laptop with a display that detaches into a tablet which then maybe folds up into a smartphone. Many seem to think that If only they could get an audience with Cook, their idea could be the next big thing everyone wants.
I personally love to speculate about where Apple is moving. Back in 2004, I suspected Apple would turn its igloo flat-panel iMac into a design that moved the system into the display panel. In 2006 I anticipated that it would turn its iPod into a full touchscreen mobile right before it did. Sketching up mockups is easy! There's vastly more work in actually developing an idea into completion and finding a market for it.
It was easy to mock up an iPhone. It took massive work to actually deliver it
Many of the ideas I've anticipated took far longer than I expected to arrive. I predicted Apple would use Apple TV to deliver apps and games long before tvOS, and that it would begin funding its original content a very long time ago. I anticipated that Apple would integrate an iOS device into its MacBooks as a secondary touchscreen display as a way to differentiate its laptops from PCs well before it shipped Touch Bar.
I expected Apple to add Siri functionality and wireless surround capabilities to its Beats speakers years before it did. Again, an inventive idea was effortless to think up, while lining up all the strategies required to deliver off a major product or service took years of work.
Before iPhone shipped, I once suggested to Steve Jobs at a shareholder meeting that Apple could make its macOS platform more attractive in emerging countries by making earlier versions of it available as a free download, back in the days when retail Mac OS X upgrades sold for $129. But I'm certain that my "idea" wasn't really the reason Apple shifted billions in revenue to set out on a plan moving the development costs of its OS into deferred revenue earned from hardware sales of devices.
That's because, while the nugget of one's ideas may seem to be genius, the actual implementation of any idea requires thousands of much more sophisticated and specialized ideas to actually make it happen. Apple is not fueled by "smart inventions." It is successful because it puts incredible work and thought into competently implementing long term strategies.
The simple concept of "not charging for major OS updates," for example, actually required real work to comply with SEC regulations on deferred earnings, and materially changed Apple's financial results, hiding billions of dollars on income from investors who didn't consider this change. I'm not an accountant, so it had never even occurred to me that any of that would be required.
Also, Apple shifted new updates of iOS and later macOS to be free at launch, not just offering a free download of older versions for poor people. If Apple had simply rushed out and implemented my idea as stated, it would have created a big new problem by pushing many users to sit on an old, free version of its platforms.
Keeping users up-to-date on its latest platforms turned out to be obviously important in hindsight, but its something that nobody recognized the significance of at the time. While I described the emerging problem of Google's inability to keep its install base of Android users current as a real problem back in 2011, virtually everyone in Androidland asserted that it was really no big deal across most of the last decade. The Verge is just now accepting that it is a big deal, a bad problem that's getting worse, and a major factor in the aftermarket valuation, security profile, and usable device lifespan of Android devices.
The Android OS has always been free, so it wasn't me standing at a podium microphone in front of Jobs that upended the revenue structure of OS software at Apple over the last 15 years. It wasn't merely the idea of "free downloads" that was powerful in making Apple's OS platforms popular, trusted, and and valuable, resulting in massive installed base of cohesive users that are nearly all using the freshest API versions, and all primed to drive future growth in Services as, in Oprah's words, that "billion pockets, y'all."
All of that wasn't based on a simple whim of invention; It was the ongoing work by coordinated teams of people across wildly different skill sets, all working to develop and then implement a multifaceted, ongoing strategy seeking to maximize shareholder value while working in the best interests of its customers.
That might sound like every corporation, but Apple achieved its current results in pushing free updates in plain view. In contrast, Google offers several free OS platforms that have so little real value that Apple couldn't even be bothered to sue it for patent infringement.
Across the same decade, Google hasn't been able to deliver a cohesive, updated platform of users globally, despite many efforts to push its licensee to do this and to crush any competitive threat of forking Android among its partners. It also has no commercial presence in China, the largest mobile market in the world. Even domestically, Google's Android isn't fueling massive new growth in Services and has no real prospect of really building out original subscription content as Apple is. The difference isn't based on an "inventive idea," but rather the competency of the development and implementation of a strategy.
Similarly, while Apple began giving away its software updates to its hardware buyers, Microsoft continued to charge licensees for Windows Mobile until that platform died on the vine. It has since scrambled to shift around its platform licensing for Windows 10 and Office, effectively losing control of platforms that were once monopolies.
Today, it doesn't serve a global installed base of mobile users and materially participate in a software ecosystem like the App Store. Instead, it sits in the App Store, sharing its revenues with Apple, because Apple competently developed and implemented a strategy that Microsoft didn't-- even though the idea of a Palladium App Store was actually Microsoft's to begin with. Again, Apple's success is not fueled by smart inventions. It is successful because it puts incredible work and thought into competently implementing long term strategies.
Everything the modern Apple does is backed up by massive, overwhelming data, and is part of a long term strategy. That doesn't mean everything it does is perfect, accurate, unassailable, or even popular among all of its customers. But it does mean that Apple doesn't decide on what to do next by pulling ideas out of a hat or asking members of a focus group. Instead, we know that Apple works in the opposite direction, developing work on lots of ideas, most of which are rejected with a No. That is materially different from companies such as Amazon or Samsung, which do not appear to even have "no" in their vocabulary.
Apple's implementation of strategy is also unique in that it rarely makes wild, random shifts in direction. Compare Apple's iPad with Android tablets. Google tried expensive Honeycomb tablets, then very cheap Nexus ones, then expensive Pixel tablets, then tried a new OS, then gave up on tablets entirely, all across the same decade where Apple methodically built up a separate tablet-optimized iOS app market, incrementally expanded both up and downward in price, and then only after a decade of establishing itself as a unique flavor of iOS did it rebrand as iPadOS. It has ended up commercially dominating tablets around the entire world.
Google didn't have an invention problem. It had an implementation problem
Nearly every major analyst and industry observer predicted the final outcome of tablets incorrectly, based largely on bad and misleading data on tablet unit shipments. And nearly every blogger and newspaper columnist nodded along with IDC and Strategy Analytics in agreeing that iPad couldn't possibly hope to ever matter too much commercially in a world overrun with $30 Android tablets. Yet today, it's pretty clear in hindsight that in terms of tablet strategy, iOS and Android played the roles of a fox and a bunch of headless chickens, respectively.
The very same results have also played out in notebooks, watches, earbuds, and, I believe, will happen in speakers. That's still a minority opinion, but if you incrementally turn back the clock, I also held a minority opinion related to Apple's prospects in wireless headphones, in watches, notebooks, tablets, phones, iPods and a very long time ago, with the Mac and macOS X. If you look back at the public comments on my old articles or the names of analysts and journalists who have blocked me on Twitter, you'll find two decades of almost unanimous agreement that Apple was doomed at every step on the way to its current trillion-dollar market valuation.
Microsoft has similarly played the headless chicken in its efforts to copy Apple's foxy iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBooks, Apple Watch and most recently, AirPods. And yet, despite a decade of clearly observable data, journalists are almost unanimous in praising every wild, random, and brainlessly desperate new strategy by the headless chickens while each time also expecting that the fox is going to lose this time-- it's obviously outnumbered!
In 2010, shortly after iPad launched, Microsoft drew up an concept image of two iPads hinged together (below) and called it "Courier." This concept attracted swooning attention from across the tech media that was markedly different from the brutal original reaction to Apple's actual iPad.
Microsoft's phony mockup of two iPads drew more applause from the tech media than the real iPad
It didn't matter to tech bloggers and even journalists that Courier wasn't even a real prototype, didn't have any price tag, or any actual details worked out about how it would work or what software it might run. They were enthralled by a picture that took little more effort than my "invention" of the iPhone in 2006. Courier was an effort to distract away from the reality that Apple had its iPad ready to sell, and Microsoft and all of its partners from HP to Samsung had Windows tablets that were thick, expensive, and ridiculous in comparison.
Fast forward ten years and Apple has sold 360 million iPads, while Microsoft has flopped around offering various ideas for netbooks, detachable notebook screens, expensive and cheap tablets, none of which have found a real audience or grown beyond a vanity level product hobby. This year, it floated another prototype that won't enter production for at least a year and has no price tag. This received cheers and applause from the same people who got excited about Courier the first time, even nostalgically recalling the name of vaporware from the last time Microsoft had played them as fools. Unbelievable.
Also, think of every major industry consortium that ever "took on" Apple, from Ultraviolet to Miracast to CurrentC. Tech journalists can't help but prop up each one as the next thing that's going to destroy Apple.
Apple's rivals regularly erect what purport to be deep, strategic projects that are almost always taken very seriously by the tech media. Then, frequently within a few months or years, those initiatives are abandoned and nothing is ever said about them again. Many were executive whims, from Jeff Bezos's Amazon Fire Phone, to Satya Nadella's Microsoft Devices, to Andy Rubin's Google TV and robots, to DJ Koh's Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Members of the tech media bent over backward to avoid being too critical of these ideas even as each embarrassingly billowed the smoke of failure like dumpsters set ablaze. Journalists are still optimistically waiting to see what revision of the Fold will allow it to live more than two days, allowing Samsung as much time as it needs to fix a product that is fantastically stupid even at a conceptual level, without regard for its insane price.
This review held up about as well as the device itself
Conversely, Apple has rolled out ideas that were depicted at launch as grievous mistakes that were poorly thought out, perhaps a dumb-pet project of some dad-executive unhip to the reality of what the kids are into these days. Siri's OS-level voice assistant, Force Touch, Apple Watch, dual depth cameras, Touch Bar, AirPods, and Face ID were all dismissed as shallow distractions of little value that "couldn't move the needle"; Siri was even greeted at launch by top executives of Microsoft and Google as being totally the wrong direction for phones, several years before they scrambled to create their own.
Yet Apple keeps incrementally investing into all of these as part of an evolving strategy unfolding in major new features that sell its products, regardless of whether or not they appear to be used a lot by the majority of customers. Sometimes a strategic move ends up powering something else entirely, as Touch Bar has in Catalina's new Sidecar feature. Apple expends lots of energy into studying ideas before it ships them. Conversely, that means if Apple ships something, it's important enough to have invested lots of thought and effort into it.
On the new Mac Pro, it's pretty clear Apple has a strong strategic intent causing it to ship such a very expensive machine that will apparently have a relatively limited addressable audience. By the same token, that also means that there are all manner of other potential niche Macs that Apple is purposely not shipping because they would not strategically advance any goal. So the appearance of Mac Pro is not evidence that other "wishlist Macs" are similarly in the pipeline, such as a scaled-down version speculatively aimed at "pro-ish" consumers, or one aimed at gamers, or crypto miners, and so on.
That principle also applies in other areas, explaining why we haven't seen a cheaper HomePod or a very small new iPhone. Market opportunities and product strategies don't infinitely scale up and down, even if Samsung's tablet offerings might make it look that way. The truth is, Samsung doesn't really have a tablet strategy. It just has lots of people working on products and inventions without much thoughtful strategic direction at all.
Note too that Apple isn't always successful in implementing a given strategy. Sometimes no matter how much you try, there just isn't an audience. Back in 2002 Jobs' Apple put significant effort into building Xserve, a rack-mounted server that simply never found a niche capable of sustaining it as a product. After it was laid to rest in 2006 [correction: 2010, the last Xserve update occurred in 2009], Apple subsequently trended away from making any Mac server hardware specifically designed for rack mounting.
Apple is returning to the rack mounted server space
A lot has changed since 2009, however, and now in 2019, the new Mac Pro is returning in a custom bespoke version designed to slide into a server rack. Apple wouldn't answer many of my questions about the rack-mounted version of the Mac Pro back at WWDC19, saying only that more details would be released later in the year.
Pretty clearly, the decision to return to server closets wasn't a whim floated by Cook or sparked by a customer email. It was part of a careful examination of a shifting market and the ongoing development of technologies within Apple. The following segment considers how Apple builds its products and its relationship with China.