Screw the ROI: The case of a MacBook Workstation

That's the hed and lede that flashed through my mind after I read Daniel Rubino's review of the Dell Precision 5520 for Windows Central:

Dell's powerful 15-inch Precision 5520 now has the latest Intel Xeon processor and NVIDIA Quadro graphics. This bulldozer of a PC with a 4K display may be your best bet if you're a graphics professional.

Now, current Rene loves the 2016 MacBook Pro. I've been using the 13-inch Touchbar model since October and it's the best MacBook I've ever owned. I used to go back and forth between the 13-inch MacBook Air and old 13-inch MacBook Pro every couple of years, never able to find the right trade-off between portability and performance. Now I truly have the best of both. But that's just me.

Past Rene worked in video and webdev and graphic design and wouldn't have been such a fan. He bought 17-inch, later 15-inch, and maxed them out.

Current Rene spends most of his time in browsers, with some light Photoshop and Final Cut Pro thrown in for events and special projects. And all of that is fine on the new MacBook Pro. More than fine, considering I've been using the 8 GB Core i5 model and keep forgetting that's what it is. (I'm used to maxing out every Mac — this is new and weird for me.)

I represent the growing, more mainstream "pro" market Apple's been targeting lately, rather than the traditional, higher-end market that historically supported the Mac. Some label it "pro-sumer" but it's more a reflection that value has come to derive not from speeds and feeds but from multiple vectors, including social. It's a market of millions, not thousands.

That's hurt the traditional, higher-end pro, though. At least those who prefer Macs. They currently feel abandoned, like they stuck with Apple when Apple was doomed and, now that Apple is successful, they're being dumped for a younger, hotter new market.

It's a sentiment that's been building each and every year the Mac Pro hasn't been updated. It surged late last year, though, when Apple introduced a bare-bones new MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar at the low-end for people who wanted a Retina MacBook Air, but didn't introduce an equal and opposite souped-up model on the high-end for people who wanted a workstation, only mobile.

Now, tech graveyards are littered with the shattered relevance of analysts who claimed Apple simply had to ship netbooks or servers or mini-towers or licensed OS. Ignoring just exactly those kinds of myopic ravings has led to Apple being phenomenally successful. Far more than companies that netbooked their margins and themselves almost out of business.

So, I'm not going to stand here and say Apple has to ship a higher-end MacBook Pro. Clearly, they don't, not any more than they have to ship Xserve or Aperture.

For Apple, I imagine most of the "pro" market is more like me now. Perhaps even closer to the MacBook Pro "escape" and further from the Dell Precision 5520.

If you listen to Twitter, the hardcore Apple community wants desktop-class Kaby Lake and Nvidia 1080 in their MacBooks, with 64 GB of RAM, hold the floppy. If you look at how Apple's customers vote with their wallets, though, the answer is profoundly different.

Likewise, influencers. If I had to guess, people who buy Mac Pro have far less impact on growing the market these days than people who sit in coffee shops working on MacBooks. Apple is chasing that puck where it's going to be as well.

It's why I think Apple's just isn't as worried about the horn effect as some others might be, including me.

Apple can get it wrong and misread the market, of course. They walked back the buttonless iPod shuffle, fatty nano, and even G4 Cube. Mac Pro also taught Apple not to innovate what they can't rapidly iterate. That's what happens when you're audacious, though. Change comes with risk.

So, while every instinct in my lower writer's brain wanted to pound away on the hed and lede above, wanted to say Apple should "screw the ROI" and make a higher-end MacBook Pro anyway, the more I wrote the less likely that possibility started to seem.

Current Rene is fine with that because it doesn't really impact him. Everyone thinks Apple should do less and focus more — as long as it's someone else's favorite products and product lines that pay the price. That's why past Rene wants to tell current Rene to stuff it, and is still hoping to see a great MacBook Pro workstation... at least one more time.

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