04 May 2017

Why Apple still matters to professionals

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Ding exactly what it say not the tin... Ding exactly what it say not the tin... RedShark News


There has been a lot of Mac-bashing in the industry lately. Russel Fairley mounts the case for the defence and points out that they're powerful enough for most jobs, and, beyond the excellent design aesthetic and build quality, they simply work time and time again. And as for the OS...

Macs and PCs have done battle since the heady days of Jobs and Gates, sparring over performance, cost and usability. Until recently, there has been a single race the folks in Cupertino have held the title for without a challenge and that is in the “gotta have it” factor. Apple machines have been the go-to for creative professionals for ages and in recent years have been the go-to for just about anybody looking for a drama-free user experience. A string of successes from iPods to iPads has turned the Apple logo into a cultural icon and a status symbol. The symbol said: “I pay more for a better experience.”

The experience on the professional creative side, however, has been stagnant for quite some time. A handful of factors, importantly the loss of Apple leader Steve Jobs, the relative disregard for Pro-specific machines and the advent of Windows 10 have combined to create the first tipping point in the pro market for some time. Just as pros welcomed Premiere Pro when Apple jumped from Final Cut Pro 7 to FCPX, pros are taking a second look at Windows hardware and software — and they’re liking what they’re seeing.

So what about the poor old Mac? Some say to heck with it. They cost exorbitant amounts of money, aren’t modular or customisable to the extent of Windows-based machines, and they are locked into Apple’s ever-enveloping software environment. It’s a closed, expensive, off-the-shelf machine, regardless of the model.

And what about this all-new Mac Pro Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing teased? From the sounds of things, Apple has decided to take the time to build something that’s incredible instead of simply rushing something shiny or gimmicky (I’m looking at you, Touch Bar) to market.

“With regard to the Mac Pro,” Schiller said, “we are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking the Mac Pro’. We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements. We’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.”

Could it be the one we’ve all been waiting for? Is it too little, too late? Only time will really tell, and possibly quite a bit of time. Rumours put the potential release of the newest Mac Pro toward the end of 2018 or even spring 2019. That’s a heck of a long time to keep pros happy with speculative updates to a machine that already isn’t keeping up.

Or is it?

The market for bleeding edge technology

Our focus on bleeding edge technology might be necessary for larger production companies, but is it really the case for the bulk of us? It might be. Plenty of small production houses and freelancers are making the jump to shooting, editing and, in some cases, delivering 4K content. It makes sense. Many homes have 4K televisions, networks are starting to roll out 4K channels, 4K capable DVRs, and clients — since the dawn of time — want the ultimate value for their dollar. But are they really feeling the bottleneck to the extent that their 12-core Mac Pro and quad-core i7 MacBook Pro are Craigslist fodder?

After all, the newest generation Mac Pro, for all intents and purposes, was built to edit 4K video. It can run up to six Thunderbolt displays or three 5K ones. It uses ultra-high-speed flash storage, has a jillion external ports (though somehow always one too few), and its dual GPU setup can be configured for up to 12GB of video RAM. That’s still pretty colossal by today’s standards and plenty to edit C300 Mark II footage. On the other hand, the Mac Pro’s 64GB memory limitation is pretty outdated, particularly when we consider high-end HPs can run 1TB of DDR4-2400 ECC SDRAM in their flagship Z840. However, for the bulk of the work editors and motion graphic designers do, video memory is king; 64GB of RAM is still quite a bit, and the Mac Pro will perform just fine.

Let’s make one small point clear, though, before PC users start throwing bricks through my window. It’s always been possible to out-spec a Mac — if not on the Mac’s launch day, then soon after. Big PCs have been modular and customisable since Day One. Heck, it’s what we liked best about the last Mac Pro. If they’d revamped that baby with room for more memory and a handful of Thunderbolt ports, most of us would’ve been pretty happy.

So if we could always get a faster Windows machine, why have many of us creative types continued to buy Apple machines? Is it just that aforementioned “Got to have it” factor? It can’t be. We charge for a service and rely on our machines to deliver.

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Russel Fairley

Russ Fairley has an extensive background in production, with a warm place in his heart for editing and motion graphics. He founded After Effects Toronto, Canada's largest Adobe post production user group, is an Adobe Certified Expert in After Effects, and he runs a boutique production company. When he's not using the pen tool you can usually find him playing drums.

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