Wheels of Fortune
By Niko Kitsakis, April 2020
I told myself I was going to be quiet when Apple revealed its new Mac Pro in 2019. The machine was overpriced and rather badly designed but those things didn’t really surprise me anymore. Not with the unimaginative and complacent Tim Cook as Apple’s CEO. An ex bean counter at IBM and Compaq and – while Steve Jobs was still alive – only good enough to be a glorified warehouse manager at Apple.
What did surprise me a bit was when Apple also revealed what they call the Pro Display XDR at the same time. This display is very innovative in that it doesn’t come with a stand even though it costs $5000¹. You can buy the stand separately for an additional $1000.
Yes, indeed: $1000 for a piece of metal with a hinge that holds your $5000 display in place. But that’s not all: for another $1000 you can buy a version of the monitor which has a super-special anti reflective coating². So all in all, Apple expects you to pay an additional $2000, on top of the already excessive $5000, for the anti reflective coating and a stand – two things which come with every other professional monitor at no additional charge. If you decide not to buy the stand, Apple will sell you a VESA adapter for $200. And if you don’t want that either you can always try to lean the bloody thing against something. “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass!”³ indeed…
But even that, while rather provoking (to put it mildly), didn’t set me off too much. I poked fun at all this nonsense of course, but in the end it just made clear what had been clear to me for a while: Apple doesn’t make products for professionals anymore. Attaching the word “Pro” at the end of a product name doesn’t change that.
Then, a few days ago, Apple released a set of wheels as an accessory to attach to the Mac Pro. It can be yours for the small fortune of $700. You will understand how I couldn’t be quiet anymore.
Auri sacra fames
I was always the kind of person who went with expensive over cheap and with quality over quantity. When I moved into my first apartment for example, I didn’t have a couch for several years. I could easily have afforded something from IKEA for $200 or so but I didn’t want something that I then had to throw out just a few years later. I also, as a general rule, don’t like to give my money to people with no taste, just so they can give me an item that’s not only ugly but works badly or breaks down easily. Needless to say that I never bought anything from Microsoft in my life.
When I say that I go with expensive over cheap, I don’t mean to say that I equate price with quality. It’s true of course that a higher priced version of an item tends to be of better quality than a lower priced one. But a high price, as I hope my readers know, doesn’t guarantee good quality. Thus, given the two factors price and quality, I always look out for quality first.
I apply the same principle when it comes to buying things for my business. The exception there would be those moments when I absolutely need something to solve an immediate problem – even though it might be a bad quality item that won’t last long.
Whatever the quality or purpose however, nothing justifies exorbitant prices. So when Apple wants to sell you a set of glorified caster wheels for $700 or a monitor stand for $1000 – all while trying to pass these things off as professional – you should tell those conceited cretins to engage in that sort of coprophagia⁴ themselves instead of expecting it from you.
As for the 2019 Mac Pro: consider for a moment that the original blue and white Power Mac G3 started at $1600 in 1999, while the most expensive pre-configured model back then cost $3000. Adjusted for inflation⁵, that high-end model would be at around $4700 today. Compare that with the 2019 Mac Pro which starts at $6000.
At these prices, the situation reminds me of what an artist friend once told me: if you ever see someone buying Jeff Koons, you know that they have a) too much money and b) no clue.
Who is this for?
Let’s not kid ourselves, Macs have almost never been used by the very high end of professionals. The sort of people who do compositing and 3D work for Hollywood films for example. There was a time when Apple had half a foot in the door with Final Cut Pro 7. That, however, was only editing, not 3D or effects, and the particular door in question has been closed by Apple itself when they introduced the abysmal Final Cut Pro X.
At the low end of the spectrum, you don’t see Macs either. Banks, insurance companies and everyone else with offices that resemble ant colonies usually don’t buy Macs on a large scale. These people need the equivalent of cheap terminals that run only one type of software like Oracle, SAP or something along those lines. For that, a Mac as a client machine is just unnecessarily expensive.
So Macs are somewhere in the middle and upper middle class of computing. The Mac is generally great for small studios, ad agencies, creative freelancers and the like. Small to medium size companies, in other words, that need sophisticated computers without too much overhead in IT support.
The question is then who will buy the Mac Pro and its ridiculously overpriced accessories. The aforementioned high-end creative workers will want much different CPU and graphics card options from what Apple is offering and they’ll want it at different prices too. And that’s not even considering their software needs. So apart from the rich but unsophisticated halfwits who would also buy a Porsche Taycan or art by Jeff Koons, I don’t know. The high-end people surely won’t be robbed of their flexibility while banks and the like will stick with their cheap Windows boxes.
What I do know is that the company I used to work for, and that has used Macs since the early 90s, has switched their video editing and effects stations from Macs to Windows PCs. An independent filmmaker I used to work with in a Mac-only company uses Windows now, two photographer friends have switched from Macs to PCs and none of the high-end 3D artists I know ever used Apple products in the first place.⁶
What all of these people have in common is that they do client work. No blogging, no YouTube channels, no Instagram stories or other kinds of self-promotion but advertising, filmmaking, photography, animation, 3D-modeling etc.
Which brings me to the people who can really get my blood boiling in this context: the full time bloggers and YouTube personalities. These people present themselves as fans who have been lucky enough to be a bit successful with their personal endeavours when in reality, they are little more than mouth pieces for the companies whose products they cover.
Take the case of Marques Brownlee aka MKBHD for example. According to Wikipedia he has “… over 10 million subscribers and over 1.7 billion total video views” on YouTube. He also gets early access to Apple products. A fact he states himself in his Mac Pro 2019 unboxing video. Do you really expect someone like that to be critical in his “reviews”? I hope not. But apparently that’s not so important since he’s young and hip and cool and, most importantly, bland. Just your guy if you have something to sell to the affluent and gullible.
Another one is Justine Ezarik, better known as iJustine (6.39 million Subscribers, 1.15 billion total views). If, for some reason, you disapprove of Mr Brownlee maybe this boring bimbo can do what he could not and convince you of the merits of Apple’s products.
If you think me too harsh for calling Miss Ezarik a boring bimbo, I suggest that you look at a few of her overly bubbly videos and then tell me, with a straight face, that she doesn’t blatantly capitalize on the “dumb blonde” stereotype. In other words, she knows exactly what she needs to do to sell a product. Be that herself or the product she is “reviewing”.
Her Mac Pro unboxing video is essentially the same as Mr Brownlee’s. So much so indeed that I strongly suspect Apple sent both of them the same list of shots and statements that needed to be in it. Her comment on the display stand? “Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you’re not worth a thousand dollars” she says to it. Cute. And another check off Apple’s marketing list.
As for me, I don’t particularly like to be talked to in that infantile manner. Although I have to admit that both of them are strangely attractive: their blandness is so incredible that I find myself fascinated by it. They are the fat-free butter, the mild curry, the cigarette you don’t inhale, the drink without any alcohol in it and – of course – the vegan burger. Everything that makes life worth living is absent in those YouTube puppets who obediently dance to their corporate masters.
But let’s tear ourselves away from this train wreck of modern culture and look at something else.
The most prominent Apple blogger is without a doubt John Gruber. Now, Mr Gruber is definitely a bit more sophisticated in his reporting on Apple. He can even be observed to be slightly critical of the company at times. That is, he will discreetly call to your attention that there might have been a slight mishap involving fire while you are standing in front of smoldering ruins. That, in a nutshell, is the extend of most of his criticism of Apple. Here, for example, is what he had to say about the $700 Mac Pro wheels: “I don’t know if they’re over-engineered or overpriced, but until this week, I was under the impression that they cost $400 on their own, not $400 after subtracting $300 for the feet” and “… no matter how great they are, $700 sure seems like a lot of money for four wheels to put on a computer.”
“Seems”? Well, if that isn’t the most tepid reaction to a shameless attempt at daylight robbery by a multi-billion dollar company, I don’t know what is. It’s also adorable that Mr Gruber wants you to think that he’s not sure if the wheels might be over-engineered…⁷
Contrast his takes on Apple with his much harsher criticism of Google or Samsung – which is mostly good and valid – and the picture becomes clear.
Maybe it’s my own fault for expecting these people to adhere to journalistic standards of some sort when they are clearly in the advertising business. Still, their “opinions” get passed around as if they were the real thing and worth something.
The future is stupid
So there we have it. One of the largest companies on earth asking up to ten times the amount of money that certain items would be worth in a sane world; A bunch of bloggers and YouTubers who, I suspect, promote all of this crap for either money, access, traffic or all three; And an army of mindless fanboys who are so dim-witted that they will gladly participate in defending and spreading the propaganda – for free.
Meanwhile, people like me, who are long-time Mac users and have real work to do and real deadlines to keep, now have the unappealing prospect on the horizon of possibly having to switch to bloody Windows at some point in the not too distant future.
It takes marketing and middle management – the yin and yang of incompetence and indifference – to bring down a company. If Apple didn’t make so much money from the momentum that Steve Jobs built, their falling apart would be much more obvious to many more people.
As it is, they will exist for a very long time and slowly fade until they have become so boring that you will not be able to tell them apart from the company that makes your bathroom tiles.
- To be very correct, the display costs $4999 but since I’m not a child I will write down the real prices of all these $xx99 items in my piece here. If you don’t like that, write your own piece. ↑
- Technically, the $5000 version of the display also has an anti reflective coating. The additional $1000 however will make sure that you get a really, really magnificent anti reflective coating. Without reflections even. Seriously though, making display surfaces non-reflective is an old hat. It’s only the people at Apple who seem to think this is a big deal. Ironic, considering that it was them who started the trend of using highly reflective glass for their notebook screens. A “feature” which has done nothing but annoyed people when it came out. ↑
- If you don’t know this particular innuendo you are free to search for it… ↑
- The word coprophagia is derived from greek and roughly translates into “eating your food while it’s still warm.” More at Wikipedia. ↑
- According to the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator. I would take that information with a grain of salt however. A product priced at $2000 in 1999 would more or less still be priced the same in 2019. ↑
- There’s another thing to consider here: many of the people I’ve mentioned, who have switched to Windows, were holding out to see what Apple was up to with the 2019 Mac Pro. They either stayed with the older, pre-2013 Mac Pros or had bought iMac Pros as a stopgap. In other words the decision to switch came because of the 2019 Mac Pro. ↑
- Here’s a hint: the wheels don’t even have brakes and even if they had, at $700 it would still be fleecing. ↑
It has been suggested to me that the outrageous price tags of the products mentioned above might just be Apple acting very smart. Along the lines of “there is no such thing as bad publicity” and that people like me, who will write about it, are just playing into Apple’s hand by giving them free brand exposure. That might very well be so.
Ask yourself however what you would like your company to be known for: good and reliable products or condescension without sophistication? Apple is positioning itself as a sort of poor man’s Louis Vuitton in the world of electronic devices (which is really funny because Louis Vuitton is already a poor man’s excuse for a luxury brand – just look at the riff-raff who buys that garbage). Why do they do that when they could make great things instead? Well, because they can’t anymore. They are fat and complacent when they should be hungry and foolish.
Another person said “you are just not Apple’s customer anymore, they make all their money with the iPhone and services.” Well, to that I can only say that Apple should then stop making Macs altogether. As long as they still do however, I am also their customer. There is really no excuse of letting a product line die away when you have no replacement. Do it right or don’t do it. And as for “services”, don’t make me laugh. Everything that Apple does with the cloud is abysmal. Syncing, data integrity, customer support, you name it… Now there’s something that Apple could let die without anybody complaining about it.