For the more involved photographer (like most of the readership of The Luminous Landscape), the big technology companies are not really keeping pace with what we need. Some of us photograph seriously with phones as a secondary camera, many of us do not. Personally, I use my 4 year old iPhone as a convenience scanner, but rarely for anything that meets the stricter definition of a photograph. Most of us, however, do our artistic work with a camera manufactured by Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic or perhaps Leica, Pentax, Hasselblad or Phase One (with Apple, Google and various Android licensees notable primarily by their absence from this list). I’m not sure, but I suspect that a poll of Luminous Landscape readers as to the camera they consider primary might show the category of film cameras (taken together) to be larger than the category of telephones (taken together)?
This is decidedly out of step with where the definition of photography in much of today’s society is going. The phone has become the primary camera of mass-cultural importance, and the largest companies care mostly about mass-cultural importance. If anything, my recent trip to PhotoPlus has shown me that smaller companies care more than ever about the importance of artistic photography (which mostly takes place with non-phone cameras). I saw everything from view cameras to RAW processing software made by small companies who care intensely about the pursuit of beautiful images. I saw printers, papers and printing software made by companies deeply dedicated to the future of the printed image, and to creativity in its forms. I saw monitors built for photographers and tripods ranging from small enough to fit in a pocket on up to tall enough to need a ladder. Lighting equipment of every kind was all over the place.
These companies (and even many of the big camera manufacturers) are small enough and care enough about photography that most of them will survive even in the smaller camera market that the mainstream technology press is screaming about. DxO, Phase One, Arca Swiss, Really Right Stuff and ColorByte among so many others don’t need sales of 20 million interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) per year (the peak number reached in 2012) to survive. They may even do better in a world where 6-8 million ILCs are sold each year, but those sold are purchased by people who care more about photography and are more likely to use their cameras beyond snapshots. You don’t need DxO Photo Lab to process selfies, nor ImagePrint to print images of your breakfast to share on Instagram. The potential market for these products hasn’t really changed – it’s still the same group of people who read The Luminous Landscape, print some of their images and make photographs instead of taking selfies.
What we as photographers can’t count on, however, is support from the very largest companies. Companies that have produced tools we have used for years may be too big to care about today’s market of artists, professionals and enthusiasts. If the tools they make for other purposes suit our needs, wonderful. If they don’t, we aren’t numerous. enough to interest them. A companion article discusses what Adobe’s nearly non-existent update to Lightroom Classic might mean to a tool many of us use, but that its manufacturer clearly wants to subsume into a cloud-centric, phone-centric vision.
Another company we might have reason to mistrust is Apple. Like many of us, I have used Macs for many years – but Apple no longer seems to care as much about users like us. They are clearly an iPhone company with a nice, profitable little sideline making Macs. Apple’s current net sales show one overwhelming segment (between half and two thirds of everything), which is, of course, the iPhone. Next comes Services (music, TV shows, iCloud, Apple Arcade), etc., which is clearly larger than, and approaching twice the size of, any category except the iPhone. The remaining quarter or so of Apple’s revenue is divided (more or less equally) among Macs, iPads and an “other” category that includes things like the Apple Watch, HomePods, Apple TV hardware and AirPods.
As is perhaps inevitable with a revenue breakdown like that, Apple’s product launches are often not the products Mac-centric users have been waiting for. Since Macs are a single- supplier proposition, and, at best, that supplier’s third priority behind the iPhone and services (possibly behind the iPad or the Apple Watch as well), we’re at the mercy of when that supplier chooses to release things, and what they choose to release.
There are persistent rumors that Apple will start releasing Macs with A-series processors as used in the iPhone and iPad instead of the present Intel chips within the next couple of years. There are certain Macs where this would make a lot of sense – the very lightest notebooks, and possibly some models of the Mac Mini. A-series chips are more power efficient than Intel processors, and they’re almost certainly cheaper for Apple as well.
The challenge comes in when trying to run large applications that have run on Intel processors for years – the developer either has to port the code to the A-series processor or let it run in emulation, which is much slower. If Apple releases an A-series Mac, they will almost certainly have fast ports of their own applications that make sense on that Mac (they may not have Final Cut and Logic ported if they are releasing a 12” notebook under 2 lbs, for example). They’ll exert a lot of pressure on smaller developers to port their applications – but there’s a (major) catch.
It would probably be very easy, and perhaps even trivial or completely automatic, to port an iPad application to a Mac that used a processor similar to the one in an iPad. It’s easy enough to port an iPad application even to a Mac with a completely different processor, using Apple’s Catalyst toolset. In cases where there is a big, powerful Mac version of an application that runs on Intel processors and a slimmed down iPad version, the much easier port is going to be the iPad version. The two predominant cases where we’ll almost certainly see enhanced versions of iPad applications are Adobe and Microsoft – both of whom were notably lazy in porting their applications to Intel Macs some years ago. I would be extremely surprised if any A- series Mac ever saw Lightroom Classic or full-featured Photoshop derived from the desktop version, although Lightroom CC and an iPad-derived version of Photoshop will certainly be running on Day 1. Microsoft Office will appear right away, but it’ll be iPad Office…
If Apple releases A-series Macs alongside of Intel Macs, that’s not a problem – there are many users for whom an A-series Mac is equivalent or even preferable. The question is how long we have before A-series Macs become the norm, or even the only Macs available?
There are presently two Macs of primary interest to serious photographers – the 16” (was 15” until very recently) MacBook Pro and the 27” iMac. The 16” MacBook Pro was just updated, and it looks like a great update for photographers, while the 27” iMac is an older design that has received periodic specification updates to stay current. Some photographers prefer one computer for all their work, which often has to be a powerful laptop such as the 16” MacBook Pro, while others would rather have a less powerful laptop for field work as well as a desktop machine.
The smaller MacBooks of various sorts are useful for field editing, but underpowered as a photographer’s primary computer, especially if either high-resolution cameras or larger libraries are involved. There are three fundamental problems with all Apple laptops other than the 16” MacBook Pro for heavy-duty photo editing. All of them top out at 16 GB of RAM, while significant work on a large image can easily require more than that. The most recent several models of the 15” MacBook Pro have been available with 32 GB, which is enough for most work. The new 16” MacBook Pro is available with as much as 64 GB of RAM, which is more than enough for almost any use in still photography. The other MacBook models also all feature dual or quad core processors, as photographic applications are increasingly taking advantage of more than four cores, and none has a discrete GPU – all depend on poky Intel integrated graphics.
Sometimes, Apple listens to professional users – the brand-new 16” MacBook Pro may be such a case. The previous MacBook Pro had been controversial since its release, and the new one fixes many of the flaws in its predecessor. The two major problems with the 2016-2019 MacBook Pros have been a keyboard that many users don’t like (and that has been plagued with major reliability issues) and a port layout that consists exclusively of four USB- C/Thunderbolt 3 ports (plus a headphone jack). No conventional USB, no HDMI, no Ethernet, no SD Card reader. Yes, Thunderbolt 3 ports will adapt to anything – but they also require adapters for nearly everything. It was also somewhat behind its major competitors (15” thin-and light workstations from HP, Dell, Lenovo and now Razer) in RAM capacity, graphics and a few other areas.
The new 16” MacBook Pro seems to fix the keyboard – it has a brand-new keyboard, and everyone who has tried one seems to like it – of course, we won’t know about reliability until the machines have been in the field for several months. It also fixed several of the other flaws of the previous design – the maximum RAM capacity is now 64 GB, the same as every competitor, and the new graphics cards are fully comparable with anything that any other manufacturer except Razer is doing in a thin-and-light workstation. Apple stuck with the all USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port design, and Apple Senior Vice-President Phil Schiller has said “probably not” when asked if we’ll ever see another Apple laptop with a selection of ports.
There are a couple of places where Apple is now notably ahead of their competitors. No competitor offers more than a 2TB high-speed SSD in a thin-and-light workstation, although a couple of them offer dual NVMe SSD slots, permitting a 4TB dual-drive configuration (Lenovo offers it at a price comparable to Apple’s 4TB upgrade, while HP offers it only at huge expense). Apple solders the storage to the motherboard, not allowing user upgrades – but the maximum storage configuration is an enormous 8TB. While the 8TB storage option is a $2200 upgrade from a 1TB base, the only other laptops that offer that much internal storage at any price are a couple of >7 lb behemoths that accept four drives.
One challenge that Mac users always face is Apple’s “my way or the highway” attitude. There will be one machine available in a given class, with some variety of configurations in the same basic design – and that design stays constant for several years. Since Apple is a single supplier, there is no option to buy someone else’s compatible machine if you don’t like the design. If you want a big-screen notebook, but don’t especially need CPU or GPU power, tough luck – the only Mac notebook with a screen over 13” comes with a top-end CPU and GPU. If you’re willing to carry a 5 or 6 lb computer, but want wired Ethernet and HDMI, that’s not available – there are always adapters for the Thunderbolt ports. Want a 4K OLED display? No chance – there’s only one display, and it’s not 4K or OLED. Right now, the 16” MacBook Pro may well be a best-in-class portable photographic workstation, but only if you like its particular set of features and compromises.
Looking at Apple’s direct competitors – the thin-and-light workstations from Lenovo, HP, Dell and Razer, the Windows competition offers a broader set of ports, but at the expense of the maximum connectivity of the Mac. While those four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports may be annoying because they require adapters for so many things, they have enormous bandwidth, and they can adapt to nearly anything – there’s even an adapter for RS-232 serial ports, which go back to 1960, and one for old-style parallel printer ports that go back to the 1970s. Windows machines in the same size range tend to have only one or two of these ports, but add a couple of conventional USB ports, a HDMI port and perhaps a SD reader. Which is preferable is a toss- up – the Mac’s ports are ultimately more versatile, but the PC port assortment is more convenient for a quick connection to a USB key or a projector without an adapter.
Except for the Razer Blade Studio 15, which offers much more powerful GPU options, the thin and light laptop workstations offer GPUs that are comparable to Apple’s choices. There might be more options, but the power level will be similar. The reasons for this are battery life and cooling – a thin and light case simply can’t cool a massive GPU, and a battery that is legal on airplanes won’t power it for very long. A heavier laptop doesn’t buy a bigger battery, because FAA regulations don’t permit batteries above 99 watt-hours on planes without a waiver, and almost all powerful laptops are already using batteries between 80 and 99 watt- hours. Razer has chosen to sacrifice a significant amount of battery life to squeeze in the more powerful GPU, which reflects their gaming heritage. All of the other thin-and-light workstations have put a priority on decent battery life, so they tend to have midrange GPUs.
Besides the direct competitors to the MacBook Pro, PC manufacturers offer distinctive choices. If you’d prefer a laptop-tablet hybrid, they exist, although very powerful ones are difficult to find. Some are made specifically for artists, and support Wacom pens for accurate drawing and retouching. If you want to go even lighter than the MacBook Pro, there are numerous 15” laptops and even one 17” laptop a full pound lighter than the 4.3 pound Mac – expect much slower processors and Intel’s slow integrated graphics, though.
Conversely, if you’re willing to carry more weight, a 7 lb HP ZBook 17”, Lenovo P73 or Dell Precision 7740 can offer up to four internal SSDs, 128 GB of RAM, every port known to humankind (oddly, except for 10 Gb Ethernet, which would actually be useful), the most powerful graphics cards available and pretty much anything else one might find on a midrange desktop workstation. There are myriad options in between – if you want it, some PC or another will have it. The machines I have mentioned are the workstation-class competitors to the MacBook Pro – designed specifically for professionals using their computers really hard. Each of these machines offers hardware quality equivalent to the Macs, excellent design and very good service and support. There are also much cheaper laptops designed to hit a price point, and there are expensive laptops designed specifically for gaming that offer incredible speed and power at the expense of battery life and sometimes reliability.
An Apple desktop suited for serious photographic use will probably be an iMac of some description, most likely a 27” model. Most iMacs are fast and powerful. The most important configuration choice is to get one with all SSD storage – either a hard drive or a Fusion Drive will be much slower. The 21.5” models are difficult to upgrade the RAM on yourself – it involves taking off the screen. A huge advantage of the 27” iMac is that it has a hatch in the back where the RAM goes – it’s easy to avoid paying Apple $600 for $200 worth of RAM. In the price and power range where both the 21.5” and 27” iMacs are available, they are actually close to the same price with 32 GB of RAM, because the savings from the much cheaper RAM come close to paying for the 27” screen. If you need the screen and like the design, a 27” iMac is price- competitive with a high-quality PC.
The current 27” iMac is a 2014 design, and it took years to advance beyond a quad-core processor, which it finally did in early 2019, although suitable processors have existed since 2017. The anemic GPU options were supplemented at the same time – the current top-end Vega 48 is a competitive midrange GPU. The ultra-slim case still has thermal challenges, which seem to be at least somewhat improved in the latest models, and many versions still feature hard drive based storage, despite the radical decrease in SSD prices. Its easily upgraded RAM options and display remain competitive, although the display is an annoyance to photographers who want the option of choosing a higher-end monitor from the likes of Eizo, NEC, BenQ or others. It’ll drive just about any external display, but why pay $800 for a 27” 5K monitor that’s going to be a secondary display?
The basics of the 27” iMac are pretty solid. Assuming you like the idea of a screen- integrated computer, it’s a decent value, and the features are a good match for a lot of photographic workloads. The CPUs are current and capable, although all the GPU options except the top-end Vega 48 are severely out of date. If Apple were to get around to updating the design, it will probably look quite similar, but it is likely to lose the hard drive option, devoting that space to better cooling of the CPU and GPU. It will hopefully get 10 Gb Ethernet, which all other Apple desktops except the 21.5” iMac have.
The iMac Pro is a powerful, professional machine that would be perfect for photographers who can both afford it and need its power, except for two annoyances. It’s basically a 27” iMac with powerful Xeon processors and Vega GPUs, improved cooling and 10 Gb Ethernet. Unfortunately, it’s less upgradeable than an expensive, professional desktop should be (oddly, it’s less upgradeable than the cheaper 27” iMac). its RAM is difficult to upgrade, and its internal storage is (as of this writing) non-upgradeable after purchase. Apple charges a greater than 100% markup on RAM upgrades over what the same RAM would cost on the open market – since the RAM is standard, comparisons are easy. The SSDs Apple uses are proprietary (and extremely fast), so comparisons to open-market drives are harder. Very roughly, Apple’s prices are marked up about 30% over high-quality, high-speed NVMe SSDs that would be the closest comparison.
Second, its price includes a built-in 27” monitor (the same one as on the standard iMac). At the price and performance level of the iMac Pro, many photographers, video pros and other visual users will have a preferred monitor brand, or they will already own a monitor they prefer over Apple’s included display. The iMac Pro can drive an external display very capably, but the $800 or so price premium for the display is a lot to pay for what will, in many cases, be a secondary display. The situation is worse than with the standard iMac, because buyers of higher-end workstations are more likely to have a better display.
It is a $5000 desktop computer that doesn’t make a lot of sense without some upgrades that push its price closer to $7000-$8000. Right now, the iMac Pro is a notably bad deal, because the Xeon CPUs it uses have just gotten a big price cut in their newer versions, which Apple hasn’t started using yet (the price changes could cut $1000 or more off of many configurations). When a new iMac Pro comes out, Apple could either pass along the price cut or upgrade some other feature so that it becomes more than a somewhat faster iMac with a radically larger price tag. One possibility is a new display with some features from the XDR display Apple is releasing with the new Mac Pro?
The Mac Pro as currently available (the 2013 “Trashcan”) is simply irrelevant for most photographic purposes. If it’ll work, so will a modern Mac Mini or any number of iMacs – it’s clearly less powerful than most configurations of the 27” iMac that use SSD storage. The new (and often-delayed) Mac Pro will be an extremely powerful computer when it ships – but any sensible configuration will probably be around $10,000 and up. The starting configuration at $6000 will perform a great deal like a $3600 iMac – the advantage comes from massively upgraded versions. HP Z6 and Z8 workstations in the same performance class are equally or more expensive, but none of them are needed for still photography, except in the most extreme cases. Maybe panoramic stitching of GFX 100 files? Perhaps dealing with large libraries of 8×10” film scans?
Of course, there’s the computer Apple will never make – call it an iMac without the screen, a beefed up Mac Mini, or a cut down Mac Pro. When it is discussed on various Mac forums, it’s sometimes called an xMac. It’s broadly defined as any Mac desktop without a built- in monitor, featuring upgradeable RAM and storage, discrete (and perhaps upgradeable) graphics, yet less expensive than a Mac Pro.
Apple has, for many years, reserved serious expandability for a Mac Pro (or Power Mac) model more expensive than any iMac. Their vision of desktop computing clearly looks like an iMac, and they are uninterested in offering another option. As the iMac’s capabilities increase and the price of the top model increases with them, the Mac Pro retreats farther up the price ladder. It’s not always a bad deal if you need what it offers. The trashcan model has been massively overpriced for several years, but the new one actually isn’t, although nobody who can say knows what the upgrades will cost. It’s just an extremely high-end workstation that only a few people need.
Apple has several reasons for not making the xMac – some of them purely price gouging, while others actually make a lot of sense given their overall strategy. The price gouging explanation is that Apple makes huge margins on RAM, storage and GPUs. A machine where those parts are easily user-upgradeable will cost them those margins. iMac Pro RAM may be the most galling example, where Apple’s upgrade prices are between 2 and 4 times the cost of the RAM, one of the signature features of the machine is that it accepts a large amount of RAM, and there’s no easy way to upgrade it yourself.
The legitimate explanation, given Apple’s strategy of selling computers for the rest of us (as Steve Jobs used to say) is that the more upgradeability you have, the more configurations you have to support. Macs are reliable in part because Apple controls all the configurations and doesn’t have to support much of anything that they didn’t originally sell. They can simply exclude hardware they don’t want to bother with, and they can deliberately not serve markets with high support costs, or that will make things less stable for other users.
The most prominent example of Apple’s strong control over hardware is their long- standing refusal to work with Nvidia. Nvidia has historically used a two-tier product strategy, where they have a performance-optimized but somewhat unstable gaming-focused driver available for their consumer video cards. If you pay two to five times as much for a similar card (with some feature improvements, but often not many), it comes with a much more stable workstation-class driver that is guaranteed to work with many professional applications, while omitting some game-oriented features that may be less stable. The gaming cards are a much better value, but the driver ensures that the pros keep paying top dollar.
Instead of accepting the gaming driver with its effect on overall system stability or paying for the highly stable driver, Apple switched video card suppliers to AMD and wrote their own driver with professional-class stability at the cost of game performance. The details of the feud aren’t public, but Nvidia might have been unwilling to let Apple write their own driver in order to protect the high prices of their workstation cards?
With Apple deliberately refusing to make some photographer-friendly Macs (the xMac) and simply neglecting others in favor of new versions of AirPods, watch bands and TV shows, is it time for photographers to explore other options? Can we trust a trillion-dollar pop culture company to partner with us in the way a much smaller company did before the iPhone? Apple’s bottom line is now not in creating things, but in consumption of those things. We creatives were the people who supported Apple through the hard times of the late 1990s, but we are now a tiny slice of the revenue they make from iconic phones and fashion-oriented products.
There is certainly hardware out there that supports many photographers’ needs far better than any Mac presently available. Powerful desktops without integrated monitors are easy to find, as is essentially any other type of computer one might want. All of it requires learning Windows, since the Mac operating system is locked to Apple hardware unless you have the skills and willingness to experiment to build a “Hackintosh”, which may or may not be legal.
The Windows hardware you can buy in Best Buy is mostly cheap equipment with compromises Apple would never dream of making – but there is hardware that isn’t (and it’s still generally cheaper than a Mac, although often not by much). The question is the software. Essentially all photography-oriented software is cross-platform, and what isn’t is as likely to be Windows-only as Mac-only. For people who deal frequently with audio or video, Apple’s own tools (Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro plus their auxiliary programs) are important exceptions. At an operating system level, Windows has lagged well behind the Mac in color management, although Windows 10 is much better than any previous version.
Windows has much more malware than the Mac, although that gap is closing for three reasons. There is now Mac malware in the wild, which there wasn’t a few years ago. Windows has gotten much better protected – some years ago, it installed without malware protection by default and was almost immediately compromised as soon as it went on the Internet. By the time you could download something to protect it, it was probably infected. Now, Microsoft’s own competent Defender installs itself with the operating system, and is almost impossible to turn off unless you install something more advanced. Defender will be fine for many users, and there are plenty of more sophisticated tools available as well. Third, Google’s Android is now the “low-hanging fruit”, and many malware writers are now attacking Android instead of Windows. It’s still not a Mac, but it’s not the headache XP and Vista were, either.
There are now stability-focused, workstation versions of Windows available – although the least secure and stable edition, Windows 10 Home is still the most common edition on PCs bought one at a time. Windows 10 Pro is standard on many higher-end PCs, and a worthwhile upgrade when it’s available if it’s not.
The enormous upside to Windows is hardware choice. Apple doesn’t really make a desktop computer – they offer a more or less sealed Mini, several versions of an all-in-one iMac (which is what they push) and a very high-end workstation. If you’re willing to use Windows, you can buy a cheap desktop for under $300 with plenty of options available for under $500, or you can pay over $100,000 for a maximum configuration of a HP Z8 workstation. In between, there are an enormous number of high quality PCs available in the $2500-$4000 range that are capable of handling even very strenuous photographic workloads. For lighter workloads, there are very capable desktop PCs around the $1500 price point.
If you buy a PC in the $1500+ price range from a brick and mortar store, it will almost certainly be optimized for gaming – some choices will be very similar to those a photographer would make, while others could be quite different. Most photographic applications make more use of the CPU than games do, while few can take advantage of the highest-end GPUs (although that is slowly changing). Photographic software is gradually beginning to take advantage of all the cores offered by Intel’s most recent i7 and i9 processors, and by the latest generation of AMD Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 processors. Photography wants RAM – 16 GB or more would be a good starting point for most LuLa readers, 32 GB or more if you use a high resolution camera or have a library in the tens of thousands of images, and 64 or even (rarely) 128 GB could make sense if you have a very high resolution camera or a library in the hundreds of thousands of images. Some gaming PCs will be noisier than a machine optimized for photography and some will use lower quality components that could affect reliability. As a rule, a gaming PC of comparable price to a PC built for photography will invest more of the total budget in the GPU (graphics card), while skimping on CPU, RAM and possibly parts quality.
Depending on how you choose to store your images themselves, storage needs could range from modest to enormous. If your primary image storage will be on an external device, whether directly connected over USB or Thunderbolt or network-attached, a 1 TB NVMe SSD will comfortably hold the operating system, a bunch of applications and even fairly large preview files. If you have a really huge library, 2 TB of SSD may be desirable to handle tens or hundreds of thousands of previews. If you are planning to store images internally, add hard drives or SSDs sufficient to store your library in addition to the fast SSD for operating system, applications and previews. Backup is, of course essential. Except with very modest photo libraries (or very expensive Mac Pros), most Macs require external image storage.
There are a number of online vendors who make PCs built specifically for creative professionals. Puget Systems is one that has been around a while, and they offer optimized computers for a wide range of photo and video software, also performing huge numbers of tests to determine what works best for different applications. Boxx builds computers for a wide range of applications, mostly focused on architecture and engineering, but including photography. A Puget PC will tend to be slightly more expensive than a comparable Dell or other mainstream brand, but it will use higher quality parts. There are other custom PC vendors with excellent reputations – many cater to gamers and have added lines focused on photographers and other users more recently. Another option is the higher-quality, more customizable lines from Dell, Lenovo, HP and other major vendors. If the configuration you want is available in their workstation lines, quality and support are excellent – business desktops are another line to consider. Many lower-end PCs focused on home or gaming use from major vendors use questionable motherboards, power supplies or other components. Puget Systems, Falcon Northwest, Boxx and other custom shops often use higher end parts, as do the major vendors in workstation and higher end business lines. Technically savvy users can certainly build a desktop for themselves, and there are shops in many major cities which will build them to order.
For those of us who have used Macs for years or decades, is it worth learning Windows’ different conventions because Apple has turned unresponsive to our needs? Windows has gotten better in recent years in a variety of ways, and what I’m hearing from Windows-favoring friends and those who use both systems is “it’s not better or worse, it’s just different”. Is it worth putting in the extra time to maintain Windows – there’s still nothing as easy as a Mac? Or do we just put up with waiting for Apple to release the computer we want?
I am currently trying to source a long-term test sample of a powerful Windows notebook workstation to test against the brand-new MacBook Pro, since I have used MacBook Pros for years and prefer to use a single computer. I would like to do a series of articles reporting on the experiences, especially the differences from the perspective of a 35-year Mac user. These questions are worth asking, especially as Apple is unlikely to become more responsive. The new 16” will be the “big” MacBook Pro for the next three to four years, since Apple only makes two models, differentiated by screen size. There is also a very real chance that it is the last “real” MacBook Pro – its replacement in three or four years may very well have an ARM processor, running improved versions of iPad apps. Lenovo alone makes five current laptop workstations, plus HP’s five, Dell’s three and various others from companies entering the creative market, often from gaming.
On the desktop side, Apple will continue to offer iMacs as the only reasonable option for most photographers. The iMac options may get more or less enticing as updates arrive or fail to, but we are unlikely to see a Mini with anything except Intel’s slow graphics, and we certainly won’t see a smaller or less expensive Mac Pro. Apple’s “my way or the highway” message to desktop buyers will continue. Maybe we’ll see an iMac Pro with a really wonderful screen in the next year or two, and we might see a “regular” iMac with improved cooling – but they’ll still be iMacs with built-in screens and limited expandability.
In general, the glory days of the Mac aren’t coming back. Apple’s big product is the iPhone, as it has been for the past decade, and Services is where the new emphasis is going. Macs are only one of three smaller product lines – sharing billing with the iPad and with a grab bag of consumer hardware like AirPods and HomePods, led by the Apple Watch. There is at least some risk that Apple pushes the Mac closer to iPhones and iPads by moving the A-series processors from those products into the Mac over the next few years. It might even make sense for the MacBook Air – but it makes no sense at all for the uses photographers make of our computers.
Like moving off of Lightroom, moving to Windows isn’t something we all have to contemplate immediately – Apple isn’t going to cut off the Mac tomorrow, especially with the update the MacBook Pro just got. On the other hand, we should be becoming aware of the alternatives, and of what the transition might mean. If Macs move to A-series chips and important software doesn’t run (or we get forced to glorified iPad apps), it’s an issue. If Apple becomes even slower to update machines we need, that’s an issue, too. What if they decide to remove the keyboard entirely from some laptops, replacing it with a flat touch surface? They have patents in that direction. What if the next 15” (or 16”) MacBook Pro weighs 3 lbs, but loses the GPU and is using iPad-derived ARM processors?