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The new Mac Pro: The audacity to say “Yes” in a design culture of “No” (marco.org)
111 points by Aaronn on Apr 16, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

"""While minimalism is one aspect of one view of good design, it’s often overused, underconsidered, and misunderstood, resulting in products with surface-level appeal that don’t actually work very well because they were optimized for visual design and minimalism rather than overall real-world usefulness."""


this is a crisp characterization of the problem of silicon valley product design today. almost every redesign of major products brings a simpler, more beautiful design which ends up being less useful.

i'm strongly in the boat that the purpose of design is to solve people's problems in ways that are hard to think of but easy to appreciate. in the way that a good symphony is hard to write but easy to recognize.


in the 90s the design of mass products like AOL got too complex and it created an opportunity for people to enter the market with simpler designs which were more usable. but now we've gone too far. the designs are simpler than ever, but no longer in the service of greater usability. it's time to make tech product design less minimal, less simple, but more useful.


the culture of designers is a core part of the cause of over pivot. it's elegant to list out a series of design principles (interface guidelines) and then reject every problem that can't be solved within those principles. it's elegant, but does not necessarily produce better product designs.

Apple reminds me a bit of B&O audio. B&O makes beautiful products for fans of a certain aesthetic, but not necessarily products that perform well. Their flag-ship products look amazing but are aimed more at interior designers than audiophiles.

Apple may have, at times, served the pro market well, but not lately. They used to view high-end consumers as a means to the end of getting more market share. Get the people who give advice that's listened to into your ecosystem and others will follow. The same thinking is why they used to aggressively market to schools and universities. Apple doesn't really need to do that anymore. Now they just need something that looks really cool sitting in their stores and people will lust after it, talk endlessly about it, and that will bring in more customers.

Apple might go back to a boring, rectangular box that's upgradeable and uses non-proprietary parts, but this would be a remarkable reversal of their trend towards more and more disposable products with proprietary everything, right down to connectors, interfaces, and screws. It's more likely the next pros will be gorgeous but designed to be as unfriendly to DIY upgrades as possible. Proprietary SSD connectors. Soldered on memory. You name it.

In short, while you may love Apple phones and laptops, maybe you don't really want a dev machine built by today's Apple.

> In short, while you may love Apple phones and laptops, maybe you don't really want a dev machine built by today's Apple.

When this happens to the next Mac Pro, they're not going to have as much content for their app stores when pros inevitably move to another platform. Windows still isn't ideal to a lot of people but it's starting to get good enough: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/commandline/wsl/about

Design is all about solving user problems, not producing beautiful interfaces. If fact, if you tried to tell a UX designer that their job was to produce beautiful designs that didn't solve user problems they'd quit on the spot.

The Mac Pro is not a simple nor minimal design. It's actually quite a complex design that is optimized for space over flexibility, arguably not good UX. The old Mac Pro, on the other hand, was a great design. It could be criticized as being too expensive, but it was configurable, and very easy to configure to boot. It perfectly met it's target audience.

In summary, I don't think you understand the goals modern UX design and are wrongly assigning blame.

In that case a lot of designers don't understand modern UX design either, and it's perfectly reasonable to blame them for that.

Small example - the Google Maps app on iOS used to have a "Show route" button. You could tap it while driving to zoom out and see the entire route.

Now that space has a menu, and you have to tap the menu and then select the zoom view. Two taps.

This is literally a potential disaster while driving because you have to think about what you're doing, look at the screen for longer, and keep your hand coordinated long enough to tap correctly.

This is not solving the user's problem - unless the user's problem is a secret desire to rear end the car in front.

This used to be called style over substance, or form over content - and it's everywhere, from flat/material design that doesn't distinguish between buttons and labels, to mystery meat burger menus, to invisible options that are so well hidden users never discover them, to useful ports and hardware features that disappear and have to be replaced by a pack of ugly dongles.

Minimalism is great when it solves the user's problems. When it creates new problems for the user, it's not so great.

Far too many designers - including some famous names at Apple - don't seem to understand this.

"You could tap it while driving..."

This probably violates the Google Maps EULA if not the law in some places.

I couldn't agree more with you on this.

Since this principle applies many other areas of design (beyond application UI design), I'd like to add a specific example: watch faces.

I've been thinking about buying a new wrist watch and was looking for watch faces that aren't totally overloaded with unnecessary (and frankly, usually rather ugly) markings. One simple way to do this is by typing "minimalist watch face" into your favorite search engine.

Seeing those results, I am still amazed at how many "novel, stylish" watch face designs there are that might look cool (not really according to my taste, but perhaps someone else would like it), but are obviously terrible at doing the one thing a watch is supposed to do: telling you the time.

Compare the Nevo watches (ignoring their smart watch part)[1] against the Nava Ora design[2] for example. To me, it's really clear which of the two designs is a better watch.

[1]: http://www.nevocollection.com/

[2]: https://www.watches.com/nava-ora-lattea-white-42mm

Somewhere, in a drawer, I've got an expensive watch that has 4 divisions on the face for 12, 3, 6, and 9. So far so good. Each quarter of the watch face is then divided in half by a mark. WTF? Who wants a watch with exactly 8 marks around the perimeter for 12 hours?

Unfortunately it was a gift from a significant other so I just put up with it for a few months and then stopped wearing it.

I think what he is saying a lot of modern designer really believes that or even if they say they do they don't practice it. Its not about what UX design was suppose to be but what UX designers often do today. There are definitely modern design that are simple and useful but there are also a lot that are more simple and beautiful at the cost of being useful.

The problem is more that UX designers like simply stories and stereotypical users that don't change nature 4 times a day like most real people.

And in a lot of ways thats the "magic" of apples minimalism by focusing on the 1st 10 hours of use by an unsophisticated user you get to develop highly acclaimed UX that fail the sophisticated users to the point that most developers resort to zsh and vim in order to stay productive.

I bet Apple with have the 'courage' to use proprietary connectors inside the case to limit user upgrade options.

My god, NuBus. Daystar accelerator cards, radius graphics cards... Fun days of upgrading Mac that became outdated 1 year after you bought it.

Differential serial with embedded clock seems to be popular these days. How about SnuBus?

Don't get why you getting downvoted. The choice to pick an odd GPU connector internally wasn't justify over pci express.

Impossible to know since Apple rarely discusses those types of details to the public. They probably should talk about it more because otherwise people just speculate and the best reddit joke punchline is what people end up believing.

I bet this will be a milquetoast also-ran of a device, as one would expect from a company forced to say 'Yes' by its users.

Distinctive tool design is great, but only to the extent that it doesn't hamper its intended use as a tool. A company that only says 'No' to its users will end up running out of users, eventually. They'll buy the "milquetoast" that gets the job done.

Usually, when the "what we'd like to see in {iOS,macOS}++" articles come out, it's just a couple weeks before Apple announces the new features and I shake my head because it is already way too late for the feedback to reach Apple.

In this case, if you believe the rumors that development on the new Mac Pro is still very early, it actually seems like articles like this and [1] might do some good.

[1] https://carpeaqua.com/2017/04/09/a-software-developers-mac-p...

> Mac gamers need a high-speed/low-core-count CPU, the best single gaming GPU possible, and VR hardware support.

So honestly, are there any real "Mac Gamers"? At this point I think everyone knows to just boot into Windows to play games... the hardware isn't amazing for gaming, but games run a lot better on Windows than they do on MacOS on Apple hardware. Feels like "Mac Gamers" debate was settled years and years ago... if you're serious about gaming, even like casually-serious, you wouldn't even consider running MacOS.

It's sad... I remember playing Unreal back in the day on a Mac (one of the colorful case Macs) in college. The game ran so much better than it did on a PC... steam looked like steam, lighting looked better... everything was clearly better on a Mac than any PC I had seen / had access to. But when the latest generation of MacPro was new (ha, 2000 years ago at this point)... I fired up a game on it (running MacOS) to see how it compared... and I got better gaming performance on a $400 off-the-shelf-PC with a $250 graphics card added.

What I would LOVE to see is just a Mac like the slightly older MacPro -- aluminum tower case. With lots of standard expansion slots so we could expand as needed (specifically video cards). I don't think games will ever be optimized for Macs the way they are for PCs, but I'd be happy just switching into Windows on the Apple hardware when I played games.


Side note... anyone else play Escape Velocity? I got to thinking about "good Mac games" and that one stands out. Also most of the Marathon series (spiritual precursor to Halo). Hellcats stood out too for being advanced for the time... most everything else came out on PC first though I think.

* EV Nova | Ambrosia Software, Inc. || http://www.ambrosiasw.com/games/evn/

* Marathon (video game) - Wikipedia || https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathon_(video_game)

* Hellcats over the Pacific - Wikipedia || https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellcats_over_the_Pacific

I have always wondered if Steve Jobs hated Gaming. There are simply no body in Apple who are gamers, and cares about the market. iPhone Gaming revenue was a pure coincidence. Even Gaming on Apple TV sucks.

As a matter of fact Gaming Desktop / Laptop is now the fastest growing! market despite the general decline in PC market as a whole.

Apple wanted to leverage the games and Metal API on iOS to be used in Mac, but the driver performance and support were appalling. No to mention the games on iOS are completely different to how games are played on Desktop and laptop. This just shows they dont actually understand gaming.

It is no wonder even John Carmack couldn't be bothered with them any more.

Yes, I am sure there are huge market for people to buy a Mac and run Windows for gaming, but that is unlikely in Apple's DNA to care.

One of the things that Jobs did that nobody seams to want to remember was to market the computer as something else then a computer, i.e. his focus was never to make the best fastest or most advanced computer but to make a computer you could sell to people who were/are afraid of computers.

It's very sad. Halo was originally announced at MacWorld:


but history did not go that way....

I totally forgot about this! Thanks for sharing.

Halo demos at MacWorld 1999...

Microsoft buys Bungie in 2000...

Halo: Combat Evolved comes out exclusively on XBox in 2001... along with the launch of XBox. What would XBox be without Halo?

* Microsoft Buys Bungie, Take Two Buys Oni, PS2 Situation Unchanged - IGN || http://www.ign.com/articles/2000/06/20/microsoft-buys-bungie...

I remember that well, because I was playing Starseige:Tribes and there were some Mac fans (and probably a few trolls) in the forums who were very excited... Predicting that Halo (Mac) would be the downfall of PC gaming.

> Many also use the optical audio inputs and outputs, and would appreciate the return of the line-in jack.

Maybe some people want that, but real audio pros have dedicated hardware audio interfaces that connect over USB/FireWire/Thunderbolt/PCIe.

or ethernet(avb, dante)

I've never used any pro audio equipment - wouldn't Ethernet be more of a pain than other connectors? You've normally got less Ethernet jacks than any other port on a machine.

It may be a pain to only use one connector, but the protocol itself compared to a lot of external busses is a lot nicer. One of the big things ethernet gives is a lot lower latency. The ear is pretty latency-sensitive, with voice latency of 15 milliseconds being a threshold where most people can start noticing. Because of the polling nature of USB, you've got to wait for the bus to ask for data, which means you're going to have at least a couple of milliseconds of latency. Also, because Ethernet is a many-to-many protocol, you can do things like have the synchronization clock on the same connection as data, so you don't need to run a million clock cables along with your data cables.

Sure you don't have that backwards? USB 2+ has isochronous transfers with guaranteed bandwidth and latency that come with guaranteed start-of-frame timing strobes every 0.125ms with a jitter spec much better than that. Ethernet... doesn't.

It depends on the type of USB audio device. USB MIDI devices, for example, use bulk transfers because they need reliable communications to handle things like sysex sends. Additionally, Ethernet, through the AVB suite [1] does have time reservation, synchronization, and other things that are very useful in dealing with realtime data.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_Video_Bridging

> Because of the polling nature of USB, you've got to wait for the bus to ask for data, which means you're going to have at least a couple of milliseconds of latency.

That's up to the driver. USB 2.0 can poll at up to 8kHz. USB 3 is harder for me to find exact numbers on but it has more flexible timing and can go even faster.

Most professional workstations will have at least two ethernet ports. Heck, I've got mITX machines with two ethernet ports.

The other thing I've seen ethernet repurposed for is transmitting HDMI or USB between special transceivers so you can have your PC widely separated from I/O devices. It was a standard approach before Steam Link became a thing.

One of the nice things is that you can get comparatively long runs of ethernet cable without any special equipment. There's absolutely no problem doing 100ft+ runs of CAT5.

It's not only about the connectors. With ethernet(avb or dante) you get networking audio(ip based) and time sync over long cables. This is not really possible with USB, jacks, firewire etc. A single ethernet connector may have hundreds or thousands of audio channels but then you are right that a switch is required to split them so the low number of connectors may be an issue in some cases(unless you are willing to buy a switch)

With avb/Dante you get up to 128 channels of audio over Ethernet. If that isn't enough, you can add quite a few more give ports via thunderbolt.

The big practical advantage of Ethernet is standardized cabling, connectors and tools.

The only way you're going to make a useful pro machine is to have one with standard parts that can be upgraded easily, something Apple absolutely refuses to do and has refused to do in any of its products for many years. That's why the last decent pro machine is 7 years old and why I'm not holding my breath for the next one. It's guaranteed to be proprietary like all the rest of their hardware these days. Making a pro machine is not that hard. It's by far the simplest type of machine because by definition it should be able to handle anything. Hobbyists and corporations alike have been building them for decades. The fact that Apple can't build the simplest type of machine says a lot about them as a company in 2017. None of it good.

EDIT: Discussions around minimalism and design at this point are beyond irrelevant when Apple can't actually build a computer that serves pro users' needs. Those factors only come to play when you actually have the ability to build a proper product. Apple does not have that right now.

Not directly related to the Mac Pro, but my 2014 MacBook Pro has annoyed me only having 2 USB ports.

It feels like I need to plug in more than two devices every day. So I end up carrying around a USB hub. Which is just annoying.

What is the benefit of having those sides of the computer be empty?

What sort of scenarios require 3 or more USB ports simultaneously on the go? I can understand at a desk, but I'm having a hard time imagining a non-contrived scenario where you would need them regularly on the go.

Mouse, JTAG, serial connection to device under test, phone. Sometimes add a USB drive when taking measurements using test equipment.

Useful either in the lab, or at a customer's site. Which is why I only own Apple products for play.

For my personal usage: mouse, USB drive, phone.

Two external drives + phone + external sound card. Mouse + charging phone + charging external battery pack Mouse + keyboard + digital camera to download pics Two external sound cards + anything else

My use case:

1. Logitech mouse dongle

2. Disk/Stick

3. Phone

I ended up buying a Bluetooth Logitech MX Master instead, best mouse ever.

I'm more upset that the two ports aren't on the same side of the laptop. This precludes use of portable hard drives that use two USB connections.

I'm actually happy that Apple moved the USB ports away from each other. I used to have a non-Retina MacBook Pro and it was a royal pain to get two "large" USBs to fit at the same time.

I'd say the way to support those is having nice beefy power supplies for the ports, not having more of them.

If you think the 2014 port situation is annoying wait until you see the 2016....

It seems obvious Apple are aiming for no ports at all, with everything magically wireless all the time.

Which is fine, except that it really doesn't work at all for pro applications that need pro hardware, such as video and audio.

Let's hope apple wakes up about the MacBook Pro too. The new model is not Pro at all and the touch bar is a nuisance.

They just added a mostly superfluous "tab bar" that most of the users have just no use for... how's that for that Apple's brilliant minimalism the author of the article preaches about?

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