The new Mac Pro is Apple's attempt to erase a design blunder that took it six years to fix

WWDC 2019 Tim CookJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • The new Mac Pro that Apple unveiled Monday resembles its earlier professional desktop computers.
  • The design of the new machine is a tacit acknowledgement of the magnitude of one of Apple's biggest design mistakes in its history: the much-maligned 'trash can' Mac Pro computer.
  • The new model fixes the biggest problem of the trash can version - its lack of expandability.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook and company acknowledged just how big a blunder they made with the last version of the company's professional desktop computer.

The new Mac Pro that Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, unveiled at the company's annual developer conference in San Jose looked awfully familiar to anyone who has followed the company's line of professional computers over the years. The computer's metal rectangular case, its handles, and its easy expandability are reminiscent of the professional desktop computers Apple sold for more than decade before debuting the model critics derided as a trash can in 2013. Even the new Mac Pro's cheese-grater like air vents look like more of an iteration than a complete rethinking of those found in the earlier computers.

Read this: Apple ends a 6-year drought for the Mac Pro with a wildly powerful, redesigned new model that starts at $5,999

In other words, to finally bring its flagship Mac into the future, Apple went back to its past, tacitly admitting that its last design was a complete and utter dead end.

The admission has been a long time coming. When Apple unveiled the trash can Mac Pro at its developer conference six years ago, Phil Schiller, the company's head of marketing, touted it as a prime example of how the company could still make breakthrough products, despite a growing chorus of criticism that the iPhone maker was simply riding on its past success.

"Can't innovate, my ass," he declared to a delighted crowd.

Apple's trash can was a dead end

But the design eventually lost its luster. Year after year, Apple failed to update the computer. The model got long in the tooth - and then even longer in the tooth. More than two years ago, company officials admitted in a meeting with a select number of journalists that they'd made an error with the design and said they were working on a new model. Initially, they said it would be out last year, then pushed that back to this year.

Mac ProFlickr/pahudson

Despite acknowledging the misstep, Apple officials did not offer any kind of preview of what the new Mac Pro would look like. They didn't give any sense of how different the new one would be or what direction they'd head in with the design. So it wasn't certain how big a mistake they thought they'd made.

That's crystal clear now.

With the new Mac Pro, Apple is seeking to address the biggest problem with the trash can model - its lack of expandibility. Owners of the new model will be able to easily open the computer's case and add in or swap out components.

The trash can model was built much like other Apple products - it was basically designed so that users couldn't get at its innards. Just like Apple designed the iPhone so that replacing the battery is difficult, it made the Mac Pro in such a way that users found it difficult to impossible to swap out its components. Instead, the company expected users to upgrade their Mac Pros by plugging in new hardware and accessories through the computers' high-speed Thunderbolt ports.

But that wasn't a great solution for the kinds of use that owned Mac Pros. Video producers and game designers need to be able to swap out graphics cards, augment their computers' memory, add bigger drives, and more in order to keep up with the increasingly data-intensive applications and content they work with.

Users couldn't upgrade the can, and Apple couldn't either

As one small example, editing a 4K movie - not to mention an 8K one - generally requires a lot more graphics processing power and memory than editing a regular high-definition one. Because of the way the Mac Pro was designed, though, video editors that used Mac Pros couldn't easily upgrade the computers' components. And they couldn't buy a new one, because Apple itself hadn't upgraded it.

mac proApple

That fact is probably the most damning thing about that old design. It was so confining that Apple itself seems to have found it impossible to upgrade the computer. Instead, it abandoned the whole shape and went back to something that was tried and true.

If you're an Apple fan, that's actually a hopeful sign. For years, the company has staked its reputation on offering cutting edge designs, of repeatedly remaking the look and feel of its devices.

That's philosophy has often served the company well. It's repeatedly come out with sleek devices that have set the standard for the industry. But occasionally - such as with the trash-can Mac Pro, the G4 Cube of earlier this century, and the easily-damaged butterfly keyboard design of its latest laptops - it's taken wrong turns.

If Apple can trash the trash can, may it can one day free itself of the butterfly. Here's hoping anyway.

Got a tip about Apple or the tech industry? Contact this reporter via email at twolverton@businessinsider.com, message him on Twitter @troywolv, or send him a secure message through Signal at 415.515.5594. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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