How Ap­ple has made cre­atives happy again

Neil Ben­nett looks at why cre­atives are cel­e­brat­ing af­ter WWDC

Macworld - - Contents -

For many cre­ative pros, Ap­ple has lost its way over the past few years. While al­ways in­no­vat­ing in in­ter­est­ing ways, its core prod­ucts for us – the Mac, in desk­top and lap­top forms – lacked the per­for­mance or use­ful­ness of PC ri­vals. Its ground­break­ing forms like the iPad Pro could only do so much for us – fan­tas­tic for sketch­ing and de­vel­op­ing ideas but un­able to al­low us to take a pro­ject to com­ple­tion (un­less you’re a il­lus­tra­tor us­ing ProCreate, per­haps).

There ap­peared to be a fo­cus on slight­ness and grace over per­for­mance – tar­get­ing those who liked the ap­pear­ance of cre­ativ­ity in their busi­ness or per­sonal lives, rather than pro­vid­ing for the needs of those of us for whom cre­ativ­ity is core to what we do.

But that ap­pears to be about to change, if the line-up of prod­ucts demon­strated at Ap­ple’s WWDC key­note is any­thing to go by. Even the mi­nor up­dates tell their own story: Ap­ple added the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of In­tel Core pro­ces­sors – 7th-gen­er­a­tion ‘Kaby Lake’ chips, fel­low co­de­name nerds – to the new Mac­Book Pro shortly af­ter Dell and HP did sim­i­lar to cre­ate the Pre­ci­sion 5520 and ZBook Stu­dio G4, rather than lag­ging up to a year be­hind as it had in pre­vi­ous years.

While Ap­ple has largely just up­dated the Mac­Book Pro in line with its ri­vals, it’s push­ing things for­ward in one area: graph­ics. The next ver­sion of macOS (High Sierra) will sup­port ex­ter­nal graph­ics – and de­moed a ex­ter­nal-hard-drive-look­ing box from Son­net that con­nects via Thun­der­bolt 3 and houses a AMD Radeon RX 580 graph­ics card. This is an of­fi­cially ‘VR Ready’ card, and Ap­ple is of­fer­ing the box for VR de­vel­op­ers.

If you want to cre­ate VR ex­pe­ri­ences on a PC lap­top, you’ll have to look to one of Dell or HP’s huge 17in lap­tops – though you could ar­gue that lug­ging a 15in Mac­Book Pro and an ex­ter­nal graph­ics box around is even more of a pain.

New chips, new iMacs

The new ‘Kaby Lake’ iMac also ar­rives just be­hind Dell’s brand new Pre­ci­sion AIO 5720 and ahead of any ‘7th-gen­er­a­tion’ up­grade to HP’s Z1 G2 all-in-one

work­sta­tion – prov­ing that you don’t need a PC for the best of what’s avail­able across chip, mem­ory, stor­age, graph­ics and dis­play in a sin­gle shell. Those at the high­est-end may be dis­ap­pointed by the lack of Xeon pro­ces­sors and ECC RAM – but this is com­ing in De­cem­ber with the iMac Pro. That might seem like a long time away, but that’s be­cause the Xeon chips that Ap­ple is putting in­side iMac Pros aren’t the same as those used by Dell and HP for their all-in-ones.

The Pre­ci­sion AIO 5720 and Z1 G2 both use ‘mo­bile’ Xeon chips – i.e. pro­ces­sors de­signed to be used by lap­tops, which have two or four pro­cess­ing units (cores) per chip. This is usual for all-in-ones – Ap­ple uses mo­bile Core pro­ces­sors in the standard iMacs. But the iMac Pro will have desk­top Xeons with 8-, 10-, or 18 cores per chip – which won’t be avail­able from In­tel un­til later this year (with new brand­ing like credit cards).

You don’t need to use Xeon chips for that num­ber of cores – In­tel re­cently an­nounced Core i9 chips with just those amount of core – but the dif­fer­ence in per­for­mance be­tween mo­bile chips and desk­top chips is marked when you’re work­ing with mul­ti­threaded ap­pli­ca­tions that re­ally use all those cores. You’ll re­ally see it in ar­eas like video and an­i­ma­tion, but you’ll even see some ben­e­fits in the likes of Pho­to­shop from a 8-core chip over a 4-core one. The 18-core Xeon sounds su­per-pow­er­ful but this is likely just a big num­ber that sounds im­pres­sive dur­ing key­notes and in mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als. Chips with high-num­bers of cores have low clock speeds – so are ac­tu­ally less pow­er­ful in most cre­ative apps (it’s dif­fer­ent for servers). For ex­am­ple, the ‘best’ cur­rent Xeon chip for

work­sta­tions is the 12-core, 3GHz Xeon E5-2687W – whereas the 18-core E5-2695 runs at 2.1GHz.

What you do get from Xeon pro­ces­sors is greater re­li­a­bil­ity, in­clud­ing from ECC (er­ror-cor­rect­ing code) RAM – so you’ll have fewer crashes, es­pe­cially if you do long ren­ders on your com­puter rather than a server or on­line ser­vice.

The iMac Pro will be fol­lowed by a new Mac Pro – which could be just a ‘headless’ iMac Pro so you can choose your own mon­i­tor, or a full-spec dual-pro­ces­sor beast. Un­like Core chips, Xeon pro­ces­sors can used in pairs – as seen in­side top-spec work­sta­tions like the Dell Pre­ci­sion T7620 or HP Z840. Th­ese are just for the most de­mand­ing of video-edit­ing, VFX and an­i­ma­tion tasks. And that’s where Ap­ple faces another is­sue – hardly any­one uses Macs for those tasks.

The iMac and Mac­Book Pro are in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar with pro­fes­sional graphic and dig­i­tal de­sign­ers us­ing

tools from InDesign to Sketch, il­lus­tra­tors across the medi­ums and forms, and mo­tion graph­ics and CG artists and an­i­ma­tors us­ing the likes of Cin­ema 4D and Af­ter Ef­fects. But large VFX and an­i­ma­tion houses have pretty much stan­dard­ized on Linux out­side of the art depart­ment – with medium-sized com­pa­nies and smaller ones cre­at­ing high-end work in the likes of Maya or Nuke favour­ing Linux or Win­dows (with the same caveat). Video ed­i­tors have largely switched to PC as Pre­miere Pro has usurped both Avid and Fi­nal Cut over the past cou­ple of decades.

The high-end is un­likely to be tempted to move to Ap­ple – they’re more in­ter­ested in replacing pow­er­ful desk­tops with thin clients and dat­a­cen­tres – and the mid-range is also a tricky sell. In­stead, the new Mac Pro – and the iMac Pro to some ex­tent – may serve pri­mar­ily to show the ma­jor­ity of de­sign­ers and artists that Ap­ple can in­deed build the big­gest and the best, even if what you’ll ul­ti­mately end up buy­ing is more a mod­estly spec­i­fied and price iMac or Mac­Book Pro.

A need to draw

What would likely be more use­ful than a new Mac Pro for the ma­jor­ity of pro­fes­sional cre­atives is for Ap­ple to look again at how we in­ter­act with our Macs. The com­pany has told us it’s firmly against touch­screens on com­put­ers – cit­ing the mus­cle strain of us­ing a touch­screen lap­top – but there are many sit­u­a­tions where the fin­ger or pen are su­pe­rior to a track­pad or mouse. Sketch­ing on Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Pro in Pho­to­shop that you can quickly work up in the full app. Edit­ing video or page lay­outs in a cramped train seat

on a Dell 5510. Draw­ing on a Sur­face Stu­dio in the draft­ing ta­ble po­si­tion.

The com­pany es­sen­tially killed off its main at­tempt at touch in­no­va­tion – the Mac­Book Pro’s Touch Bar – when it failed to re­lease a key­board for the new iMac with a sim­i­lar fea­ture at WWDC. With­out a big num­ber of users with ac­cess to a Touch Bar, few soft­ware de­vel­op­ers will add sup­port for it to their apps.

We’d love to see Ap­ple’s take on the Sur­face Pro, or the Sur­face Stu­dio, on Wa­com’s Mo­bileS­tu­dio Pro – or some­thing truly in­no­va­tive.

iMac Pro work­sta­tion

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