So, why did Apple update the Mac Pro and Xserve the week before Macworld? - Macenstein

So, why did Apple update the Mac Pro and Xserve the week before Macworld?

Aside from the most faithful of the Mac faithful, this year’s Macworld was met with a resounding “Meh” by the tech community. Personally, we’d give it a 6.5. It wasn’t so much that the announcements were horrible, it was more that everything Jobs showcased was simply “fine”, deserving of polite applause rather than the fanatical hoots we Mac fans so desperately wanted to bestow upon him. There were no real surprises to be had, which was odd considering how well Apple seemed to be able to suppress leaks this year. Of course, it turned out that that may have been more because there wasn’t much worth leaking than that Apple really was able to plug any holes.

Thats not to say the rumor mill was lazy. What little we all “knew” would come out of the Expo (namely the iPhone 1.1.3 firmware and the MacBook Air) did manage to get out to the media beforehand, and if Apple had been able to keep them completely secret before the Stevenote, odds are people’s perception of the Expo might have gone up by as much as a full “point”. But that wasn’t the case; video of the iPhone update was leaked two weeks before the Expo, and rumblings of the ultra-portable Mac laptop had begun to be taken as a “sure thing” by the rumor community nearly a full month before. Unfortunately for Apple, not enough info leaked out about the MacBook Air’s specs, and it turned out to be not quite as impressive (or ultra-portable) as many had hoped.

While the iPhone firmware update was appreciated, Apple did not bump up the iPhone’s storage as many had predicted (16 GB was a widely accepted “sure thing”). Additionally, Apple failed to provide updates to their MacBook Pro line, which seemed odd as the MacBook Air’s multi-touch trackpad all but screams “Hold on, this will be coming to the pro models in a month“. Rounding out the list of Keynote “disappointments”; Blu-ray was nowhere to be seen, the iPhone’s SDK was announced (again) but not released, iTunes rentals lag DVD rentals by a month, and a $20 update was announced for the iPod touch (which was odd since it probably cost Apple more money to remove those features from the touch for its launch than it is to “add them” them back in now).

So what went wrong?

Apple fans’ expectations are notoriously high going into these events, with speculation and rumors usually forming about half-way through the previous year’s Keynote speech. Like it or not, Apple has built Macworld into a media circus that Apple fans hope will bring them something they can proudly hold up to their PC-using friends and elicit envy. We fanboys often develop unrealistic ideas of what Steve will announce, but in this case, Apple has only itself to blame for the luke-warm reception.


First, there were no real innovations announced. Mac users like to see something announced at Macworld that no one else in the industry has. This year, that thing was unfortunately the MacBook Air’s lack of ports and removable battery, and there’s a reason no one else in the industry has that. As Steve held the MacBook Air aloft, it came off almost like a challenge, as if he were saying “Look, I was right about the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone. Are you going to dare question me on this?” Yeah, we kind of are.

Secondly, Apple’s PR department had plenty of time to look ahead to the Keynote, see that it was lacking, and compensated for it. Here’s a homespun analogy to put this year’s Macworld in perspective…

Growing up, my dad used to go down to Chinatown each year and bring us back fireworks for the 4th of July (back when you could do that in NYC). Sometimes he would score a huge payload of M-80’s, bottle rockets, and roman candles. Other years, depending on the police situation, he would come home armed only with sparklers and snakes (my god, is there anything lamer than snakes?). But the point is, when he knew he couldn’t deliver M-80’s, he brought us back a shitload of sparklers and snakes. And that is where Apple screwed up. They brought a couple snakes and one sparkler to a 4th of July party where the guests were expecting real fireworks.

Over two weeks before Macworld, Apple knew their iPhone firmware update was blown, and with a month to go many people were expecting a touchscreen tablet Mac that could shoot lasers. Apple should have known they were lacking M-80’s, and at least brought a shitload of snakes to Macworld. One of these “snakes” should have been a 16 GB iPhone. Bumping the memory would have taken little effort on Apple’s part, and any update to the iPhone would be widely praised by the iPhone-loving press, elevating the media’s spin on the Expo slightly.

But two more, even easier “snakes” Apple could have brought to the party would have been the updated Mac Pros and Xserves they decided to announce a week before Macworld.

Doubly bad

This “premature” announcement hurt Apple’s Macworld in 2 ways. First, Apple could have used the updates to make Macworld appear “fuller”, like more was happening. Granted, the updates were nothing earth-shattering, but that meant Steve could have covered both the Mac Pros and Xserves in 5 minutes worth of slides and added 2 more bullets to the list of goodies “Santa” brought us this year. I realize some say Macworld is a “consumer” oriented show and therefore not the place Apple would release new “pro” products, but I call BS on that, as Apple has unveiled new pro products at past Macworlds, and these were not new products anyway, just fairly respectable speed bumps.

But secondly, and more importantly, pre-announcing the Mac Pro/Xserve updates unnecessarily raised expectations for the Keynote. Pretty much everyone and their mother got excited by the anouncement, not for what they were, but for what they implied. “Steve must be clearing out all the minor stuff so he has time to get to all the real announcements at Macworld” is something I read on more than one site (including ours). Yet that was not the case.

So what was the deal? Could Steve not spare the extra 5 minutes? Did he think people would need those 5 minutes to recover from fainting after his “Macbook Air envelope trick”? Or was he worried Randy Newman’s busy schedule would mean he’d have to leave before playing his Toy Story song?

I’d hate to end an article that began with a question with that same question, but I just don’t have a good answer. So, tell me your thoughts. Why did Apple update the Mac Pro and Xserve the week before Macworld?

9 Responses to “So, why did Apple update the Mac Pro and Xserve the week before Macworld?”
  1. Francisco says:

    I may be dead wrong here, but maybe this could’ve been done to stop a snowballing effect. I mean, if this year’s Macworld was just as good as last year’s, in 2009 people would be expecting a whole new revolution(not that it wouldn’t be pretty cool). So, I guess by not putting too much effort this time, the pressure wouldn’t be as much next year, making the Reality distortion field more effective.

  2. Albert says:

    I think people need to figure out you can’t innovate and test in such a short amount of time. In order to do that over and over again you’d need to pretty much be perfect

  3. Paul Walker says:

    This WAS a big keynote – the MacBook Air is an entirely new segment for Apple, and the Time Capsule is important too – and there were few rumours about it. the problem is, the 07 keynote was HUGE, with both the iPhone & TV. I do think it was weird that they did’t announce the Mac Pro at Macworld, but it was still just about the same as the 06 and 05 keynotes.

    In 06, the things that were annonced were: iLife & iWork updates. iPod radio remote. Intel iMac, and MacBook Pro. The only ‘new’ product was the radio remote, and everything else was entirely expected.

    In 05 the major new product was the Mac Mini. I ould put this one o par with the 08 keynote – they both introduced a new product in an entirely new market segment, but they weren’t game-changers like the iPhone & iPod.

    It’s the fact that the rumours completely busted the iTunes rentals and overhyped the TV updates & even moreso the MacBook air (half the things rumoured weren’t even possible, and yet stll they were suggesting a price lower than a MacBook!) that made this a bit of a let down. -The iPhone was rumoured before the aannouncement – but that was an entirely new product, and almost nothing was known about what it looked like and how it would work, so it wasn’t so bad…

  4. M Sharp says:

    Love the homespun analogy and a buttload of praise for your analysis.

  5. anon says:

    much like macworld itself, this post took a long time to say very little. i think you’re right, though.

  6. Ferdi says:

    May be there was a last moment withdrawal? A product they worked extremely hard on, but in the end simply wasn’t finished? I don’t know. I think Apple just wanted to give the Mac Pro update its own momentum… not really a mystery to me. And I think the MacBook Air is something big… I wasn’t disappointed. All those people complaining about what the MacBook Air doesn’t do… well, for you guys there already is a MacBook and a MacBook Pro. Stop complaining!

  7. Kareem says:

    They were announced ahead of MacWorld, because they didn’t really fit into the consumer nature of the keynote. Bigger and faster aren’t as exciting as they used to be to the average Joe Blow. It would have been a waste. Steve did mention the updates, though.

    Professionals who use Mac Pros and X Serves appreciated the updates. Apple seems to be targeting their messages more than in the past. Watch SIGGRAPH and NABShow – there will be more “technical” announcements. Then there’s WWDC of course…

  8. Ben says:

    My dad used to do the same thing, go to Chinatown in NYC for fireworks. I think he was more excited about them than we were even.

    Steve deserved a “meh” Macworld, they’ve pushed so hard on Leopard and the iPhone, some rest and recharging deserved.

  9. Iraê says:

    IMHO they didin’t predict very well the sales of Mac Pros and wore a little short of stock and wore forced to release the new ones that had the stocks starting to add up to the MacWorld.

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