A truly eye-catching design: The new Mac Pro. Photo © Apple
Under its aluminum dress reveals the data architecture of the Mac Pro. Photo © Apple
Even the Mac Pro shows the precision in detail which determines their special appearance. Photo © Apple
I’m no can
by Thomas Wagner
Mar 5, 2014

No, it’s not a wastebasket! Nor some pimped up version of those little tabletop bins you find in old-fashioned hotels along with the breakfast menu, ready to collect empty one-helping milk and jam packs. The small cylinder with the alluring gleam is far too classy to conjure up such connotations. And with a height of just 25.1 cm and merely 16.7 cm in diameter the drum-shaped computer does not – like all the predecessors in this category – belong under but on the desktop. It wants to be seen, not concealed! In short: Apple’s new Mac Pro is surprisingly different. Not only does it not look like any other workstation, its design is equally in a different league. Function and form, interior and exterior meld to form a single unit.

“Big Blue” has not long since bid farewell to the personal computer business and Microsoft, which once set the standard with its cutting-edge MS-DOS system, has been struggling to keep up with rivals in the field of operating systems. Yet you could be forgiven for thinking that Apple conceived the outer shape of its new flagship simply to show that the DOs don’t, namely don’t cut the mustard. However, simply by giving the impression of an oversized drinks can the new Mac Pro is destined to cry out “I am not a can.” Honi soit qui mal y pense.

A truly eye-catching design

Following its launch just before Christmas, the latest creation in the Mac Pro series, which has been engineered from scratch to deliver a high-end punch in an exceptionally compact casing, can now be goggled at in the Apple Stores. Whether the technology comes good on its promise (the Mac Pro comes complete with various new-generation Intel Xeon processors, dual-workstation-class GPUs, PCI flash storage options, ultrafast ECC memory and a whole host of swift interfaces) is something I leave for the experts of specialist magazines and test labs to judge. Its design, however, is a true eye-catcher.

Magic in the can

Rounded at the top and bottom, the cylinder, as you look more closely, is not simply black. On the contrary, the polished aluminum surface gleams in a more light or dark metallic sheen depending on the light. It exudes an air of top-quality workmanship. Its form, too, transpires to be more than a simple cylindrical shape upon closer inspection. As with all Apple products, it’s the precision in the detail that gives the design its special look-and-feel. In the case at hand, in addition to its color, material and surface finish, it’s the radius of the curvature on the drum’s upper and lower edges and the top opening that doubles up as a handle that infuse the squat, sculptural object with a sense of mystery, indeed an almost magical air. And don’t forget, with a size of just one eighth of its predecessor, the Mac Pro brings a new meaning to the word compact.

Potential for power

“Design,” says philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, is today mainly a matter of “incompetence management”. Because we cannot comprehend the function and inner workings of the “fundamental machines of the contemporary world”, design “invariably comes into play when the black box needs to present a communicative side to the user in order to be beneficial despite its hermetic interior.” Accordingly, the task of good design is to instill “the mysterious black box with an appealing look and feel.” Even if the Mac Pro’s user interface per se (i.e., the operating system), is identical to that of other Apple computers, its design seems to be an ironic quip on the talk about the “black box” and a play on the inevitable hermeticism of today’s highly sophisticated electronic devices. Now, instead of a black box, we get a black can, a self-referencing, self-contained sphere of power. Or, to quote Sloterdijk once again, we get the “potential for power” for those seeking “to avoid looking only like incapable competence puppets in today’s excessive spirals of potentiating power.”

Making it new means making it better

Considering all of the above, the new-generation Mac Pro puts an end to the belief that a computer is nothing but a large shoebox crammed with technology. One of its predecessors, the Macintosh G4 that came out in 1999, stuck for all its Perspex casing, transparent handles and biomorphic retouching to the aesthetic of the box – as did the Power Macintosh G5 of 2004 and the Mac Pro of 2008, whose appearances were almost identical. Strictly speaking, these metal boxes made a more obvious return to the actual box, deriving their innovative character from the material (aluminum) and from the proximity to Dieter Rams’ legendary Braun designs, something evidenced by the details.

Slim, light, quiet

The Mac Pro presents an alternative even to the technologized aesthetic of the iMacs, MacBooks and Mac minis whose casings are famously cut from a single aluminum block. Add to this the fact that the Mac Pro uses a cutting-edge cooling system based on a thermal core, the question arises whether its design will retain its singular appeal or if Apple’s design idiom is once again on the brink of a fundamental transformation. In developing the Mac Pro, says Apple, arranging things around a central thermal core “opened up the opportunity to create a system that was light, quiet and beautiful.”

Industry experts are convinced that mobile workstations and tablets will be the future of computing. At least as far as the consumer end of the market is concerned. Though you will hardly take your Mac Pro travelling with you, its design nonetheless suggests utmost mobility. At least in a symbolic sort of way. Weighing just 5 kilos, the drum is easy to carry around, conveniently tucked under one arm, indeed it can even be rolled along the floor! However, such marvelous convenience comes with a price tag. The basic version of the Mac Pro comes in at EUR 2,999. Opting for the full set of extras you will soon find yourself hitting the EUR 10,000 mark.

Status beyond the status quo

Unlike nerds, creative minds in particular always emphasize that the relationships with their gadgets expresses their fondness not only for outstanding performance, but equally for superior design. Not surprisingly, Apple’s latest advertising slogan is: “Built for creativity on an epic scale.” After all, during development all the essentials that define a Pro Computer (in other words, graphics, capacity, computing power, expandability and memory) were all thoroughly tested and “every effort made to advance each of these components in an optimal and progressive way”. The result was “something fundamentally new”. “Something that is radically different from everything that has gone before it. Something that confronts the notion of the status quo.” The status symbol that is Mac Pro will benefit from this no doubt.