At this week's Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced their new Mac Pro desktop, Pro Display XDR monitor and Pro Stand. The latter is a rather sophisticated piece of design and engineering:
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"The Pro Stand makes every adjustment of your display feel seamless. Precision tilting and 120 mm of height adjustment help Pro Display XDR adapt to any viewing condition. The angle of the display stays true even as you adjust the height. With the Pro Stand, you get a display that feels weightless, moves effortlessly where you want it, and stays exactly where you leave it."
In the latest "let's make a big deal about something" outrage-fest that our society is now addicted to, the Pro Stand has supposedly drawn a backlash for its $999 price. CNN breathlessly reports "Apple monitor stand that costs more than an iPhone sparks online uproar." Engadget writes "A $999 monitor stand is everything wrong with Apple today." Gizmodo says "$1,000 feels like a lot of money for a monitor stand."
That's because it is a lot of money for a monitor stand.
So let me pick this "backlash" nonsense apart, and let's look at this thing from an industrial design and company ethos point of view.
First off, the Pro Stand is not designed for the average consumer. It damn sure isn't designed for me. The Pro line of objects is designed for hardcore professionals, for deep-pocketed people and companies who can drop five figures on a workstation no sweat. It's for people who actually need the 28 freaking cores that the Mac Pro can handle. They'll drop the money because they'll make it back, or because they're in situations where money is no object.
Jonathan Ive may be one of the most powerful designers on the planet, in terms of being able to call shots. It's well-known that Steve Jobs stipulated, prior to his demise, that within Apple's structure Ive was not to be interfered with. There is no accountant above Ive going "No, I don't think so."
So what do you think Ive's brief was when designing the monitor stand? "Come up with something low-cost that we can sell at Wal-Mart?" No. More than likely, the assignment was to design the finest monitor stand money can buy. More than likely, he set out to design his version of the ultimate monitor stand, one with a fine-tuned, hinged connection point that is probably exponentially more precise than what everyone else is making. Something that a team of engineers had to burn a lot of midnight oil to realize. Jonathan Ive has that kind of juice. Most designers don't.
That's why I feel any other industrial designer can't begrudge Ive. We can be jealous of him, but we can't begrudge him. What would you do in his shoes, with those kinds of resources and that kind of clout?
Look at the grill on the Mac Pro and the monitor. In the promo video, he mentions the grill portion of the housing is CNC-machined on both sides. Could he have figured out a cheaper way to do it? Probably. But the point is, he no longer has to. He works for Apple, where his track record has earned him the right to do things the way he wants to do them. Whether or not you like his aesthetic choices or his chosen manufacturing techniques, that ability to call shots is every designer's dream.
So why the "backlash?"
I see what's happening with Apple as the same as what's happening with our society. The rich and the poor are getting further and further apart. Apple doesn't design for poor people. It could even be argued they don't design for middle-class people. They design for people who can afford $1,000 phones, which leaves me, a middle-class former Apple loyalist, behind.
I think people are angry because they are getting left behind by a brand they once loved. I myself didn't realize overnight that Apple had moved past me; it sank in gradually.
Apple's stuff has always been more expensive than their competitors', but from the moment I had enough money to buy my own computers and objects, I saved up for them, and wouldn't consider using anything else. Because all of their stuff worked for me exactly they way I wanted them to work. Steve Jobs didn't sound like a fun guy to have a beer with, but the man damn sure knew his UX. After years of lugging around a case of cassettes, CDs and later MiniDiscs, iTunes and the iPod was precisely what I dreamed of. The iPhone, the iPad, my MacBooks, they all did exactly what I needed them to, without me needing to get under the hood.
Gradually it began to change. The OS's became bloated. iTunes became more and more confusing, changing the UI that I'd memorized over and over again. I now need to Google how to do even basic things* with my phone or fix something on my computer. Apple's original "you don't even need an instruction manual" ethos seemed to disappear. I figured it was my age; I now pride myself on how little I touch my phone throughout the day, whereas the generation before me can't seem to get their faces out of them. I assume those younger folks, who are tech-savvier than I, have no problem operating their devices. They grew up with them and understand how to get them to do what they want.
*[One example: My low-tech wife still listens exclusively to CDs. For her last birthday I bought her an iPod. I loaded all of her music onto it, excited at how much easier this would make her life. Once the iPod was loaded, she tried using it, and asked me a simple question: "How can I see every Prince song I own, as a list?"
"Easy," I said, "just do this--" I then futzed with the iPod, and couldn't figure out how to do it. I Googled it. Still couldn't figure it out.
What my wife wants is to be able to see a list of every Prince song she owns, then select the one she wants to hear. To me that is completely logical and rational. But when you select Prince, it shows you a bunch of little squares depicting his albums. If you remember which album every Prince song belongs to, no problem. But if you're like us and don't remember, you have to click on each album in turn to scroll through the list to find the song you'd like to hear. This doesn't make any sense to us, but presumably makes sense to Apple. We are not their target market.]
Apple has evolved, and I have not been able to evolve along with them, nor increase my earning power to keep up. They have never branded themselves a product company for the masses. When he was still alive, Steve Jobs pointed out that Mercedes-Benz charged a lot more for a car. With their $1,000 phones and now monitor stands, Apple is steadily moving upmarket to provide high-quality goods to the rich. It's actually a great business model, and one with a ready market; Investopedia, after crunching Boston Consulting Group's data, concluded that 1,700 millionaires are made each day.
As a design blogger, I'll never be one of them. Does that make me sad? Yeah. Angry? No. I was trained as an industrial designer, and I live in a time where I get to witness a talented industrial designer with massive resources at his disposal execute his visions absent interference from bean counters. I find that fun to see; a subset of Apple's products and pricepoints are what design unfettered by economic constraints looks like.
My own monitor stand is made from dovetailed pieces of scrap wood. I learned how to cut the dovetails myself by taking a class. My stand doesn't have a swivel nor magnets because I don't need to rotate my monitor nor disconnect it. It doesn't adjust in height because I measured the exact height I needed and built to that. Like Jonathan Ive, I used the resources available to me to create what I wanted, and it is perfect for me.
I think the "backlash" against the Pro Stand is comprised of a bunch of self-entitled whiners who want the design and engineering contained within it, but can't afford it. That's a bad road to go down; it never ends, and every single object you own likely has a better version of it for sale. Take my advice and stop coveting. If your phone lets you down, find ways to use it less. If you want something you can't afford, design and build your own, to suit your own needs. It may not look as cool, but you will find it strangely satisfying.
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I design for a company that specializes in monitor mounting methods, be they counter-balanced, articulated, static, wall mounted, rail mounted, etc. I'm extremely familiar with all sorts of different products in the category. I've got to say that Apple's monitor stand, while aesthetically pleasing and mechanically impressive, is utterly...I mean just UTTERLY stupid for two reasons.
Jonathan Ives is an average Industrial Designer, his work lacks vision and vitality. Designing without limits is very difficult and usually does not produce good work - the most creative solutions tend to happen within meaningful constraints.
It's ridiculous because as a stand it's just not that good, you can't change the height without changing the viewing distance nor can you swivel it. Useless.
maybe be less angry at Apple and more angry at the entire economy for leaving you (and many of the rest of us) behind. Looking forward to the denunciations of every automaker who uses luxury brands to drive innovation that shows up in non-luxury vehicles, etc.
The thing is, it ISN'T designed for hardcore professionals. It's significantly more expensive and objectivity worse than the competition. Real pros will buy an Ergotron or something similar for $500ish and laugh at the dummies that buy this vanity project. No one in their right mind is jealous of the engineering of this thing, it's dumb and inferior to other options.
I think people are angry because they (we) are being exploited to make a very small subset of the population extraordinarily wealthy. They're not mad because they're jealous, they're mad because thieves are becoming filthy rich at their expense and then throwing it in their faces.
Looking at this from a historical sense, I think Apple has furthered itself from the ideals of Modernism that was the foundation of their aesthetic. Although Modernism has rarely delivered on its promise of design for the masses, for a long time, Apple made premium products that were also at an accessible price. In fact, they launched successive iPods at decreasing price points for years. Since the Apple Watch, it seems as they've decided to go the opposite way by making ever more expensive products without an larger feature set.
At least for me, the fact that Apple is producing ever more elite product is the saddest thing they've done since Jobs' death.
> they launched successive iPods at decreasing price points for years.
And it might be argued that the iPod was *the* most successful product Apple has ever made (I don't know). I wonder if that was a reason why?
Gotta get me some al ooh mini um.
Hey Rain, great article. I think you might be missing one key thing. While it's great that Ive can do whatever he wants, that doesn't necessarily mean that he should. This object is over-engineered and over-designed, and as a result, overly expensive. Look at all of the parts inside of that hinge in that section view! The more parts you have, the higher likelihood of failure. If Apple really believes in creating a premium product that will last, don't you think they should go back to their original ethos of simplifying? Simplifying the UX/UI. Simplify the lines of the product. Simplify the engineered parts.
en so far from their original ethos
Designing for people who have more money than sense and being a "luxury brand" is great.. But what happens when the next recession hits? If Apple doesn't have backing of "ordinary users" who like their software and stuff because it's "just works" and "makes sense" (which increasingly it doesn't - they change bits of the UI/UX every iteration, hide things in the UI like buttons without text-labels or even *borders* - change behaviors, ignore things "rules" they used to have about UI being "simple").. What happens if there comes a time when they *need* that buying demographic?
As for the "why a magnet mount": <semi-sarcastic> So they have a reason to figure out how to recycle neodynium mangnets..
> overly thin MBPs of 2018
I thought the latest "too-thin-for-their-own-good" MBPs were earlier than 2018?
That's another example of "abandoning the middle" it seems (remind anyone of politics?). How many people would *more than happily* tolerate a MBP that was - 6 or maybe a whole *7* millimeters thicker MBP for a better battery and/or keyboard? Split the difference, make it 4 mm thicker so that you can have a real keyboard, and then have two seamless add-on battery packs that could "just work" snap on the bottom - one
(Continued - damn sticky control key)
One that is 3.5 mm thick (plus 1.5 for top and bottom metal) for a 20% battery boost, a second is 6 mm for a 50-60% boost - which uses a more expensive battery chemistry, maybe lithium metal electrodes or something. I have no idea whether these numbers make any sense (probably not), or what Apple’s batteries’ mWh/mm^3 power density is.
I’m guessing a *lot* of people would give up a centimeter for a reasonable keyboard and better battery - even more if they could figure out how to do the “snap-on battery” idea so that the base machine would only be a half-centimeter thicker.
Of course, I shouldn’t really speak (maybe) - I’m planning to get a new MBP at some point. But if I knew an 13-inch XPS could be made into a Hackintosh with minimal fuss? I would seriously think about that.
I'd have to disagree with the stand being over-engineered and over-designed, and that the more parts you have, the higher likelihood of failure. If this were the case, the mechanical watch making industry wouldn't exist, and nobody would buy those lovely over engineered Swiss watches because they'd be failing due to all of those mechanical parts.
One extra note, I don't think Apple was ever interested in simplifying the engineering of their products. If you look back to their old Mighty Mice back in '05, it was quite an overly engineered product. A mouse with one button, that used capacitive sensors to register a right click, and implemented a speaker under the shell to imitate scrolling clicks for the scroll ball.
Apple's mice have always been ergonomic disasters and utter garbage tho. Remember the puck mouse? Utter crap.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think Apple's Original ethos were ever to simplify the internals of their products. The original ethos, and ethos that still prevail were to provide the user with a product that they don't modify or upgrade, or really, don't have to. Apple's ethos, as they prevail, started with their first Mac, a computer that was designed to make the UX seamless, not so any engineer could open it up and be able to fix it. They started off by wanting only engineers at apple to open and fix a machine, if in case it broke, which they continue doing today (The warranty on your phone for example, is void if a third party opens it). Apple still doesn't tell you how much RAM they've increased, because the average user doesn't care or understand. That the newer iphone is 1.5 times faster that the old one, however, that's what the users understand and like to hear!
In the case of the New Mac, however, which they say is supposedly designed for "our professional users," it is highly customizable. Which is maybe a little different that what we've thought or known apple to be, but again, it's something that that particular audience demands.
I'm not too sure it's attempting to solve a problem by being precise, more so that they do it because they can and this might pique the interest of people with that sort of cash to burn. With a wrist watch, modern mechanical engineering is outclassed everyday of the week by the humble quartz movement. The pursuit for mechanical precision is manufactured, again, for a bracket of people with a lot of cash.
In my eyes it's a silly and pricey stand, similar to the $850 (AUD) Jake Dyson LED lamps. Although they're not as overly engineered as the Apple stand, they command an outrageous price for what's essentially a strip of LEDs bolted to a heatsink that moves with smooth bearings. But it 'feels' good to use.
On the Mighty Mouse, the lack of a 3-click is unfortunate. However the mouse's XY scrollball is a godsend when working with timelines in DAWs like Ableton and Logic where the only alternative is a trackpad. I still keep one on my desk ahaha ;^).
Yeah, I guess you're right in regards to simplifying engineering. But I would still argue that this solution is over-engineered. It's a stand. Why does it need to be so complicated? What problem does it solve to be this precise? With a wristwatch, you need that precision. I admittedly don't know much about wristwatches, but I would imagine that any little imperfection would be compounded every time that second hand ticks. If it's to the "tolerance" of 0.0001 seconds, the time will be off within a few months. So once again, why does a computer stand need that level of precision?
> Apple still doesn't tell you how much RAM they've increased,
Except for one interesting exception - when they finally managed to get the (albeit top of the line) MBP to run with 32GB - they told people about that. But that was obviously because people had been wanting a greater-than-16-GB laptop for.. how long now?
The fact that the 32GB is only available on the 15-inch model - is that *just* the "highest-price-bonus" thing, or is it connected to the fact that the 15-inch has (I presume) a (small) amount more cooling ability?
> [monitor stand being so complicated] might pique the interest of people with that sort of cash to burn.
Why didn't/don't (hint if anyone at Apple is reading) they make a version where all/half of the hinge mechanism is clear plastic, so you can see the damn engineering that presumably justifies the cost?
Or transparent aluminum.. ("Turning solid aluminum transparent by intense soft X-ray photoionization"; Nature Physics 2009;
> but I don't think Apple's Original ethos were ever to simplify the internals of their products.
Maybe - the Steve Jobs biography points out SJ's insistence that (paraphrase) "the inside look as pretty as the outside". I read somewhere (maybe apocryphal) that he actually wanted curved circuit traces on the original Apple II boards, until the engineers told him that would be a tad hard electrical-wise. (impossible?)
I really like some of your comments on this. I've been a huge Apple fan myself since I was a kid and only ever used other devices if and when absolutely necessary. I feel like I'm always having to defend Apples Mac Pro to people, explaining people who need these machines are Disney and other high end pro companies, not for the average Joe like us. But I must say that I don't feel Apple are only catering for the high end consumer. From the days of the the Apple II, their mission has been to bring to people what they need on whatever level they need it. IE iPhone 11 Plus vs iPhone SE etc.
I created an account just to respond to this article. While I can see the point you made that apple isn't designing for the average consumer anymore, that isn't an excuse for apple to provide an overpriced aluminum rod that holds a screen in place for a grand. That's just ridiculous and unnecessary. I don't even think the richest people are stupid enough to spend that much.
To conclude, apple seems to be manipulating it's consumers with the idea of them being this "innovative" and "first of it's kind" company that deserves respect for all of it's decisions. They throw around a lot of buzzwords in their advertising that don't really mean anything, but are designed to make people think that they're paying for something that's actually worth a used car. Alright that's my two cents.
>[Potential buyers] will drop the money because they'll make it back, or because they're in situations where money is no object.
Or because if they drop 11,000 for a new Mac Pro/Pro Display/Pro Stand, they can (maybe) get Uncle Sam (in the US that is) to pay for it because of the immediate business tax expensing changes? This of course assumes that your new/not-so-new business makes enough money to make that work - that would be around 60K at a 20% rate? Maybe not hard for a single year if you manage to make a "killer app" (big if though..)
These are the same sheep that spend $7 for a cup of coffee and $250 for sneakers and if you feel good about the fact Apple is making $900 GP on your purchase then ok. There dozens of great options at 1/10 the cost. These are the people will spend $1,000 on a stand $2,500 for a laptop and then cheap out and buy an Ikea table and $100 chair. There are already knock offs on the market in Asia-100% same function and quality for about 1/10 the cost.
I am impressed with this engineering... but far more impressed by your reasoning about Apple & its ability to leave its mostly loyal supporters behind by overpricing especially as I sit amongst dead or redundant Apple hardware.
Here's my beef with it. The weightless mechanism is familiar and existed. It isn't new tech. Apple's G4 iMac had a similar built in monitor stand, housed in a chrome arm that went from the round iMac base to the LCD display. That computer cost $1200 new. Now, adjust for inflation, that same computer would cost $1700 now, which included an (admittedly poor) LCD and a computer, optical drive, etc.
So why does this stand cost $1000, if they used to sell something similar with a lot more built into it?
Also, the magnet mount really irritates me. Why does the screen mount with magnets? What benefit does this provide to the user? Are people expected to remove the monitor from the stand on a regular basis so they can sketch on it, like an ipad? No. It's corded. So it provides no benefit. It's an expensive, toolless way to attach something for a stationary product that provides no actual benefit for the user. So why did they make this decision?
When Apple made the basketball stand iMac, it had a stand that would keep the monitor at a certain height and could tilt. I always thought it worked really well, and that it felt 'magical' in its function. I'm sure this stand works great, but the magic is lost, is like "We spent hours and crammed all this technology so we came up with this awesome thing" feels like any company could've done it. Doesn't feel unique and magical. It's just a lot of engineering.
These won't tip over at all?
Remember Fudd's First Law of Opposition: "If you push anything hard enough, it will fall over"