Written by Howie Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPL

Does the Apple Mac Pro share similarities with the Apple Lisa?

In case you missed it, the Apple Macintosh had a 30th birthday on January 24th.  As an early adopter, some might feel like a proud parent and like most proud parents, they embarrass their children by talking about events from 30 years ago and how much things have changed.

After years of clamoring for a new desktop Mac Pro, Apple previewed the revolutionary computer last year at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Later, the pricing was announced as starting at $3,000 with most costing $4,000 or more after adding hard disks and other accessories. The great irony, however, is that the newest Mac Pro is a lot like the Apple Lisa, which was the failed predecessor to the Macintosh computer three decades ago.

Many people may not remember, but in the early 1980s Apple came out with a computer called the Lisa. It was revolutionary in many ways, including its use of the first graphical user interface, protected memory, multitasking, and support for up to 2 MB of RAM. That might not sound very impressive today, but historically those were revolutionary features that did not exist on personal computers for years. For example, the Macintosh (which eventually replaced the Lisa) did not offer protected memory until 2001 when the Mac OS X became available.

The article written in Byte Magazine in February 1983 said that the Lisa was, “the most important development in computers in the last 5 years easily outpacing (the IBM PC).” It also acknowledged that the $10K price point was very high which is ironically similar to the price and complaints about the new Mac Pro.

Of course the most important question is how did the Lisa fair? Despite revolutionary computer technology, the Lisa was a commercial failure. Targeted at high-end users, most were reluctant to spend the $10,000. Similarly, the new Mac Pro is considered  revolutionary, the price point for higher-end model with all the bells and whistles is also about $10,000, and the target market for the new Mac Pro is also high-end users. But the most important question is how it will sell.

Some could argue that there will always be high end users who are willing to pay the price, but for myself and other home users who replace their computers every 2 to 3 years, it seems too extravagant a price tag. For me, a $4,000 price point for a fully configured computer is just too much, especially when the enhanced productivity will be most obvious for those editing video, gaming, and/or performing 3D.

In my opinion, the new Mac Pro is a lot like the Apple Lisa.  Although it offers significant technology improvements, it breaks my price elasticity. As a result, I have to consider less expensive alternatives, which may include laptops or iMacs.  If you do some research or sit down with someone at the Apple Store you can configure an iMac that will achieve similar productivity for print production tasks at about half the cost.

But my greatest fear is what may happen if the Mac Pro does not sell well – will that be the end of the desktop Macintosh computer? What do you think? Is the Mac Pro too expensive to justify? Are you considering alternatives? Do you think this is the first step in the discontinuation of the desktop Macintosh computer?


Howie Fenton is a consultant and business adviser at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity, and adding digital and value services through customer research. For more information click here.