Apple Announces Plans to Build Macs in the USA

Original Image, Courtesy of Apple, Inc.

Original Image, Courtesy of Apple, Inc.

Designed in California; Built in the USA?

It has been all over the tech new sources today that Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple plans to build a line of Mac computers in the United States. This is welcome news. But it was not clear from reports just what type of Macs will be built in the US, or where.

As Goes Apple, So Goes the Industry

The Tech Industry has used Apple as its free design shop for decades. Recent and ongoing lawsuits may stem the tide on the most blatant of the copies; the ones where a typical consumer might not even notice that it isn’t an Apple device, as the Apple products have been so closely emulated. But even if competitors now feel obliged to make their products visually distinguishable from Apple’s (and the recent crop of “UltraBooks” cloning the look of the MacBook Air don’t show much indication of that), the industry is still following everything Apple does closely, and emulating much of it.

But Will Others Follow Apple’s Lead in Manufacturing Locations?

It does not automatically follow that other tech companies will immediately look to move manufacturing of products to the US, however. Many of these companies are Asian-based, and would have no basis for such a move. The few international enough, large enough, and flexible enough, to possibly place some manufacturing here, such as HP, still do not have Apple’s margins on their products, meaning that such a move might either shift them from modestly profitable to unprofitable; or for others, from unprofitable to more unprofitable. So while Apple is an important precedent in this area, an immediate response-in-kind can’t be predicted.

What May This Mean for Apple Customers?

The impact on Apple customers will be modest, unless they happen to be in the tiny percentage of the US population which gets a manufacturing facility or other related job from the project. While building Apple products in Brazil may significantly lower the price of those products in Brazil’s controlled exchange environment, production in the US would not offer Americans lower prices. But the line of Apple products manufactured in the US is another factor that will affect the results.

Will it be iMacs?

The general gossip has pegged iMacs as the line most likely to be manufactured in America. There is a certain amount of sense in that, as they are larger and more expensive to ship than laptops and other mobile devices. But there is another Mac line that would make even more sense for in-country production: Apple’s tower computer, the Mac Pro. There are several reasons for this. They are also a large, bulky product, with a hefty case, that it would be ideal not to be air-shipping from Asia. But the Mac Pro is also a more specialized product line, meaning it sells in smaller quantities, making it the easiest product to set up a new facility for, and train new personnel for. And over time it has become a premium priced product for specialty uses, so the margins on it could better support US wages and manufacturing costs. And, finally, it is a product whose main markets are in North America and Western Europe; mostly heavily in California.

Gnawing Hope Returns

The possibility of Mac Pro production in the US is bound to fuel a resurgence of hope amongst Apple professional users, in fields such as Graphic Design, Photography, and Video, of a significant update to the long-in-the-tooth Mac Pro line currently being sold. No one is looking for a new case design, or superficial changes, but significant upgrades to drives, communication protocols, processors, and video cards would release years of delayed purchases at the high end of the Mac line. In particular photographers now working with video would find the price of new premium Mac Pro models worthwhile for the increased speed and capability that FusionDrives, Thunderbolt ports, and other updated capabilities would provide.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

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Final Cut Pro X and Your Existing Mac Pro Computer

FCPX

Final Cut Pro X graphic courtesy of Apple inc.

Starting Out

Mac users interested in trying out video editing often start with iMovie, but given the much reduced price of Final Cut Pro with the recent Final Cut Pro X version (down from four digits to $299) it’s not long before its worth considering an upgrade to Final Cut. However, while Apple has made upgrades to main processors and video cards in the Mac Pro tower over the last several years, thats about all it has done to it. This means that many people who are running advanced imaging apps are still using Mac Pros of vintages from 2006 to 2009. These older Mac Pros are chugging along when it comes to still image work, and unless Apple decides to update the Mac Pro in a big way, these users are likely to continue using these towers until something catastrophic happens. That might take the form or a post-warranty board failure; but it also might also mean a key application that will not run on those older machines.

Set Up Costs

The bar for entry to pro video editing often does not consist only of the cost of a video editor. There tend to be post processing effects packages, audio and music software, and an array of hardware purchases to be factored in as well. With Final Cut Pro X and a copy of Apple’s iLife, much of that can be put off indefinitely; as a fair amount of post-processing is now built right into FCPX, and basic sound and music work can be done in iLife’s Garage Band. So it would be tempting to think that the single $299 outlay for FPCX would be the only outlay standing between you and the simplest of the advanced video editing systems.

Video Card Issues

With a newer Mac Pro, with at least an ATI Radeon 5770 video card, that may well be true. But with the 2006 to 2009 units, the included video cards, most often the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, lack the ability to run Final Cut Pro X. However, these are towers, and the virtue of towers, even Mac towers, which are less modular than other types, is that a new video card can be installed. It should still be possible to purchase an ATI Radeon 5770 card from the Apple Online Store for a price in the range of $249.

Other Factors

This will take care of the video incompatibility that will otherwise make it impossible to even buy or download FCPX on such a computer; though it nearly doubles the cost of entry for installing FCPX. But is it the only factor you need to consider? Not, really: communications protocols are another issue. After all, video requires lots of storage, and internal drives might meet your still imaging needs, but they will definitely not be sufficient for any serious video work.

Ports, Ports, Ports

The older Mac Pros offer slow, but convenient, USB2 ports. They do not offer USB3, which is very useful for external drives for use with still imaging. The “fast” protocol for older Mac Pros is FireWire, often offering both FW400 and FW800. FireWire 800 is fast enough for video transfers, if external FW800 drives are optimized drives that run at ratings close to what the protocol can manage. So anyone considering doing video work on an older Mac Pro will have to plan on purchasing FireWire 800 storage large enough for the amount of video they will be working with.

New Investments in Old Technology

However, is investing in FireWire drives at this point in time a clever idea? Drive prices are dropping again, now that shortage from floods in Thailand have been dealt with, and FireWire format drives are a particularly good deal, because it is now an end-of-life format. This is because newer Macs have moved to Thunderbolt for their fast data transfer. Convertors to run FW800 drives from newer Thunderbolt Macs are not expensive, in fact, at prices like $29, they are far less expensive than most Thunderbolt cables. So an investment in FireWire storage now will continue to be usable in the near future. It may not be ideal at a later date, but given the penalty cost of investing in Thunderbolt peripherals at this time, it actually makes a certain amount of sense to continue investing in FireWire for the time being.

Why Talk Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt is not an option for these older Mac Pros, so why is it even entering the conversation? The simple answer is that its always necessary to try to sum up the total investment in a technology, such as a move to Final Cut Pro X, to compare that investment’s cost, and its forward compatibility, with other options. In this case, the other options that would be most practical would be either the latest iMac or a 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro; either may actually be more powerful than your older Mac Pro, and both would move you immediately into the Thunderbolt world.

Make Your Own Calculations

It will be necessary to do your own practicality analysis and math on the cost of a new iMac versus the receding hope of a significantly improved Mac Pro in the near future, versus the viability of doing your video editing on a MacBook; not to mention the possibility that your older Mac Pro tower may not last as long as you might want it to. Any way you choose to go, the cost of admission is likely to exceed the $299 sticker price for Final Cut Pro.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page