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Apple Watch: Hey ho Mac Pro

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A still from Apple's Mac Pro manufacturing video and, inset tight, the PRODUCT(RED) one-off.
A still from Apple's Mac Pro manufacturing video and, inset tight, the PRODUCT(RED) one-off.

Hey, Apple, it's December and this is the month the amazing new Mac Pro was going to arrive. Things seem a little quiet, and if you want the heavy hitters to buy them before Christmas, well ... they're ready.

At its October media event, Apple declared the launch window for the redesigned Mac Pro was 'December', but we have yet to get a more specific launch date. The new Mac Pro, to refresh your memory, will be powered by an Intel Xeon E5 CPU with up to 12 cores, comes standard with dual AMD FirePro GPUs to drive monitors and it's all packed into cylinder with just a 16.76cm diameter. It's cooled by an innovative central thermal core designed to wick heat away from the primary processing chips for expulsion out the top.

A German retailer, Conrad Electronic, raised hopes when it begun taking pre-orders for the two stock configurations of the new Mac Pro, citing availability as Monday, December 16.

It is unclear what Conrad was basing its availability on (I suspect wishful thinking), but it was the first specific claim of a launch date from a retailer.

But of course the post was removed two days later. Availability of the new Mac Pro, once it does appear, could be constrained by the new Intel Ivy Bridge-EP processors that were officially launched in September, but Intel appears to have been slow to ramp up production.

That's not the only manufacturing challenge - Apple has had to introduce some new manufacturing processes for the new tower. Apple often does this, working to establish, a few years ago, a process for creating a more sturdy MacBook Pro case from a single billet of aluminium; to redesign the screen surround in the iMac; etcetera.

Apple's head of operations Jeff Williams explains in the video, "To make a product as advanced as the Mac Pro, we had to pioneer entirely new processes." The video shows several advanced manufacturing methods and fast-moving robots.

You can see this video on Apple's Mac Pro page.

Manufacturing innovation looks set to continue into 2014. Thanks to Apple's recently filed 10-K, it appears Apple's manufacturing ambitions will continue to grow through 2014. Apple notes its capital expenditures will total US$11 billion, but 'just' $550 million is earmarked for real store facilities while $10.5 billion is earmarked for various manufacturing processes ... and corporate facilities (Apple is building a great big new round donut-shaped 'campus' in Cupertino).

With retail store operations out of the equation, Apple's capital expenditures from 2013 to 2014 will increase by a sizeable 61 per cent.

Bloomberg reckons this is because Apple is spending more on the machines that do the behind-the-scenes work of mass producing iPhones, iPads and other gadgets. That includes equipment to polish the new iPhone 5c's colourful plastic, laser and milling machines to carve the MacBook's aluminium body, and testing gear for the iPhone and iPad camera lens. Of course, this may not be true - the sources for this info remain unidentified. But since Apple has vast reserves of cash, it is able to order the type of tooling usually reserved for the aerospace industry. Often this machinery is delivered to Apple's Asian assembly plants and suppliers and has Apple crews establishing the work routines and making sure they work as expected, for up to weeks at a time.

Do people want a new Mac Pro? Hell yes. I would love one - unfortunately I have no real need for one. My MacBook Pro is still sublime. But it's not just me - there's a Facebook page called 'Mac Pros Please' that was up to 21,971 Likes when I checked. OK, 21,972, coz I added one.

How much would you pay for one? Someone paid US$977,000 - that's over NZ one million dollars - a cool NZ$1,187,337. Now that's ... completely crazy, you must agree, but at least it was for a good cause. It was a rather special one: a one-off Product (RED) Mac Pro. In the picture, bizarrely (or perhaps aptly) it looks like there's a Star Wars Stormtrooper reflected in its shiny red carapace. The buyer also acquired a pair of solid gold EarPods for US$461,000.

Apparently this buyer was former Apple executive Tony Fadell, who oversaw Apple's iPod division until 2008, and went on to found connected-device company Nest Labs, makers of the Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect intelligent smoke detector.

The special edition Mac Pro was designed for the Product (RED) program and was only expected to bring in bids between US$40,000 and $60,000. It's one of the very few of the new model actually seen - Apple showed off two mid-year in San Francisco at WWDC, and Pixar apparently has had some prototypes to thrash. The perfect environment, surely.

Product Red, which is usually styled (PRODUCT)RED, is a brand licensed to partner companies including Nike, American Express, Starbucks, Converse, Head, Bugaboo, Penguin Classics, Gap, Armani, Hallmark, SAP and Beats Electronics (Beats by Dr Dre). The concept was founded in 2006 to engage the private sector for the purpose of raising awareness and funds to help eliminate HIV/AIDS in Africa. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a recipient of (RED) money.

Apple has made several PRODUCT(RED) items over the years, including iPods and, currently, some bright red covers for iDevices. A percentage of every sale goes to the charity.

Anyway, back to the Mac Pro. Apple says ... nothing. Yet. But I'm all ears.

Just remember to roll your mouse scroll or two fingers up and down your trackpad when you look at the picture on Apple's Mac Pro page - it's a nice use of HTML5's graphics chops.

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