Today, the few people talking about this topic seem to be worried that a Mac minitower would instead cannibalize the Mac Pro. While that position might have had some merit in the mid–2000s, that’s now a harder sell than the current base-configuration Mac Pro. Yes, Apple might sell fewer Mac Pros, but is that really a huge deal? The proportion of Apple’s revenue that comes from the Mac Pro line has been steadily declining as iOS devices and MacBook sales have surged, and as the iMac has become one of the most popular desktop computers on the market. If anything, I think the number of additional Macs that would be sold would more than make up for any reduction in Mac Pro sales. (And, of course, if a minitower Mac Pro is the only Mac Pro, then the whole issue of cannibalization is moot.)
Hoping against hope?
I concede that this theoretical minitower wouldn’t satisfy all pro users—particularly the ones who need the absolute best performance and the most expandability (and, it should be said, who were once Apple’s bread and butter). Maybe Apple simply abandons these people, letting them go to specialized workstations from other vendors. Or maybe the Mac Pro lives on in a new model (or two), further relegated to an ultimate-performance niche. In any case, I’d argue that the market for my mythical minitower is big enough that it’s worth doing, and the technology is there to make it doable.
Think of it this way: Steve Jobs once said that traditional computers are becoming the equivalent of trucks, while most people will eventually need only a car. He was equating the latter with the iPad and other “post-PC” devices, but the analogy works just as well when talking about traditional computers on their own: A MacBook or iMac is a car, with the Mac Pro akin to a Ford F–350 or Dodge RAM 3500. Like many families, our family needs more space and utility than a car, but we don’t need a huge, trailer-towing, gas-guzzling truck. A midsize SUV or crossover is a near-perfect compromise—it’s plenty of “truck” for us. I’m hoping that this is the year Apple finally makes a midsize SUV.
Updated 3/4/2012, 8:45am, to change "Tim Cook specifically confirmed" to "Tim Cook all but confirmed," to more accurately portray his wording. Corrected Xsan to be Xserve RAID.