Early yesterday Motorola announced their ambitious Ara project - a modular phone with interchangable parts and features. In theory it sounds great - battery running low? Swap in a new one. Need a bigger camera for that trip you’re going on? Pop one in - no need for that big DSLR.
Last week however, Apple announced something that was almost the complete opposite of that - their new line of Mac Pros. Beastly machines though they may be, they’re taken a nose dive away from modularity. Custom made parts means that you can’t just go down to your local Fry’s and pick up a new piece if something goes wrong. Non-standard form factors and connectors mean that if you’re looking to upgrade down the line, you’re probably going to be out of luck. This was especially shocking, as traditionally desktops have always held their ground in the move away from modularity that’s been seen in portables.
Plenty of people are upset by this. Some people are arguing that it’s Apple’s way of getting people to upgrade their entire computer more frequently - a devious tactic to milk their customers for more money.
I however see it as inevitability. -Which of these… …is the future of devices? jjcm.or
Jack Miller makes the argument that to achieve the speed / power consumption and form factor, modularity must go. Its half truth at best. Form factor certainly always takes a hit for a modular design as the parts must be most of all, interchangable (which always requires some sort of mechansim to fasten, latch, rail or otherwise secure the part in place) will inevitably adversely affect form factor. Its a truth of industrial design. That said, Modularity doesn’t equate necessarily to more power consumption, and as of writing this, speed. Modularity is curse for devices that battle for milligrams.
That said, the Mac Pro is not a device of milligrams or even grams. The Mac Pro is not a computer of mobility, instead its a work station, meant for high end work where performance and functionality win out on form factor. My Mac Pro from 2008 is still a viable computer in 2013 and will even in 2014. How could this be so?
Had my Mac Pro been locked to its factory specs when I bought it, it would have: 2 GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon 2600 XT, Firewire 400/800, USB 2.0 and a 500 GB Hard drive. It would have failed in 2010 when my hard drive in 2010, when the heads came to screaching halt, never to work again.
Instead, my Mac Pro has an AMD Radeon 6870, ATI Radeon 2600 XT, 16 GB of RAM, 5 internal HDs, an upgraded DVD-RW drive, Firewire 400/800, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0.
The obvious trade off is My Mac Pro 2008 is a 40+ pound computer. That is the true trade off.
The Mac Pro is modular at its core
The new Mac Pro is an exercise in modularity, you must provide your own HDs and chassis, provide your own expansion cards and chassis and add your own network gear.
The irony is the in the Jobsian universe is this ideal computer does not have a single exposed cord, and now we’re left to a rats nest worth of external devices.