The Car-Based Truck

A few weeks ago, Steve Troughton-Smith and Guilherme Rambo found a software update that contained the code for Apple’s upcoming iMac Pro. Confirming some earlier rumors, it appears that the iMac will have both an Intel processor, as previously announced, and an A10 — the Apple-designed processor powering the iPhone 7. Inevitably, someone will soon bring up the famous quote from Steve Jobs about how traditional desktop computing is a truck, and iOS devices are the cars that everyone will use from now on. In this case, it seems even more appropriate than most. 

In 1979, AMC introduced the Eagle. It was ungainly, slow, and ugly — yet was a popular car for most of its eight-year production run. Essentially, it was a compact car with four wheel drive and a 3” lift — ordinarily not enough to cover up the underlying flaws inevitable in a car built cheaply by a dying company. But the Eagle itself started a revolution in transportation — it was the first car-based truck.

I can guarantee nobody ever used their Eagle like this

I can guarantee nobody ever used their Eagle like this

Until the Eagle’s introduction, the only way to get a family car that could also handle heavy snows, dirt tracks, and withstand the rigors of even moderate abuse was a heavy, slow, noisy, and crude truck-based ‘wagon.’ Suddenly, it was possible to take your family car to the grocery store, and make it home even when the weather had turned completely sour. This was a revelation at a time when trucks (and their family-wagon derivatives) had barely advanced in the previous thirty years — one of the headlining features of the 1973 Chevrolet Suburban was a fourth door. By taking advantage of the advances that had happened in the car sector, the Eagle provided creature comforts with an acceptable compromise to its off-road abilities. 

A few years later, Jeep (then a sister brand to AMC) introduced the XJ Cherokee which — rather than being based on a previous car body — was purpose-built as a car-truck hybrid. It was built for over 30 years, selling more than 2.1 million units, and created an entire segment of the automotive market that hadn’t existed. Today, a plurality of vehicles sold are crossovers, the name that was coined to represent these blends of heavy-duty and approachable transportation. 

The iMac Pro, operating under this somewhat-tortured analogy, is the AMC Eagle. It’s the first Mac to be car-first, run by the A-series processor which then boots the legacy Intel hardware. For now, it will (like the Eagle) only provide a few benefits to security. Eventually, this will become the way all mainstream computers are built, providing the power of a truck with the ease of use and simplicity of maintenance of a car.  

This iMac, along the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro, may not be a lasting design. Like the Eagle, they might turn out to be a mere hint of the future; with time, they’ll fade into history as the awkward predecessors of a new kind of computer. Like the automotive industry, the line between light-duty, everyday tools and powerful special-purpose machines will begin to blur. Today, you can buy an eighty-thousand-dollar Ford SuperDuty pickup truck with more features than the most luxurious cars from the’90s. Similarly, desktop computing will begin to take on some of the characteristics of mobile devices until it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.