So is the Mac at Death’s Door?

March 11th, 2010

When I suggested recently that we had returned to the silly season, perhaps a little earlier than I might have expected, I didn’t know how right I was. A recent article, from a site that I won’t name, is now suggesting that the iPad is the first nail in the Mac’s coffin, that it won’t be long before only the Mac Pro remains in the lineup. We’ll all be using iPads real soon now, at least according to what’s being implied in that article.

Now there is some reason to believe that a portion of traditional Mac users might decide the iPad is all they need. That, of course, holds true for tens of millions of current Windows users, particularly those who have embraced those cheap netbooks.

The real issue, however, is what purpose the iPad serves in the real world. Yes, Apple will offer a single productivity suite, an iPad version of the various iWork apps, sold separately for $9.99 each. However, that is but one example, and unless or until there are loads of such products available, the iPad is destined to be largely a consumption device.

So, for example, you’ll be able to read books, magazines and newspapers on it. Students will be able to ditch their textbook-laden backpacks and carry the entire semester’s literature in a tiny case. Yes, they’ll be able to do their homework on the iPad as well, but they may choose to just keep the iPad on hand as the electronic reference book and do the rest of the work on their regular Mac and Windows computers. The fly in the ointment is, of course, the lack of a suitable printer feature. Right now, all you have are those apps that require a regular computer to do the heavy lifting over your Wi-Fi network. Of course, this doesn’t stop the student from just emailing their homework assignments. It would sure reduce the paper explosion.

For the rest of us, the iPad will also be used for music and video, and to surf the Internet and play games. Yes, you’ll be able to handle your email in, one hopes, a far more agreeable fashion than on the iPhone, but I still don’t see writing long messages on one, unless you hook your iPad up to the docking station and use a standard keyboard. Suddenly you have what is largely a tiny desktop personal computer.

Now it’s quite true that netbooks are heavily oriented towards simple computing tasks, and many Mac and PC users don’t perform work that extends beyond what the iPad can handle quite easily. This being the case, I expect there is apt to be some cannibalization from low-end note-books to the iPad, a trend that will increase as the product matures.

In the next few years, there may even come a time where the home PC is largely supplanted by the iPad and its competitors. But those who require a computer at work — and that’s most of you I’m sure — aren’t going to suddenly find an iPad on your desk replacing whatever you used before. That may come in time, but not immediately.

Over the long haul, yes, I don’t dispute the possibility that the iPad is, for most of us, the personal computer of the future, but a lot of that depends on whether it truly succeeds and how well it handles your workflow compared to existing tools. In that sense, perhaps the iPad is a modern-day equivalent to the original compact Mac from 1984. Up till then, real computers used text-based operating systems, and the Mac and its trend-setting graphical user interface was more a promise than a realization. Industries developed around it, largely desktop publishing and music, before the “computer for the rest of us” became more than a cute curiosity.

Of course the iPad is a far more developed concept. It begins with that huge repository of apps developed for the iPhone and the iPod touch, most of which will run unaltered. Over time, developers will begin to build “universal” versions, with screen sizes and feature sets optimized for the iPad. If Apple’s own iWork suite is successful, you’ll see more work-related products destined for the iPad. In the end, it’s a blackboard, and users will have to pick up their pieces of chalk to fill things in and take it where it’s destined to go.

Sure, I realize Apple has their own concept of the potential of such a device. Getting it right, rather than repeating the errors of the past, is likely why the iPad’s rumored gestation period was so long. Even now, we’re talking of a version 1.0 product that may undergo loads of changes before the product category it creates is readily apparent to most of us. Apple may know already, but I expect they’ll still be surprised, just as they were surprised and overwhelmed by the huge success of the App Store.

Now if you ask me in 2015 about the iPad versus a regular Mac, I will probably have different answers. But that’s then and this is now.

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12 Responses to “So is the Mac at Death’s Door?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Here are well-thought out, reasonable, and factual articles that I make “The Tech Night Owl” a daily visit.

    I like having things that just work. I like simplicity. Having a long career in data processing, I always enjoy using my Macs for over a decade every day. I tend to be the support person when friends have Windows issue. I NEVER volunteer any little knowledge of Windows. I don’t want to ever become a proficient PC troubleshooter just only a helping hand. IMO, Windows’ purpose is to create support jobs from the visibility of working on my Macs and others’ PCs. I ended up getting a headache when troubleshooting on PCs. I keep saying to myself that it doesn’t have to be this way, but it is. In the last several days, a friend’s PC had ingested a malware. I could not (and was prevented by the malware) recover using Safe Mode and had to tell the bad news that Windows must be reinstalled.

    I like the concepts of the iPad. It would be a lot easier to carry around than my MacBook for Internet use. But, my eyes had already been looking to the next-gen MacBook Pro since early 2009. While patiently awaiting for the refresh of all the MacBooks, I am looking forward to the sale of the iPad. While an iPad would be nice to have, I rather break my piggy bank for a MacBook Pro. But, I do hope the iPad sales go very well because I, too, think this is the future of personal computing.

  2. NormanB says:

    I would really like to be able to learn how to play a piano using Garage Band’s lessons on an iPad. It would be so easy to prop the iPad on the piano’s music holder and go from there. If the lessons do find their way onto the iPad, I’ll buy one. For other purposes my Mac mini will satisfy me for years to come.

  3. Robert Pritchett says:

    I’m looking forward to the day when we get photonic computers.

      • Jase says:

        @Gene Steinberg, Do you think that Apple would ever consider adding a touch screen to certain MacBook models so that users could run iPhone OS apps in addition to full OS X? They might also design the hinge so that the display could be folded all the way back flat opposite the rest of the computer, although I do not think that feature would be essential. And I’m not sure whether Apple could just use the MacBook hardware to run iPhone OS, or whether they would need to add something like an A4 chip to the MacBook.

        By the way, I don’t think that the iPad is the death of the Mac. If Apple cannibalizes a few MacBook sales because of the iPad, so what? Apple has over $40 billion in the bank right now and is hugely profitable, and they would still be hugely profitable even if they didn’t make a dime from their PC division. That being said, I think that the full PC version of OS X and iPhone OS mutually reinforce each other on a strategic and R&D level, and that if the PC division of OS X were ever abandoned in a fit of madness, Apple would be very vulnerable.

  4. Tom B says:

    I actually found the article you cite as rather offensive. My first thought was “Would not the iPad be a better replacement for the Windows PC than for the Mac?” Not to generalize too much, but I would bet the number of people on Windows who see the PC as a “tool” for doing simple work, like E-mail and surfer the web, greatly exceeds the number of people who use their Mac desktops and laptops solely for such purposes!

  5. I think the iPad is a growth opportunity for Mac computers.

  6. James Katt says:

    The iPad INSURES the growth and prosperity of the Mac platform.

    The iPad is a peripheral to the hub which is the Mac. It cannot live independently of the Mac. It needs iTunes on the Mac to load media and data.

    The iPad is part of the Apple ecosystem. It supports the purchase of other parts of the ecosystem.

    The Mac is the center of Apple’s ecosystem. Derivatives of the Mac OS run in the peripherals of the Apple ecosystem.

    You can’t even write an app for the iPad without a Mac.

    Thus, another death notice for the Macintosh is untrue. The Mac lives and will prosper BECAUSE of the iPad. Both sustain each other.

  7. Brett says:

    The iPad will certainly replace the PC (and Mac) for people who’s needs are simple. This may include a significant percentage of today’s personal computer owners, as well as people who have heretofore avoided PCs altogether. But when it is time run a program that requires “heavy lifting”, people will increasingly turn to Macs due to the iPad’s halo effect.

    One thing Apple should do ASAP in order to appeal to the nontechnical customer, is decouple the iPad as a peripheral to one’s computer. Right now iPad users will need to maintain some sort of hub computer– for their iTunes library among other things. This requirement excludes a large portion of the iPad’s potential market. To really reach “the rest of us”, everything including installing and configuring home Wi-fi, updating the iPad OS, and archiving one’s iPad content must be possible using the device alone. This may require developing new simplified Airport and external storage devices, (or cloud services), and associated iPad apps for managing them.

    A nontechnical user should be able to purchase a bundle consisting of an iPad, wifi hub, and archival storage device that are self-discovering and include an easy setup app with a 24hr toll-free number for free assistance. When all the pieces are in place, the iPad will take the world by storm.

  8. Louis Wheeler says:

    I have never known of a computer product which was completely replaced. What happens instead is market segmentation occurs as each product finds its niche. They are still selling Mainframe computers, but not very many of them.

    The iPad will be great for very light applications and internet services. It will extend the computer marketplace by appealing to people who fear and dislike computers now. It will suit many of the half of Americans who do not use a computer now. But, it is silly to believe that the Pad can replace a Mac Pro.

    The iPad will cannibalize from NetBook PC’s and Apple’s low end Notebook sales. But, if you use heavy duty applications, then the iPad will be too slow. And many complex applications could never be adapted to the multitouch screen. There will never be a Photoshop for the iPad.

  9. Richard says:

    The people who use “netbooks” are, with rare exception, using them in addition to their full function laptop. They are simply not up to replacing an actual computer. The benefit of them is that they are small enough and light enough to carry all the time without thinking “do I want to carry this around” as people do with a full featured laptop. I think the iPad will be a similar product in that regard. (I won’t be buying one though because of the much cussed and discussed Flash issue among other reasons. It simply does not meet my needs. There are, no doubt, many people who will find that it meets their needs, however.)

    Without reading the original article it is difficult to speculate on what the entire thrust of the opinion piece was, but it is clear that Apple is rapidly becoming a “consumer electronics company” rather than a “computer company” if it has not done so already.

    Traditional computers represent a declining share of Apple’s revenues. The Mac Pro, in particular, seems to be rapidly declining in importance to the company’s balance sheet..

    The devices that the iPad and the netbook are a threat to are the BlackBerrys and such. Reading and responding to email on them is a chore. Netbooks and iPads offer much greater screen space to read a reasonable size font and something other than “thumb typing” for replys. There is also the matter of attachments to email which are essentially an impossibility with BlackBerrys and such. The problem will be whether the wireless service providers view these devices as bigger screen data phones (and price the plans accordingly) or full size computers at a higher data plan rate. At the present time AT&T considers netbooks to be full size computers and charges $60 a month for data plans. This price point is unlikely to attract a large user base for their service. Wi-Fi access, I believe, will be more than adequate for most consumers when the price is factored in.

    I agree with Louis’s conclusion that it is silly to believe that the iPad can replace a Mac Pro (or MacBook Pro).

    In my view, the bigger threat to the Mac platform is the development of software. Steve’s ongoing battle with Adobe will do little to improve the availability of a 64 bit Cocoa Snow Leopard version of Photoshop CS which is the reason that there are a growing number of Photoshop professionals leaving the Mac platform for Windows.

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