Will the 2015 Mac be a Mac?

March 16th, 2010

Unlike many tech companies, Apple has a long-range vision. Maybe you didn’t see how the iPod would develop, the ongoing improvements in the iPhone or the path from Mac OS X 10.0 to 10.6, but there’s little doubt Apple had broad concepts about the direction of these products from Day One.

I wasn’t surprised when I learned that there was a program to develop a version of Mac OS X for Intel processors years before Steve Jobs announced the switchover at a WWDC. Sure it had only been rumored for quite some time, but a responsible company would always keep the options open, and Jobs was quoted as saying just that when questioned about the future of the PowerPC.

Of course, the tech press generally doesn’t have a concept of long-range goals, although one recent article outlined the substantial but incremental changes you see in each generation of an Apple product. But you don’t see the end game until you take a look at the entire picture after several years have passed. Then a smile comes to your lips.

With the iPad, it’s clear the first version is mostly a consumption device, despite the fact that Apple is releasing a special version of iWork for their new mobile gadget. Most of the people who buy them will be reading books, magazines and newspapers, checking their favorite sites and perhaps managing email. There will be plenty of game playing as well, not to mention listening to music and watching videos.

I’m also certain that public acceptance and the way the product is used will help fine tune Apple’s end game. So features will be added based on the reaction of the newly-minted iPad users. If iWork doesn’t sell so well and other productivity apps don’t appear in reasonable numbers, using an iPad to actually create something may not be a significant part of the picture.

But to get a sense of Apple’s real direction, it makes sense to look at the original 1984 Macintosh. It may have seemed underpowered in its time and internal expansion wasn’t in the picture. Worse, there wasn’t a lot of Mac software to be had.

In a sense, that first Mac may be regarded in the same fashion as the first iPhone. Any additions you’d make came in the form of accessory products and software options were limited. Remember that the App Store was still a year away.

One thing was certain way back when, and that was the ongoing complaint that Macs were just toys and not real computers. Real computers had text-based operating systems, and easy methods for hobbyists to take them apart and fiddle with them extensively to create customized systems. It took years and loads of changes before Macs were taken seriously and graphical operating systems became the norm.

Of course, Bill Gates and Microsoft realized the potential, which is why they stole the fundamentals of the Mac OS and slapped it onto regular PCs. But quite some time passed before Windows was stable enough to actually turn those PCs into productivity tools. Even today, in fact, lots of Windows users just barely cope with the known eccentricities and complexities.

But others complain that the Macs don’t allow for enough flexibility. Expansion is limited to a few choices provided by Apple and anything else requires extensive reworking of the product in ways that might just cause trouble. Today’s Mac is still regarded as more appliance-like than anything that comes from Redmond, WA.

With the iPhone, the obvious consumer orientation once again became a bone of contention. Businesses had the BlackBerry after all. Then Apple added Microsoft Exchange support and remote wiping, plus greater levels of security. Over time, more and more businesses came to believe the time was ripe to bring iPhones aboard. You’ll notice, as the result, that the concept of multi-touch has been duplicated in other smartphones, and this is a big part of the logic behind Apple’s lawsuit against HTC, with the increasing Google threat ever-present.

The iPad is clearly the first member of a growing family of 21st century computing appliances from Apple. As with the original Mac, you are tied in to the factory hardware configurations, and whatever third-party accessories become available. But the ability to use an external keyboard clearly means that there is a larger potential to use an iPad in place of a Mac in many situations. The 9.7-inch screen, while small by today’s standards, is actually larger than the display on the original compact Macs, PowerBooks and loads of other note-books, and much in line with today’s netbooks. It may be small, but not too small to get actual work done.

Assuming the iPad is successful — and nobody knows for sure right now — future generations will not just restore alleged missing features, such as a Web cam, but may take more cues from traditional computers. In 2015, do you really think lots of people will be carting their Mac note-books around when traveling?. Or will they just take out their latest and greatest iPads? Are we seeing the real future of personal computing? I think so.

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11 Responses to “Will the 2015 Mac be a Mac?”

  1. Andrew says:

    Is the iPad the beginning of something new, or just the next step on the iPhone/iPod touch evolution? Honestly, I see it more as one link in a chain that goes back to the first iPhone.

  2. Andrew says:

    The Mac and now the iPhone have definitely seen a progression, and it is a joy to look back.

    I switched from Mac to Windows in 1998 when Apple refused to sell me a laptop with an active matrix screen for under $2000 (remember how nasty passive matrix was?). I bought a machine running Windows 98, immediately ditched it for Windows NT4, and immediately ditched that on the release of Windows 2000. Win2K kept me happy for quite a while, but XP was a step down, as was Vista. 7 is back where 2K was, a solid release, but even Win2K never had any soul, it just worked well.

    Apple has always managed to design products with soul. My original PowerBook 145B had it, my 12″ PowerBooks had it, and my MacBook Air has it. I’d argue that the iPhone has it too, though I’m a BlackBerry user, so I can’t really say.

    But in answer to your original question, the answer has to be yes. The original Mac of 1984 looked nothing like the Macs of today, but a Mac is still a Mac. 2015, even 2020, well, those Macs will look nothing like the Macs of today, but somehow I doubt most of us won’t be as crazy about them as we are about our Macs today. Make mine 1 lb, with 20 hour battery life and and a nice stable build of OS XII.4.2.

  3. dfs says:

    If I may repeat something I’ve said before in a similar context, you can divide computer users into two essential categories, content consumers and content providers. I can see devices like the smart phne and the tablet replacing the traditional computer for the former group. But for those of us who are involved in any way, shape or form in creating the content that these people consume, be it audio, graphics, video, Web pages, or anything else you care to name, there isn’t and never will be a substitute for an actual computer. To be sure, the members of this second category constitute a distinct minority. But surely Apple and all other serious computer manufacturers grasp the point that it is the availability and quality of content which drives the sale of the computers or whatever other devices they want to sell to the general public, and this requires the continued availability of gear for content-creators. So, no matter how good and how sophisticated other devices may become, I don’t think it’s time to write the obituary of the traditional computer.

  4. DaveD says:

    Apple is a mover-and-shaker company. What they do or have done successfully cannot be considered as lucky. Their products may not be the fastest or the most powerful, it is what happens between an Apple product and a user. For new user it is realization of the product being so easy to use, and for existing user it is that same expectation.

    I was reading a November 2008 article written by Dan Knight at Low End Mac. It is titled “A Brief History of Portable Computing: From Dynabook to Netbooks.” What raised my interest was this Dynabook. In 1968, Alan Kay envisioned a “computer thing” that was 9″ X 12″ X 3/4″ with user input from a built-in keyboard and a stylus. The iPad is about 7 1/2″ X 9 1/2″ X 1/2″ sans physical keyboard and is touch-based.

    After 42 years, we will soon have a new Apple device in our hands. While dimensionally similar to the Dynabook concepts, the iPad works differently. Conforming to the Apple way, the ease-of-use.

  5. Louis Wheeler says:

    Apple is always going to push the Mac into new forms.

    I saw an Apple patent for a wearable computer a few days ago. I could see a market for it. A one inch screen an inch away from the eyeball gives the equivalent of a 26 inch screen at 24 inches.

    This gives the possibility of real 3D as well. The hardware is getting good enough for an Apple quality user experience. The computer gloves are coming along, too. But, many details need to get done right, first.

  6. James Katt says:

    What you forget is Steve Jobs’ and Apple’s vision of the “Digital Lifestyle”.

    Apple has been succeeding in its vision of the Digital Lifestyle over the past decade. It is this vision which has shaped its products.

    The Mac IS THE HUB of the digital lifestyle.

    The iPhone, iPod, iPod Touch, and iPad are satellites to the hub of the digital lifestyle.

    The iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad are wildly successful and highly marketed by Apple. They are also talked about virulently by Apple’s fans and detractors – so much so that even the internet grounded to a halt when everyone talked about the iPad.

    But what people forget is that the satellites of the digital hub always support the hub itself. The satellites support purchases of the hub – which is indispensable to the satellites.

    This is why Macs are selling in HUGE numbers – more so than in the past.

    The hub IS SUPPOSE TO BE COMPLEX. It is the personal computer incarnate in the Mac. The satellites delight because of their simplicity compared to the humb.

    But both hub and satellites support each other in Apple’s ecosystem.

    Another thing that people forget: The Get A Mac ad campaign has been one of the most successful campaigns in history.

    And other thing: Apple always under-promises and over-delivers. This is one primary reason people forget about the Mac. But the Mac is the primary reason for Apple’s existence. The iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad are simpler derivatives of the Mac. They have the same operating system underneath though have GUIs specially crafted for their purpose.

    For general computing, personal computing, creation and artistry, there will always be the Mac. Realize that everything else is about consumption of the media created on a Mac.

    There will always be a Mac. Period.

    End of story.

  7. Bill Burkholder says:

    There will always be a “Mac,” if, by that, we mean a powerful computer capable of content creation on a grand scale. But the form of it may take on surprising shapes. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see a Mac with a form factor similar to the iPad, with a touch screen interface evolved to be a front end to the full-blown OS X (or XII.4.2, as one blogger put it, here). I don’t see any reason that wouldn’t be an awesome product!

    With the right outboard devices, and the right outboard *device interface*, such a computer can easily be imagined to replace a fully-loaded Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, iMac, or whatever.

    Certainly, I can see such a device replacing the MacBook and the MacBook Air first. As processing power, memory, battery technology, wireless technology, SSD technology, screen technology, and circuit integration evolve, we should see a gradual shift from notebook/laptop/netbook form factors to more of a slate or iPad like form factor.

    Nothing is forever. But if one of my kids powered up the Mac SE I used in the 1980’s, he would instantly know what to do with it. He’d laugh at the limited resources available, perhaps, but it would probably make more sense than my 1922 Remington portable typewriter. And if I could time travel to 2015 or 2020, I’m sure I’d recognize whatever Mac-like devices are around then, too. Something tells me it wouldn’t take too long to learn to use them, either. It took me just a few days to master my iPhone.

    The point, of course, is that there is a sort of DNA to these things, and it maintains a thread of consistency and continuity from the beginning to the present and beyond.

    May it be ever thus.

  8. Attention Apple Customers: Do You Feel Shackled? — Think Geek Australia says:

    […] Will the 2015 Mac be a Mac? […]

  9. Thib says:

    Indeed, a lot of Windows proponents point to the expandability of Windows PCs for being a great advantage over most Macs. Indeed, most Windows PCs are more expandable than Macs. But let’s not forget this: most people DON’T make use of the expandability of their PCs and instead, what they buy is what they end up using. It is mostly the geeks and hobbyists who are interested in tinkering around with their PCs. Most people, myself included, want their computers to do stuff and are not interested in doing stuff to their computer.

    So, the argument that Windows proponents make that Windows PC is more expandable and therefore is a great advantage is really a moot point. Most people buy computers to do stuff with, not the other way around.

    What’s interesting to me is how often these debates about Mac vs. Windows come from a geek/hobbyist perspective but that that particular discourse itself carries into the realm of the general public whereby it carries some weight for the public even though that particular discourse does not logically make any sense for the public. I have already pointed out such a case where geeks and hobbyists tout the expandability of PC computers as a great advantage over the Mac and much of the public bought (or did buy) such an argument even though whether a computer was expandable or not was really not a practical concern of theirs. Now, isn’t that curious?

    Tech pundits often come to make analysis of computer technology through the eyes of geeks and hobbyists rather than the general public. So, what we end up having are irrelevant arguments for the general populace. Sure, if the audience for the tech pundits were geeks/hobbyists than surely some of their arguments are quite valid. But, the tech pundits make analysis through eyes of geeks but are speaking to an audience of the general public. It doesn’t compute, but unfortunately for those of us in the know, it still carries weight for the general public.

  10. dfs says:

    There’s a fair amount of truth in what you write, and yes, the opinions of geeks and hobbyists (and let’s not forget gamers) probably do carry too much weight with the general public. But in comparing the Mac and the PC it’s very relevant to ask questions such as these: a.) which platform gives you access to the most software of the sort you might ever want to use? b.) which platform gives you more bang for your buck, especially if you have a limited budget? c.) which platform is easier to set up, manage, and repair, especially within the context of large organizations where they will be managed by IM staff? d.) which platform gives you greater security and is less troubled by viruses, malware, etc. etc.? e.) which platform offers a more pleasant computing experience? I. m. h. o., the answer is not entirely clear-cut: the PC comes out ahead on a and b., the Mac on c and d. e is of course a matter of individual taste, but I myself strongly favor the Mac on this score. Oddly, you would think that those who give most weight to c and d would be IM managers within corporations and other large organizations, and it’s a bit of a surprise that they don’t. This is probably due to 1) Apple doesn’t offer particularly good Enterprise support and 2) these guys have been trained on the PC, prefer to operate within their comfort zone, and regard the Mac as a regrettable nuisance.

  11. matt_s says:

    “…future generations will not just restore alleged missing features, such as a Web cam, but may take more cues from traditional computers.”

    -> Such as a method to get digital data in and out of the iPad? It really should have a mini-USB port & mount like a volume, and some sort of accessible, modifiable file system.

    I bought an iPad for my wife and she just loves it. She hates computers. She uses it as a reader, surfs the web once in awhile, does some limited email. It’s actually quite well suited to her needs. She has purchased only one app: a weather app because for some strange reason, Apple doesn’t include one. But it’s really a wonderful instrument for people who hate computers. And there’s a whole lot of those folks!

    On vacation in Hawaii while we were shopping with friends, she wanted to get photos I had sent to her out of her iPad & printed at a kiosk in a local shop. Pulling the iPad out of her purse, she fumbled with a number of different cables, SD cards, USB thumb drives, etc. Couldn’t be done. It was the first time I saw her disappointed with the tablet.

    If Microsoft ever launched a decent version of Word & Excel for the iPad, it might be one of their best selling products ever. That’s when business use would really explode. Coupled with a simpler & seamless way to move things in and out of the device, it would be so much more useful. Then we could really start talking about replacing laptops. Spreadsheets, documents, email and storing, organizing and retrieving data are what business users require.

    It’s a very limited machine in it’s infancy… but for people who don’t have much work to do, or dislike computers, it can be perfect for goofing around. It just needs greater accessibility, IMHO.

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