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  • Returning to the Mac

    October 13th, 2011

    If you’ve read the blogs, online news sites, or even your daily paper, you might believe that Apple builds nothing but iPhones and iPads. The media wonders whether the iPhone 4s, with the same exterior as the iPhone 4, will succeed despite being a minor upgrade, even though the nature of the upgrade is quite substantial in the scheme of things when you crack open the case and check inside.

    But the real story is what’s happening to the Mac while all this is playing out.

    In last week’s media event, Apple CEO Tim Cook reminded us that some six million copies of Lion have been downloaded since late July, approximately 10% of the current Mac user base. He did not mention just how many new Macs were sold with Lion preloaded. But even if you take the conservative approach and assume the number is between two and three million, allowing for an unknown number of older stocks of Macs still available as of Lion’s shipping date, it’s a pretty good number.

    More to the point, although there have been pointed criticisms about the iOS-inspired eye candy, Lion seems to be a pretty stable release. After all, all Mac OS X upgrades have been released amid complaints. The new OS isn’t as good as the old one, they say, because of performance issues or persistent defects. It takes several maintenance updates for things to settle down, and, for some, it never settles down. A modest percentage of Mac users will stick with the older operating system, not just because of application or hardware issues, but simply because they have something that, for them, works, and there’s no reason to undergo the perceived agony of an OS upgrade.

    Certainly, there are significant reasons not to upgrade to Lion, even if your Mac is suitable, and that means pretty much every model from late 2006 on, with a minimum of 2GB RAM. First and foremost is that nothing is broken about Leopard or Snow Leopard, so why upgrade? Further, if infusing elements of the iOS into Lion isn’t your cup of tea, that’s another argument against acquiring 10.7, although some of those features, such as scrolling in the opposite direction and hiding the scroll bars, are easily altered in System Preferences. But the biggest impediment of all that you need to use apps that never made it to the Intel transition that began in 2006. They require PowerPC support, and Lion no longer supports the Rosetta translation utility, making that impossible. So either upgrade the app, or find a replacement if there’s no upgrade. Or, of course, stay clear of Lion.

    In Lion’s favor are loads of new features, including a better Finder experience, with extra display options, such as when a file was Last Opened or Added, which increases the flexibility in sorting your stuff your way. I like the improvements in Mail, where the ability to display a short preview of the text makes it easier to know which messages are important to you before you actually open them. Of course, this is something you could do already on an iPad, so that’s one iOS-inspired advantage that makes sense.

    If you want to move your stuff to iCloud, you’ve no choice. You have to upgrade to 10.7.2, released Wednesday, along with installing the iOS 5 upgrade on your Apple mobile devices. The two updates are pretty simple, and Apple does warn you, before migrating to iCloud, what you lose when it comes to syncing your data. But there’s no going back, inasmuch as MobileMe is on the way out.

    As to the Mac itself, clearly sales are showing no sign of slowing. A new survey from market research firm Gartner indicates that Apple sold some 2.3 million Macs in the U.S. alone during the June through September quarter, a record. Apple’s share of the U.S. market rose from 10.8% to 12.9%, which puts the company in a solid third position behind HP and Dell. And, of course, you have no doubt heard that HP still can’t figure out a workable strategy to make a decent profit from their PC division.

    Bear in mind that the Mac’s growth curve remains pretty consistent even though Apple really hasn’t burned the airwaves with ads about their personal computing division. Those cute little Mac Versus PC TV spots are history, gone, forgotten. New Macs are most often introduced with a press release and an occasional media interview opportunity. The first announcements about Lion earned a special event, but a refreshed Mac seldom earns that level of promotion. The Macs just sell, and sell some more.

    So you wonder about all the Lion critics. Did they just ignore the upgrade, or put off buying new Macs? Bear in mind that you cannot downgrade a Mac requires Lion with an older OS, although models that were introduced before Lion’s rollout can probably be reimaged with Snow Leopard.

    As I’ve said before, my personal encounters with Lion have been highly favorable, particularly after switching off some of the iOS-inspired stuff. I don’t use Launchpad, although I do invoke Mission Control from time to time to create a new virtual desktop to smooth my workflow.

    Some day, PC sales will really begin to decline as mobile alternatives take hold in greater numbers. The Mac’s decline is no doubt inevitable as well, although it’ll take a few years before you see that trend. Sure, some tasks are still done best on a full-scale personl computer, but other tasks are performed quite efficiently on an iPhone and an iPad.



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    9 Responses to “Returning to the Mac”

    1. Richard says:

      Gene,

      One has to wonder about the “decline” of the PC for several reasons. For example, Apple’s revenue from Macs is supposedly somewhere around 25% of all revenue, but what is the actual year to year revenue from Macs? I would ask the same question about HP, Dell and Lenovo, among others. I have little doubt that the current economic climate has affected everyone’s sales to one extent or another, but how many people are actually abandoning conventional computers? Are the smart phones, MacBook Airs (and upcoming “Ultra” laptops) and tablets really replace them or are they additional devices? One also has to ask the question just what constitutes a computer. Any number of observers have rightly, I think, said that an iPhone, for example, is a computer in your hand. Useful though it may be, it certainly is not a replacement for a fully featured computer, be it a laptop or desktop, in my view. People love their iPads, but find they have severe limitations. Photographers, for example, have extolled the virtues of the new MacBook Air as being capable of usefully running Lightroom and Photoshop in the field and being smaller and lighter to haul around than the regular MacBooks (or other laptops for that matter). It is still a computer and is normally used in conjunction with, not as a replacement for, a desktop at their home/office.

      Still, Apple has become “the iPhone company” in many ways. Any company would be foolish to neglect their cash cow. Apple learned, if somewhat slowly, that it needed to offer iPhones that would work on any of the cell provider’s networks just as they learned that Windows users’ money was just as good as Mac users’ money when they bought iPhones.

      I would be careful before joining the chorus declaring this to be the post PC era or proclaiming the death of the PC.

    2. Initially I had no problems with Lion on my four systems, but I soon discovered that my rarely used MacBook Pro would not drag-and-drop within the HD or on the desktop. Apple could provide no answer to the glitch and I finally resolved it with a work-around.

      I am not fond of losing ‘Save As’ and find that the new Apple way adds unneeded complexity to document management (I’m a writer).

      I do like AirDrop and using iCloud to keep my address book and calendar synced is really cool.

      Yes, I had a few issues with the first iteration of Snow Leopard, and even more with Leopard. I used to scream at System 7, too, and System 6 before it. Nature of the beast.

    3. David says:

      Something I find interesting is that two seemingly opposite trends exist. On the one hand people are adding ultra portable notebooks and smartphones to their lives and using them for tasks previously performed on larger desktop computers. On the other hand desktop screen sizes continue to increase. My first Mac had a 640×480 B&W display that seemed big enough to handle most of the things I did. Once I got into the working world juggling multiple applications it became obvious that 640×480 wasn’t enough. At work today I have a 1920×1200 MacBook Pro connected to a 1920×1080 external display, have apps scattered across 4 Spaces and sometimes it still feels like not enough screen space.

      Some of my co-workers are using the new MacBook Air. They love the portability and it makes me wish my MPB wasn’t so heavy, but I can’t understand how they can get anything done on such a tiny screen.

      • Andrew says:

        @David,
        I have a 1680X1050 MacBook Pro (15″ anti-glare) and an 11″ MacBook Air 1366X768. The Pro tends to just stay at home and is rarely used, while the Air is my constant companion.

        When I do sit down and use the MacBook Pro I am always amazed at how huge and gorgeous the screen is, and how efficient it is working with so much real estate. Yet I still always grab the Air, and rarely even bother with an external monitor.

        For me, portability is far more important. In fact, my first 11″ Air was stolen and I bought a 13″ Air to replace it. I sold it after less than two months and got another 11″. I find the 11″ Air to be, simply, THE most useful computer form-factor ever.

    4. DaveD says:

      I believe that a majority of computer users are using PCs for web browsing, e-mailing, social networking, and gaming. I would like to have them switch over to the iPad when their PC croaked. The iPhone, iPod touch, and the iPad are good computing devices in smaller form for basic uses. If would be great to see the world’s energy consumption leveling off or, even better, decreasing. For those who are content creators, a Mac is looking better as a long-term replacement for a PC.

    5. Frank says:

      I have both Snow Leopard and Lion on separate partitions on my 2011 MBP. If I wasn’t having problems with Snow Leopard suddenly slowing down for some reason that I can’t figure out, I wouldn’t use Lion much at all. There’s nothing wrong with it, but there are a few programs that I use occasionally, and don’t want to pay to upgrade to something Lion compatible.

      The thing I notice most is that Lion runs a lot hotter than Snow Leopard and Mail in Lion uses a surprising amount of CPU power — far more than in Snow Leopard.

      With Snow Leopard, once I got the kinks out (it blue-screened my computer at first) I was never tempted to go back to Leopard. I don’t see the same advantages in Lion.

      • @Frank, In my case, it seemed as if CPU usage was higher with 10.7, but with 10.7.1 and now 10.7.2, it’s settled down nicely. But I no longer have a Snow Leopard installations with which to compare it. I use the iStat Pro widget to monitor those things.

        Peace,
        Gene

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