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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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