The End of the Mac?

October 15th, 2013

According to a published report, Mac sales are not just down, but dropping somewhat faster than the PC market as a whole. Now this is something that hasn’t happened in a while, so could it be an area of concern? Well, maybe, but it does call for a reality check.

First and foremost, the published reports are based on estimates, samplings, and they do not reflect the actual sales reported by Apple. You won’t know that until the 28th of the month. The numbers also focus on U.S. sales, and an ever larger portion of Apple’s sales are overseas.

The long and short of it is that Mac sales will likely be flat or somewhat lower, but the picture is not complete. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some reasoned speculation about what’s going on, and what Apple might do to reverse the trend.

Or can they reverse the trend?

Overall, PC sales aren’t looking too great. The clear failure of Windows 8 to generate much interest has only moved the trend along. We are clearly in the twilight of the PC era, where more and more personal computing functions are being taken over by smartphones and tablets. Indeed, I suspect more and more people would consider a tablet rather than a Mac or PC for their next purchase. I know of several people who are clearly weighing the pros and the cons, and the answers aren’t certain.

My son is one example. He’s been a Mac user since his early childhood. Today he’s 27, and his 2008 black MacBook is on its last legs. He’s hoping to keep it running until he gets his graduate degree, at which time he’ll seriously consider replacing it with an iPad.

So far as Apple is concerned, a sale is a sale. More to the point, an iPad is less apt to be shared in a family than a Mac, so one sale might become two or more.

But Apple would clearly want to improve Mac sales as much as possible. Sales are still far higher than just a few years ago, and the PC isn’t dead by a long shot. There are still many tasks that are better done in the traditional form factor. So it’s very likely Apple might want to make some moves to keep Macs in demand.

Certainly, the company hasn’t given up on Mac workstations. There will be an all-new Mac Pro very soon now. Some might object to the unique design that abandons the concept of internal expansion, though I can see the logic behind Apple’s approach. Allowing for wide external expansion possibilities may give professional users more flexibility. And having a smaller, lighter computer to take with you is an undeniable advantage, particularly if raw performance far exceeds current models.

It is clear that the Mac Pro won’t sell in the same quantities as an iMac, or any other model in the lineup. But Apple is indicating to high-end users that they are not going to be ignored.

As to the iMac, there’s a published report about a cheaper low-end model in light of rumors that sales aren’t meeting expectations. It’s also true that the entry-level iMacs became more expensive starting with the 2012 model. Sure, the cheapest iMac is priced the same as the original Bondi blue model released in 1998, but these days average computer prices are far less.

Yes, the MacBook Air continues to outsell all or most equivalent PC Ultrabooks. One reason is that the latter isn’t always price competitive. Microsoft is pushing PC vendors to add touchscreens, a costly option that simply hasn’t caught on with customers. Indeed, the value of a convertible or hybrid note-book has yet to be demonstrated. Apple clearly doesn’t accept the concept, at least for now, and continues to believe that a personal computer and a tablet are separate products, with separate operating systems.

There is a published report claiming that Apple is working on a large iPad, perhaps 12.9 or 13 inches. Well maybe, although I hardly see it as a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro replacement. If such an animal is produced, the audience would be far smaller than a regular iPad, and quite distant from the best-seller in the lineup, the iPad mini. Business users might embrace them, and I can see the value for graphic artists, musicians and video editors, not to mention scientists and engineers. But it doesn’t seem to make sense as a potential Mac replacement, and Apple is most likely not going to consider a product that serves both needs, unless they can develop a form factor that actually makes such a product convenient to use.

So consider the MacPad, something that can run both iOS and OS X, assuming Apple can make an A-series processor compatible with the latter, perhaps in some sort of virtual machine layout that’s chip based to minimize performance loss. It would, on the surface, be an iPad, but an easily attached keyboard would make it a very thin and light MacBook alternative that could run all or most of your OS X apps.

But I’m not a product designer. My rough concept of a potential convergence product may never come to be, but it’s nonetheless intriguing. As always, feel free to disagree.

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10 Responses to “The End of the Mac?”

  1. Articles you should read (Oct. 15) …. says:

    […] “The End of the Mac?: According to a published report, Mac sales are not just down, but dropping somewhat faster than the PC market as a whole. Now this is something that hasn’t happened in a while, so could it be an area of concern? Well, maybe, but it does call for a reality check.” — “The Tech Night Owl” […]

  2. DaveD says:

    What we are seeing is Steve Jobs’ vision of a post-PC world that is coming to fruition.

    I believe that the majority of PC users are not into content creation while on the Mac side, it is the opposite. So, there would be more flights to tablets and smartphones from the PC side. I would think that Apple is looking for those PC content creators sitting on the fence contemplating their next upgrade.

    As with the iPod sales, it is not unthinkable that the Mac sales will follow the same path. The iPad is a computing environment when one doesn’t have to worry about document organization, complex troubleshooting techniques, or go through a lengthy training session. It is about a more worry-free, enjoyable experience.

  3. Ponter says:

    I think you’re right about the premature death knell for the Mac. Still, try this out as a thought experiment.

    One of Apple’s goals is to bring all of its customers into the walled garden of the various stores. For practical reasons, Apple can’t do that with the Mac, not really, not completely. But the rumoured 13″ iPad, with it’s attachable Apple-made keyboard, *will* accomplish that. After all, it an iPad! *This* is how Apple will, eventually, get the bulk of its laptop users into the walled garden, and during this transition the MacBook will be phased out.

    But what about the iMac and the Mac Pro? Well, the Mac Pro will continue to be produced for as long as it’s required for Apple’s pro apps, for designing apps for its mobile products, etc. Once an iPhone/iPad app can be coded on an iPad, then who knows.

    As for the iMac, that will become history as Apple creates a docking station for the iPad (and possibly even the iPhone, when that gets powerful enough), into which you can plug a fancy Apple (or other) monitor. The detachable keyboard is already run via Bluetooth, and adding an Apple Bluetooth trackpad is a no-brainer. This is the Ubuntu Edge concept, which Apple has undoubtedly been working toward for years and which they will do better than Canonical ever could

    (This is also why OS X won’t become OS XI: that would send a signal that OS X is still in serious development. That is why the version of OS X after Mavericks is OS X 10.10 — and being refitted to look much like iOS 7 — and the one after that will be OS X 10.11, until such time as it’s basically all iOS.)

    So there you go: Apple’s near- to long-term strategy. Might be completely wrong — probably is. But it’s not completely illogical given Apple’s direction in the last few years. As you point out, the number of content creators is vanishingly small compared to the content consumers. And the consumers are well-enough served by tablets. And as you also point out, Apple would sell fewer of the “MacPads” than regular iPads — except the “MacPad” is not in competition with regular iPads. It’s functions are a) to transition current Mac users to iPads, and b) steal even more customers from the Wintel camp. I can see the “MacPad” eventually far outselling current Macs.

    • @Ponter, Thanks for the intriguing speculation about Apple’s end game. But it’s not at all certain that OS 10.10 must be more iOS-like in terms of the user interface. I think traditional Mac users might be freaked with the thin lettering and the minimalist buttons. But I never try to prejudge Apple.


  4. Viswakarma says:

    The Mac has many Avatars!!!

    It is a desktop (iMac), a Workstation (Mac Pro), a server (Mac Mini Server), a small business computer (Mac Mini), a BYODKM (Mac Mini), a Kiosk (Mac Mini) etc.

    Which Mac are these people talking about?

  5. Gray Eagle says:

    IMO, Jobs was correct into abandoning the unique and closed OS in the earlier line and switching to a Unix-based OS. (Yeah, I can still change my shell if I want to). The Unix-based OS is what makes the various Macs appealing. Unfortunately, the iOS variants used in the iPhone and iPad are back to the closed system concept., and the iOS7 GUI is a parody of the touchy-feely screen on my Great Granddaughter’s tablet.

    • @Gray Eagle, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the iPhone and the iPad work best as appliances, rather than infinitely configurable PCs. That’s the iOS versus Android argument, of course, but I tried both and prefer the former.


  6. Gray Eagle says:

    Gene, My home/work phone is an iPhone5, and I also use an iPad4, both with iOS6. I’m putting off upgrading to iOS7 as long as possible. The 27″ iMac is my primary, with 10.8.5.

  7. Ted Schroeder says:

    I thought this article captured my feeling about the overall transition to post-PC world:

    I think that there’s a younger generation comin’ up for whom payin’ for a special app to view a certain document is just something that many of them WIll Not Do.

  8. Joe S says:

    Apple thinks very strategically with the obvious goal of minimizing dependencies on external companies. All apps (iTunes) and applications (App Store) are developed on Macs. Apple owns the development tools (Xcode). This becomes even more important if Apple wants to dump Intel and go with some, perhaps future, ARM architecture.

    Intel made a huge mistake when they sold Freescale. Just as HP did spinning of Agilent.

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