Is Apple Losing Interest in OS X?

November 10th, 2015

The launch of Mac OS X as a Public Beta in the fall of 2000 signified a sea change for Mac users. Coming four years after the purchase of NeXT, it represented the vindication of that deal, which also meant the return of Steve Jobs to Apple. Here it was, the long-delayed industrial strength replacement for the original Mac OS.

Completing OS X wasn’t quite as easy as it first seemed in 1996. In 1998, Apple demonstrated the initial concept, a server version code-named Rhapsody that was essentially the NeXT OS running on a Mac with modest interface alterations. Crafting a desktop version meant tons of work on the part of developers to migrate to the Cocoa frameworks, and they balked. So Apple went back to the drawing boards to make the migration easier — but it was no cakewalk. Apple crafted something called Carbon that simplified the porting process. The new interface was very much a prettier version of the Mac OS with loads of eye candy, and loads of missing features…

And no functional Apple menu.

Yes, if you recall the original Public Beta, the Apple logo was in the center of the menu bar strictly as window dressing. It didn’t do anything. By the time the official release of OS X appeared in March of 2001, Apple had listened, more or less. They delivered an Apple menu that kind of, sort of, resembled the Mac OS version. During his keynote presentation, Jobs hinted at further changes, but, by and large, they have been extremely minor over the years.

Indeed, despite ongoing refinements in the general user interface, and the addition of a few features or functions derived from iOS, it’s not that OS X has seriously changed on the surface. It may not seem that way when you look at lists exceeding 200 changes or enhancements for many OS X releases, especially recent ones. They mostly improve the OS around the edges, making things work better, or at least different.

Sometimes they take things away.

So with Mail, once upon a time you could change the order of accounts in the app’s preferences. Now you can’t. It has to be done by moving accounts and mailboxes in the sidebar, but at least you can move them. Microsoft’s Outlook 2016 only let’s you do some of that with difficulty. You can change the sort order in Outlook by designating an account as the default, which lists it first, or change the account description in a way that is alphabetized differently.

Removing an account in Mail depends. You can click “minus” under Accounts and it’ll work, unless the account is shared in your iCloud keychain, in which case you have to visit Internet Accounts in System Preferences. But when you go there, you’ll find that you can otherwise change only the Incoming mail server. Outgoing has to be done in Mail.

Are you dizzy yet?

Some features barely get attention at all, not even to mess them up. So the Open/Save dialogs, as I mentioned in this past weekend’s newsletter, are hardly changed over the years. The clever functions of a third-party app, Default Folder X, which provides a host of great features, aren’t even being considered. Even though Apple is notorious for “borrowing” the features of third-party apps, they haven’t paid much attention to doing anything new with Open/Save.

Maybe they are considering offering a deal to St. Clair Software to acquire the app, but it got lost in accounting. I’m kidding. I suspect Apple has looked at the user base and can’t make a case for adding features to match or exceed Default Folder X, or to buy up the rights. Maybe only a few percent of Mac users would care about an Open/Save dialog on steroids, and thus Apple isn’t giving it much attention.

Over the years, there have certainly been lots of under-the-hood improvements meant to enhance performance and stability. OS X El Capitan brings something called “rootless” or System Integrity Protection that limits access to some processes and apps in exchange for greater security. As a consequence, it has caused misery for some software developers since they have to overhaul their apps to work differently to compensate.

Regardless, I do think Macs are getting a fair amount of attention from Apple. Adding Force Touch to several models and the Magic Trackpad 2, and revising the wireless keyboard, reborn as Magic Keyboard, represent deliberate investments. The same is true for the amazing 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display, which is, when you consider the cost of competing third-party monitors, a real bargain. It required devising new manufacturing techniques, and the enhanced color palette of the 2015 version represents a huge improvement over what other PC makers are offering.

Some might suggest the MacBook Air is ready for a Retina display, and I agree. I suspect Apple is probably working on a way to do so without a price increase. Remember that the 5K  iMac now costs no more than the previous versions with regular displays, and I suspect all 21.5-inch iMacs will have a 4K display in a year or two, not just the higher-priced spread, though admittedly more powerful graphics hardware isn’t cheap.

As Mac sales continue to grow, outpacing the PC industry for several years, I am certain Apple has no intention to wind down the platform. But it would be nice to see some enhancements to OS X that range from restoring a few more lost capabilities from the Classic Mac OS to fixing odd interface choices and adding features that are sorely needed.

And, no, I don’t see any immediate plans to merge OS X with iOS, even though they share so much in ways that you can’t see.

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15 Responses to “Is Apple Losing Interest in OS X?”

  1. S. Mulji says:

    “Some might suggest the MacBook Air is ready for a Retina display, and I agree. I suspect Apple is probably working on a way to do so without a price increase.”

    I’m doubtful. I honestly think the rMB is the spiritual successor to the MBA. If anything the 12″ rMB moves down in price and Apple adds a 14″ rMB to the line-up at the $1299 price point. At that point the 11″ or 13″ MBA becomes the “educational” device for awhile before they head to the retirement dust bin.

  2. -hh says:

    Unfortunately, with the systematic abandonment of Apple OS X software products like pieces of the “iLife” suite, it is clear that the previously marginal support for growing OS X has been cut yet again…the loss of Aperture and iPhoto (“photos”? please!) are simply yet another example.

    There is increasingly fewer and fewer actual ecosystem components being supported (let alone cultivated) to hold a ‘creative’ content creator to the Apple OS X platform, let alone to grow it.

    That OS X support has been on a shoestring for a decade is evident in all of the “little” things such as the article mentioned.

    Another example is in MAIL, where sorting fields and being able to hit letters to jump an alphabetical list to “M” has been a stalwart in MS-Outlook for a decade … and did exist on the Mac before OS X … is another example.


  3. Kira says:

    My interest in Apple PCs lies with OS X — period. Apple has already driven me from their hardware offerings due to no expansion capabilities. Luckily the Mac I have now should serve my needs for several years, and maybe Apple will offer an expandable Mac Pro when replacement time comes. If not, I guess it’s hackintosh for me. But if Apple dumbs down OS X to that of iOS, I’ve got no interest at all in Apple, and a decades long love affair will come to close. I’m not losing any sleep over this, but I sure hope Apple does not forget that prosumers like driving trucks and heavy lifting.

  4. James Lee says:

    Great article Gene. A couple of comments:

    One reason that much of the Mac OS has remained constant is that it is incredibly efficient to use. Why is this? Because in the early days Apple had teams of efficiency experts measuring different ways to do thinks and designed to make things like mouse moves more efficient. Apple actually had volunteers use pre-release versions of each OS through OS 9 and measured how long tasks took, then rethought and redesigned to find faster, more efficient ways. All this kind of UI design work ended when Steve returned. Whether it was cost saving, or because Steve thought he knew the best ways I do not know. I know in many situations he did know the best ways.

    I do wonder if it would be good for Apple to bring back thesis teams, at least in a small way, for iOS, and Mac OS. There are things the iOS is good at and things the Mac OS is good at. I wonder if some measurement might help the iOS develop, and maybe even help the next generation of Mac OS as it continues to grow and evolve.

    Finally, on your comment on bringing back old functionality, how about bringing back the applications menu in the upper right corner. It belongs there and could displace the very irritating Today/Notifications status item. I would love to see all running apps in a menu (not shown by an almost invisible dot in the Dock), and hierarchically show each one document in each app. In addition to bringing back efficient top down navigation, it makes a really easy way to scan your running apps and a reminder to quit open and unused ones when things get slow.

  5. roger says:

    …”it’s not that OS X has seriously changed on the surface.”
    I don’t agree. In recent systems OS X has picked up some very bad changes. The UI people seem to have forgotten the concept of discoverability (I’ve yet to find a way to kill the itunes music libray) as well as the usefulness of muscle memory (where the hell did the view source menu go?). The quality the software is falling, e.g. we seem to have picked up some MS Windows habits (“about a minute remaining” for 30 minutes or the always popular 3 minutes remaining followed by 2 hours and 40 minutes, etc). The persistence or re-apperance of bugs suggests extremely strongly the SW Dev group doesn’t know how to maintain configuration across multiple baselines.

    I do agree with your assessment of Finder. It is the worst I’ve ever seen it and I’ve been using it since OS 6 (pre-Multifinder). I open a folder, watch the spinner for 5 minutes or more for the window to be populated; then there are the out-of-blue spinning beachballs that seem perfectly spontaneous; and still, after all the years, why are finder copies so slow?

    My level of frustration caused by the mac has been up and down over the years (way up in the os 7.5 period) but has been consistently increasing since OS X 7.

  6. Nobody Special says:

    I agree, but disagree with -hh.

    Apple has abandoned software, but most of the time it is for the better. I don’t understand Apple’s decision to abandon Aperture, but the Photos app is way better than iPhoto ever was! The workflow is different, but adding a lot of photos to the Photos app doesn’t hamper performance the way that iPhoto did.

    This comes to my point. Sometimes to make things better, you have to redo it. Patching old faulty software is not always a good way to go if the original architecture was faulty and not patchable to operate with modern improvements. The biggest problem I have with Apple deleting old software is that the follow-on software is not mature enough when they release it.

    The one thing that makes Macs such a joy to use is their reliability, this reliability frequently comes from updated modern codebases instead of sticking to old out of date codebases. I only wish Apple would pay a little more attention to quality control so that replacement software is more bug free upon release and not released until the feature parity is much closer to the features available in the old software.

    One piece of old kit software that Apple seriously needs to abandon and redo from the ground up is iTunes! I think they are holding onto the old interfaces and old code due to Windows influence (making the Windows version and the Mac versions comparable.) But iTunes is a heap of mess. I wish they would go back to using an external sync program to sync devices. Then they can special purpose iTunes to media only. Apps are managed in the separate app store. Then they can have a team that only works on properly syncing the info between all of the different sources. Syncing is a mess right now. Perhaps they aren’t putting as much effort into it as syncing is moving to the cloud, but a good syncing app would allow the cloud to be managed also.

    • @Nobody Special, When I use iTunes, I often want to give one of those legendary “NCIS” TV show smacks in the noggin to the programming team. It needs work. Plenty of work, and I realize the Windows connection is part of it. But that’s no excuse for a company with Apple’s resources.


  7. Nobody Special says:

    Oh and one more thing that Apple needs to change in the way their software operates – they should take away the mysterious iTunes and iPhoto/Photos libraries. Mac OS X already has “Photos” and “Music” and “Movies” etc. folders in the user accounts home folder. Any photo placed into the “Photos” folder should automatically be in the Photos app. Any mp3 or aac file placed into the “Music” folder should automatically be in the iTunes app. These propriatary libraries add unnecessary confusion and complication.

  8. Peter says:

    Since I can’t develop iOS software with iOS, I would say OS X is around for a bit longer.

  9. SunbeamRapier says:

    The decline of OS/X began with the introduction of the iPhone when the OS/X team was raided to get iOS finished. The huge success of iPhone changed Apple’s focus to consumer products, away from the professional OS/X users and the Mac is now the poor brother.

    I have been a Mac user since 2002 and, for many years, ran a “pure” Mac with no major third party software. The trashing of iWork functionality to bring compatibility across Mac, iOS and web versions means, after more than a decade, I was forced to buy MS Office. Do Apple actually use Pages and Numbers internally? I keep trying to use Pages – I like the interface better than Word, but I am always running up against functionality issues: I cannot number topic headings in Pages as you would in a manual (a numbered heading followed be several paragraphs) so off to Word for that facility… I can’t create a style for bulleted or numbered lists so back to Word again. I can’t insert a landscape table in a portrait document, so back to Word… I can’t insert the document path in the footer, and if I cut and paste it the end of the path is truncated because the footer is permanently divided into 3 sections – I can get around this by inserting a text box to contain the path name but, really!

    Numbers is worse. I can’t paginate an annotated bank statement, period. Charts are pathetic – on one occasion I just could not find the menu option to do something. It was located at the bottom of the page and disappeared if the chart was large. Clearly no-one in the development team ever made a large chart! In any case charting is an afterthought and I found it impossible to create a sensible financial chart in Numbers which seems to be designed for a family budget rather than financial analysis.

    I can’t use iCloud for anything other than simple one-off documents: clearly no-one at Apple uses It for big projects where it makes sense to have all the components in one place. A website, for instance, or a proposal with documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos and some desktop publishing – Try to create something a bit sophisticated and your files are spread all over the place in iCloud or are impossible (Indesign older versions) to add to iCloud at all. It’s inconsistent too! Create a PDF version of a pages file and you can store it with the original document, but you can’t move or copy a pdf to the Pages directory in iCloud.

    Office 365 is cheap and you get 1Tb of storage as well. It seems Apple have decided that pro users all use Office so why bother adding back all the features removed after Pages 9…

    Mail is an unmitigated disaster. It is incredibly difficult to configure for mail residing in your own company domain, partly because there are two places to change things (Internet Accounts and Mail Preferences) and neither gives you access to everything you need to configure. Then you have to contend with Apple’s “clever” reinterpretation of everything you enter, presumably to make it “easy” but which, in reality, stuffs up the configuration. User names are truncated when your hosting provides requires a full email address for login, and you have to remember to remove the tick to “automatically check and update settings” or your ports, smtp settings and other settings will be changed and mail will stop working. Sometimes the setup interface gets in a complete middle and smtp options can’t be selected because the window won’t scroll, or the edit smtp list option disappears altogether.

    And it crashes all the time. Every day. Many times a day. It crashes on sending, printing, or randomly.

    If you have an account which is not working you can disable it, but the prompt Ro re-enable only gives you an option to re-enable ALL accounts, which means Mail will spin its wheels trying to access a dead mail account until you can take it offline again.

    Rules processing in Mail is a nice idea if you only have a few accounts. You can’t sort the list. Finding a rule in a long list is very time consuming. And the rules don’t always function – I often have to manually apply rules to an account. In El Capitan at least mail doesn’t hang like it did on a daily basis in Yosemite, but it still can’t sort all the mail in a large inbox if you want to see unread mail first: presumably the sort function is limited by the array size chosen by the developers years ago who never envisaged a really large inbox. So SOME unread messages will be sorted to the front, but if you scroll all the way down you may find a pile of unread mail at the end.

    And Apple have their own, secret, way of handling junk mail which ignores entries in contacts and all the options to turn off junk mail. It’s on, permanently. The most disturbing “feature” is Apple’s silent destruction of mail before it even gets to iCloud. I had to write to Tim Cook not long ago because I could not buy Apple shares from e*trade: Apple didn’t like something about e*trade emails and was deleting them automatically, and silently, before they got to iCloud. They fixed the e*trade issue but not the secret deletion of mail. If you are in business, email has now replaced postal mail for most communications. In law if the sender can show an email was sent it is regarded as being delivered. But it may not be. A legal firm I deal with was hit by a ransom malware and their server was locked up. I wanted to suggest that they replace their windows machines with Macs using iCloud mail. But the e*trade issue scuppered that.

    I have a Mac Pro, so my desk is a shambles of cables and devices. A card reader hangs from a port, it’s cable too short to sit on the desk when plugged in. The on/off button is tiny, and at the back, and rotating the cylinder loosens the cables which then fall out. It can’t go on the floor so I lose half my desk space.

    I now have a third party raid solution and a third party thunderbolt to fibre interface driving an LTO tape drive. Somehow I lost my entire photo library when a disk to disk copy fell over mid-way and I deleted the original. Tape is safe, cheap and easy to transfer offsite. I back up my two Mac portables to time machine for additional security, but restoring from time machine is problematic to say the least. After moving my iMap accounts to a new hosting provider I tried to retrieve my old mailboxes, all backed up on Time Machine. I did recover them but only after an hour with Apple support.

    But if you are thinking that time machine can be used in a business setting, think again. You start a business and rely on time machine to keep a backup. A year down the track when you need to retrieve them you may find they have been deleted if space got tight. You do get a warning, but only after the deletion, and no details of the deleted files are provided. I bought retrospect which is a shitty conversion from a Windows product with a horrible user interface, but it drives my LTO tape drive and, though it’s tricky to restore stuff, it does work. Restoring apps, though, causes other problems. I found my Apple iWork apps were not updating via the AppStore. Investigation showed the AppStore got confused by my online disk copy sitting on my raid array and was updating the backups and not the apps in the apps library on the hard disk.

    Keynote is nice but fatal flaws can lead to disaster: a big presentation to a major client, using their AV system, meant that the soundtrack of a short movie was terribly distorted: the Mac volume controls are disabled for HDMI, because Apple don’t support the standard which would allow Mac control of the volume. I could have used their PC by converting the presentation to PowerPoint and copying it to a USB stick but I worried that a Mac formatted USB might not be readable on their old Windows machine. By the time I realised my mistake in using the Mac it was too late. Neither I nor Apple looked good as a result.

    No-one seems to be developing for Mac. Try and find a decent options trading platform for OS/X. Many of the apps in the AppStore come from one-man-bands and have either been forgotten or are so unfunctional they are unusable. Many are conversions from Windows so the user interface is clumsy and Mac support is thin on the ground.

    Can you run a business on the Mac platform today? Maybe. But expect problems, and don’t expect any sensible response from Apple if you encounter them.

    Many years ago, at Wang Labs, bugs and feature requests were published in a monthly booklet distributed internally AND TO CUSTOMERS. Reporting a bug got you an acknowledgement and you could find out when, or if, it was going to be addressed. In contrast Apple offer only the black hole of “feedback”. My umpteen crashes per day (yes, even on El Capitan) mean I have submitted hundreds of crash reports by now. I get quite snarky now: “ho hum, another hour, another crash…” Or “Hey, what happened to ‘it just works’? Does anyone read this stuff anyway?

    Apple screws you up in other ways. Photos are a pain if you use images in your workflow. You can’t drag and drop photos to many applications and must export, find, and copy the images to use them. Hardly conducive to productivity… Moving photos and iTunes to an external drive is not easy either. Final Cut Pro X imposes an organisational strategy that works for some, but sends me always to the file structure where I can organise project components in a way that makes sense to me. I never came to terms with the fluid magnetic timeline either and spend much of my time trying to prevent FCP rearranging clips and messing up detached audio. I have lots of manuals and I recently did a refresher course, but i still find the user interface muddled and unintuitive. I put off working on FCP projects and I always find myself cursing for the first hour as I figure out the weird way Apple wants you to do things.

    Perhaps the IBM relationship will bring a professional approach to bugs, feedback and product testing. But until Apple finance is forced to abandon Excel and the software documentation team is forced to write manuals in Pages, and Apple deploys time machine for their own backups, nothing will change.

    Apple is an iPhone company now.

  10. Jack says:

    MacBook Air is ready for a Retina display, and I agree too.

    In fact, it’s done and it’s called the MacBook.

  11. Keyword says:

    SunbeamRapier has a point… well, lots of points and most of them valid. Does Apple, as a company, eat its own dogfood? Do they use Pages for their own docs? Numbers for their own spreadsheets? Looking at the current condition of those programs I’d say not. And that sucks.

    Do the (I think, extremely arrogant) designers of the ashcan Mac Pro themselves ever attach peripherals? If so, how do they handle the nightmarish snakepit of cables, wall warts, power cords, boxes and cages? The idea of building a pro machine with NO ability to house specialized cards, drives, or removable media, smacks more of sadism than genius. I were to build another editing suite, it would NOT be Mac based.

    I will NOT discuss FCPX. Or the demise of the 17″ Mac Pro. Or the loss of express card slots in the MacBook Pro line. Or the death of the Xserve.

    The new Apple seems determined to obscure distinctions between local and cloud storage and services and make it impossible to be sure where your data resides. This is not a benefit to the user, it is an Apple ploy to enhance lock-in. And it makes it very difficult to practice common sense security measures. And its excruciating to rural users with limited bandwidth. And they still suck at cloud services.

    But Google can’t be trusted not to use your info for data mining. And Microsoft is too cozy with the Feds. Neither will accidentally lose data the way Apple will, but they WILL sell it to advertisers and scammers.

    And so it goes.

  12. dfs says:

    I like Gene’s idea that Apple ought to buy Default Folder and incorporate it into the OS. The same idea could be extended to other shareware items. Here are some examples: 1.) when OSX replaced OS9 Apple took away the user’s ability to program fkeys. Besides doing a lot of other nifty things, including adding multiple clipboards, Keyboard Maestro restores this function. 2.) Apple also took away the Launcher, and seems to think it has adequately compensated for its loss with the Dock and Launchpad. Not so. The Dock can only handle a limited number of items, and Launchpad has two problems, it is impossibly clumsy to use and it only can handle apps, not files, folders, web URLs and so forth. In fact, I’ve never really understood what Launchpad is supposed to do for me, I almost never have any need to visit it. Apple could take over some third-party launcher (personally I’d vote for Overflow, but opinions would vary). 3.) Apple has never done a even a halfway decent job of implementing inertial scrolling, it ought to buy out Smart Scroll and incorporate it into the OS. 4.) Apple has never addressed the issue of dimming/brightening multiple monitors. Shades is quirky and crashes too easily, but at least it provides a solution. 5.) The way HyperDock and a couple of other apps allow you to move and resize windows is so nifty that Apple ought to buy this one too. 6.) I like the preference pane AppTrap: when I delete a program it asks me if I’d like also to delete the various helper files associated with that program.

    There are a couple of other features about OSX that drive me nuts and I wish Apple would fix them. 1.) When the Dock is hidden, it has such a “hair trigger” that the merest millisecond brush of the cursor against the screen edge brings it up. The old app. ADock had a feature where the user could specify a certain length of time that the cursor had to touch the edge before bringing up its dock, and Apple ought to have some similar time-lag feature. 2.) I hate it that if I create Window A and take the time to give it the size and shape I want, then close it and create Window B with a different look, then close it and open Window A again it now appears with the look I just gave to Window B. I’d like the ability to size, shape and style a given window and then lock it, so that it persists in opening the way I want it no matter what else I’ve been doing on my Mac.

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