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The Apple “Feeling Left Behind” Report

I do not choose what topics to write about based on anticipated reader reaction. I’m happy that some receive more comments than others, and sometimes I wonder why a few attract very little response. But that doesn’t change my choices.

So when I wrote an article about whether Apple was giving OS X and Macs short shrift, there was a healthy response from readers who weren’t exactly pleased with the directions Apple is taking. One key example is the “trashcan” Mac Pro. It looks great, a magnificent piece of industrial design that might join the Power Mac G4 Cube in a museum, but eschews practicality in far too many ways.

When I read messages about confronting a wiring mess when adding a bunch of external devices to a Mac Pro, such as hard drive assemblies and breakout boxes for PCI cards, I wondered about Apple’s priorities. True, the Mac Pro is easy to transport, if you expect to have it dock with a stationary collection of peripheral devices. The original Mac Pro was heavy, clumsy, and not so easy to take with you from place to place. But it could also be used essentially self-contained because of the internal expansion possibilities. I wonder if Apple might have done better to overlook the eye candy in favor of practicality. I would think that you could build a fancy box with the ability to store four hard drives and three or four expansion cards without having to break your back to carry one with you. That would be a clever design.

These days, I no longer need a Mac Pro. An iMac provides all the power I need for my varied tasks. The new 5K versions are even capable of editing 4K video at native resolution with great performance. A Mac Pro has its uses for a subset of content creators and scientists, but I hope Apple will reconsider its priorities. Then again, maybe customer surveys show that a majority of Mac Pro users prefer the emphasis on external expansion and aren’t as concerned about dealing with a mess of wires. That’s an age-old problem anyway in the PC universe.

And I haven’t considered the fact that you cannot upgrade anything, even RAM, on most Macs these days. The Mac Pro and the 27-inch iMac are the exceptions.

Clearly there are the usual complaints about lost or missing features in OS X. But it’s not as if Apple is forthcoming about developer priorities in dealing with such matters. It’s not that it’s impossible to build a more customizable Apple menu, perhaps listing your favorite apps directly rather than in a submenu of recent apps. A handy utility, Classic Menu, attempted to restore the original Mac OS way of doing things, but development was halted as of OS X Lion. Perhaps it became too difficult to update, or it was abandoned due to a lack of interest.

Indeed, maybe that’s the point. The people who clamor for the return of some Classic Mac OS features constitute a tiny minority. Remember that the Mac user base has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, particularly since 2006 when Apple moved to Intel processors. People who haven’t been around Macs for years may not care so much about features they know little or nothing about, and Apple is not the sort of company  that is interested in looking back.

I suppose that puts Apple at loggerheads with old-time Mac users, because of where the platform is going. But it’s also a very different world nowadays, where most people who own something with the Apple label on it are using iPhones. Even the iPad user base, despite dipping sales, is larger, and the arrival of the iPad Pro may boost it if business and content creators find them indispensable.

Now if you think the Mac platform is getting short shrift, consider Windows 10. Microsoft has its own ideas about platform convergence, so they expect one operating system, more or less, to function on a PC, a tablet, and a mobile phone. Consider the argument Apple makes about mixing refrigerators and toaster ovens, and that sort of compromise may entail too many compromises.

Indeed, adoption of Windows 10, despite the fact that it’s free, and may be downloaded behind the scenes even if you didn’t request it on your PC, is slowing. It was pretty quick the first month, but there are loads of Windows 7 users who do not see a compelling reason to upgrade. It’s clear from the adoption rate that customers are resisting the free download.

Now as people buy more and more new PCs with Windows 10 installed, the numbers will invariably climb, although that didn’t quite happen to the expected degree with Windows 8/8.1. Those silly lifestyle TV ads from Microsoft that imply all sorts of things that a PC operating system isn’t meant to deliver won’t help either. But Microsoft has long had problems delivering a compelling marketing message to consumers. Don’t forget the original Surface ads, where dancers were jumping on tables in response to the clicking noise from the kickstand, as if that was a compelling reason to buy one.