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  • Is the End of the Mac Drought Near?

    October 19th, 2016

    There are certain media outlets that are well-connected when it comes to Apple. So when Re/code reported that Apple plans to hold a media event on Thursday, October 27th, presumably to launch new Macs, you can probably take it to the bank. Indeed, that’s as late as it can get to announce Mac upgrades and have them ship before the end of the month or early in November. This explains why the date for the release of Apple’s September quarter financials was moved to October 25th.

    In any case, the official invitations went out to selected media outlets on Wednesday. Is the announcement, bearing the phrase, “hello again,” a reminder that Apple hasn’t given up Macs? Clearly it’s a smaller event, since it’ll occur at the Apple Campus.

    Of course, the recent report that Mac sales were down approximately 13% in the last quarter is not confirmed by Apple. It is an estimate, and such numbers may be off. Regardless, I suppose the perception that Apple was giving up on Macs, or reducing emphasis on them, might impact some sales. But I still suspect the larger portion of people who buy Macs aren’t watching every little online rumor to see when new models will be out. But such speculation has to account for something, so no doubt some people are on the fence waiting for the news before diving in.

    Now the key rumor is strictly about the MacBook Pro, which hasn’t been updated since early 2015. It is expected to include Intel Skylake processors, but it’s not the latest. There’s also a 7th generation Kaby Lake family, which was announced in August. But it’s no doubt not ready in sufficient quantities for Apple’s needs, which explains why Apple probably won’t use them until 2017.

    Regardless, typical of how Intel has advanced on processor upgrades in recent years, Skylake is a little faster and a little more power efficient than its predecessor, Broadwell. So buying a new Mac every year won’t make a lot of sense, except for those reports that the 2016 MacBook Pros will have a few more additions that might convince people to upgrade anyway. So in addition to slightly faster performance, it’ll be lighter and thinner, with longer battery life. Supposedly Apple will settle on USB-C ports with support for Thunderbolt 3.

    So far so good. But is there anything significantly new? Well, returning to the Mac rumor sites, there will supposedly be an OLED touchbar that’ll replace the function keypad. It’ll reportedly be context sensitive, meaning it can change depending on the app you’re using, but that would also require some sort of developer API to add such support. And, finally, Apple will offer a Touch ID-based power button. All I can say is that it’s about time, since fingerprint sensors have long been used on PC notebooks.

    I’m assuming the new models will be priced similar to the old, although I suppose it’s possible Apple will make them slightly cheaper in keeping with recent Mac trends. Prices that are $100-200 less would undoubtedly tempt some PC users that have grown sick and tired of Windows 10, or any version of Windows.

    The rumors also mention a 13-inch MacBook Air revision, but there’s little about the 11-inch model, the one available now for $899. I would be quite surprised to see that model discontinued since it’s a great entry-level alternative for Mac users. Well, unless Apple reduces the price of the 13-inch model to $899, and perhaps adds a Retina display version for $100 more. That might make sense, although having an 11-inch MacBook Air for $799 would be a great idea. It’s sure to help boost Mac market share.

    But that’s still speculation. Most of the chatter is about the MacBook Pro and the larger MacBook Air. So what about the rest of the lineup?

    Consider that the Mac mini hasn’t been touched since 2014. At the time, Apple took $100 off the price, but in other ways downgraded the refreshed model. There was no version with a four-core processor, and the ability to replace RAM was unaccountably removed. How much could that have saved in production costs anyway?

    That, and a minor refresh for the iMac, wouldn’t not be so big a deal, but there is still one model that has been stillborn for quite a while. That’s the Mac Pro.

    Now when Mac Pro updates stalled a few years ago, Apple promised something better, and it came, more or less, with the 2013 model. But was what resembled a circular trash can really an upgrade? If you depended on the old cheese-grater Mac Pro to store extra hard drives and peripheral cards, the answer was no. The new Mac Pro was designed for mostly external expansion. You couldn’t even put a second Xeon processor in there. Was that the price of small and light? All right, it’s assembled in the U.S., a change for Apple, which hasn’t built Macs in this country of years.

    So what’s next for the Mac Pro? A simple refresh, a redesign with more internal expansion, or does it go away? How does Apple serve the professional user who does movie special effects and high-end scientific calculations on a Mac? Are they let loose, forced to switch to a Windows workstation, or does Apple expect them to all buy iMacs?

    Lots of questions, and some or all of them are expected to be answered come October 27th.



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    One Response to “Is the End of the Mac Drought Near?”

    1. DaveD says:

      Perception is everything. With the exception of the iMac and MacBook the rest of Apple’s offerings are old, ancient in tech time. The 15-inch MacBook Pro have the “Haswell” processors and with Intel had difficulties in delivering the “Broadwell” only the 13-inch MacBook Pro got the newer one. Intel basically abandoned “Broadwell” and quickly moved to “Skylake.” I have read months ago that the special kind of four-core “Skylake” mobile processors that Apple appears to want were finally available.

      While I can put the perception problem of the ancient 15-inch MacBook Pro on Intel, maybe including the Mac Pro and mini. But, I believe that Apple should give what the pros/prosumers want, upgradability and expandability after purchase. I can understand giving consumers “soldered memory parts”, the pro’s needs are different. Which leads me into the possible second part of the perception problem of Apple abandoning the pro market.

      Hopefully soon if the rumors are true, Apple will jazz up the Mac market.

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