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Revisiting the Lack of New Macs

With so much time elapsing since the last appearance of an influx of new Macs, questions have arisen about Apple’s commitment to the platform. It’s made worse by published reports of an up to 13% dip on Mac sales in the September quarter. Compare that to the report that some PC makers actually reported slight increases for the same period.

True, such numbers are estimates, and only Apple’s actual financials, to be revealed later this month, can be taken as accurate. Indeed, it’s possible the sales downturn won’t be quite as bad.

Still why is Apple apparently losing pace against an already declining PC industry? Is there something wrong in Apple’s marketing of new Macs? Is it about the fact that Macs, even though usually better equipped, are still in the mid- or high-priced segments of the market? Should Apple be selling cheaper Macs, or is it all about the lack of recent updates?

Now I grant that a lot of my readers pay attention when new Macs arrive from Apple. They receive regular coverage across the world, even when the news is announced via a press release rather than a media event of some sort. But I also suspect most people who want to buy a new computer don’t wait for the new model to arrive, unless it appears imminent. Otherwise sales would be stacked in a short period across the year, and that’s not what is happening.

Still, there are question marks about how much Apple is willing to invest in the Mac platform. Other than the MacBook, which was refreshed earlier this year, there have only been rumors about one model, amounting to a major MacBook Pro revision. Supposedly it’ll be thinner and lighter, sporting a context-sensitive OLED strip that replaces the function keys. I’m not at all sure why you need it, but it’ll be different. There could, I suppose, be a Touch ID button, since it’s about time Apple added a fingerprint sensor to Macs. This is a feature already available on PCs.

Obviously, the Intel processor and graphics will be faster. A lot faster? Probably not, since improvements in Intel hardware have been mostly incremental in recent years. Indeed, the argument for buying a new Mac has been less compelling, unless it’s a real old Mac, and you can no longer run the current operating system. Besides, wouldn’t a Retina display be nice?

There is that recent email reportedly from Tim Cook, not officially confirmed, in which new Macs were promised. For the sake of argument, I’ll accept that the message as real, since Apple hasn’t denied it. And it does make sense that new Macs would arrive this month.

Also don’t forget that Apple just released a macOS upgrade, Sierra, with the new branding, and it would hardly make sense to want to discontinue or fade out the platform and still make an investment to offer Siri to Mac users. There is clearly a long-range plan at work here and, besides, tens of millions of people still depend on their Macs for their work. Both iOS and macOS developers still require Macs to create software.

But even if the MacBook Pro receives a major refresh, what about the rest of the lineup? The MacBook Air also hasn’t been touched in a while, and what about a Retina display? Would that even be possible at a starting price of $899? I suspect it might be, since Apple has expanded 5K displays to all 27-inch iMacs without charging more. Even if there’s a slight price increase, the improved display might make sense, but I still harbor a feeling that Apple could offer it for the same price as last year’s model.

There might even be a new iMac with minor revisions.

But what about the stuff that has grown stale? The Mac mini hasn’t been touched since 2014, and it was hardly an improvement. Apple offered a new model without the option of four-core processors — popular for server use — or even the ability to upgrade RAM. Was that worth a $100 price cut? But it should be easy to refresh this model with the latest Intel hardware without a great R&D investment.

That leaves the Mac Pro. Apple made a huge deal of the new design in 2013, and just managed to ship some before 2014 arrived. But nothing has changed since then. Some tech pundits suggest that since Apple is using older parts, they should be charging less. But how much would it cost to put in newer Xeon processors and graphics? Would that be so big a deal?

Besides, is the current form factor, with limited internal expansion options, the best platform for high-end users? While the cylindrical shape is attractive, once it’s surrounded with a bunch of peripherals, along with various and sundry cables, it becomes a huge mess. Maybe Apple is considering some intermediate model, which restores the ability to add extra internal drives, more RAM, a second processor, and perhaps an expansion card or two. It shouldn’t require a 40-pound behemoth!

But, no, I don’t expect the Mac Pro form factor to change.

Or maybe Apple will look at the potential, and sales can’t be high, and put the Mac Pro out of its misery. A lot of former Mac Pro users went to the iMac anyway, and I suppose there could always be an iMac Pro, thicker, with more internal expansion options, to pick up some more former Mac Pro customers. But don’t hold out hope for such a thing. It’s just an offhand thought of mine.

I don’t really believe Apple wants to give up on Macs. But I would hope whatever is announced — and it should come later this month — will at least be reassuring.