Apple in 2016: Is That All There Is?

November 4th, 2016

There’s a perception, and I’ll leave it to the reader to say whether it’s valid, that Apple may have underwhelmed customers for 2016. So let’s look at what happened and see what might have been.

Throughout 2016, at least so far, Apple has been attacked for conveying the impression that they were more or less giving up on the Mac. The relative paucity of upgrades seemed to confirm that belief.

So the first Mac refresh of the year appeared in 2016, and it wasn’t very exciting. The Early 2016 MacBook got enough of a speed bump not to seem so laggy under regular use. It represented the normal range of minor updates, but stuck with a $1,299 price.

But by this time, one might have expected to see a new MacBook Air and — by summer — upgrades to the MacBook Pro. But no such luck.

True, Apple did seem to make a huge commitment to the Mac with the launch of macOS Sierra at the June WWDC. It even shipped on September 20th, a little earlier than usual, and added Siri as the tentpole feature. Now this may not seem so much to iPhone users who have grown accustomed to Siri’s presence ever since it showed up in the 2011 iPhone 4s, an otherwise undistinguished upgrade. Or at least that’s what the critics said at the time despite the fact that it still sold in record numbers.

Now Apple didn’t have to introduce Siri on the Mac. Business users probably don’t need it, while some home users won’t even bother. Well, having a home office, I haven’t bothered, but maybe I’m in the minority. It appears others like it, so there you go.

Regardless, macOS Sierra might not have lots of new features, but it appears to be a well-crafted refinement that demonstrated at least some level of commitment to the platform. Why else would Apple change its name to conform to the conventions of its other operating systems?

But what about all the new Macs just aching for a refresh? The Mac mini hadn’t been touched since 2014, and that upgrade wasn’t so terrific. For $100 less, there were no quad-core processors, and memory was soldered to the logic board, a huge downgrade to some. The Mac Pro, launched in late 2013, remained unchanged. But at least there were rumors of a new Macbook Pro, with some sort of context-sensitive OLED display touchpad that would replace the function keys.

It wasn’t announced until October 27th, two days after Apple announced yet another drop in revenue and profits, although there was the promise of somewhat higher sales this quarter.

In any case, the highly-anticipated Mac event had what the rumors indicated, a new MacBook Pro with what became known as the Touch Bar, along with the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. The rumors also suggested the MacBook Air lineup would be slimmed to just the 13-inch model, otherwise unchanged, and that was true. The 11-inch entry-level notebook was consigned to the educational market, where Apple continues to fight for status and market share against $150 Chromebooks.

So what about the desktop Macs? Apple didn’t touch the subject. Indeed, there were several interviews with Apple VP Philip Schiller and other executives, but there was no mention about the Mac mini, iMac and Mac Pro. Is it possible the media was asked not to question Apple about any other products when listening to their spiel about the greatness of the MacBook Pro and its amazing Touch Bar? I suppose that’s possible, though I am worried that Apple has so much control over how the media is expected to handle such interviews. Well, maybe they are afraid of losing access, but if all members of the media refused to restrict the questions, they’d have no choice but to say something. Even if it’s that they had nothing to announce at this time, or that they continue to believe in the Mac, it would be encouraging.

So what’s left?

Well, the iPhone 7, of course, and the Apple Watch Series 2. The former was expected to be a so-so upgrade, but the improvements internally are quite extensive. It’s also much faster than its predecessors, at least based on my limited experience with one. I could hardly call it an underwhelming upgrade since it’s still back ordered, and will probably be so until the end of the year; even later for the iPhone 7 Plus that is evidently more in demand than Apple expected.

But I still won’t buy a Plus.

Now I do regard iOS 10 as a pretty credible upgrade, and macOS Sierra works just fine although most of its tentpole features are of little use to me.

But if you expect regular releases of new hardware, Apple produced less than expected.

Now perhaps Apple is waiting for the new generation Intel Kaby Lake chips to become available in more versions before installing them on new Macs. As it stands, the quad-core processors used in the MacBook Pro are not yet available in the new chip family, nor are the desktop chips that Apple would use for an iMac. So maybe this all means that Apple is being let down by Intel again, and will have to wait until next spring to upgrade more Macs.

So more new Mac hardware will arrive next year. This year, even if the causes are not within Apple’s ability to control, the company seems to have taken a bit of a holiday.

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2 Responses to “Apple in 2016: Is That All There Is?”

  1. John says:

    It is hard to accurately evaluate Apple because they play the long game. Siri in MacOS may not be great now but maybe they are laying the groundwork for 2020. Who knows?

    It does seem that Apple is de-emphasizing the pro market. No question, they should focus a lot on the iPhone, but how about a little more love for the tools we need to get our jobs done?

  2. dfs says:

    A few comments. a.) For me, and I suspect for many folks, the iPhone 7 Plus is simply too bulky to carry around comfortably, and its only advantage seems to be the ability to take one kind of gimmick photo. b.) The Watch Series 2 is great if you happen to be a swimmer. If not, it’s certainly not worth replacing the Watch you already have. c.) The Pro has evolved into a specialized niche product (labs, studios, people who require multiple monitors). For the rest of the world the 27-in iMac is now Apple’s flagship desktop. For most of us, it’s a fine tool for getting our jobs done. d.) Your final point is the key one — the timing of further forward movement with the Mac depends on Intel, something over which Apple has no control. But as Macs get faster and faster, more speed becomes an ever-decreasing selling point. Present Macs are so great that user dissatisfaction with present models is probably ceasing to be a compelling reason to replace them.

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