Apple in 2016: Questions and More Questions

November 25th, 2016

According to Apple’s financial guidance for the current quarter, sales will rise somewhat. This is a change from previous quarters this calendar year where sales were lower, mostly because of reduced demand for iPhones. Forgetting the reason, there may be legitimate criticisms that Apple didn’t release enough new gear this year, and perhaps that explains lower demand for other products too.

Of course, I’d be ignoring less-favorable market conditions in China.

Now both iOS 10 and macOS Sierra were decent upgrades overall. The latter might not have much to appreciate beyond Siri — for those of you who care. and I don’t — and a few odds and ends, but it does appear to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the Mac.

However, Apple is mostly judged by new hardware, and that’s where it appears to be a mixed bag.

It all started off modestly enough with a 2016 MacBook, a minor refresh that dealt with some performance issues with a somewhat faster processor. The iPhone SE, largely an iPhone 5s with parts derived from the iPhone 6s, was surprisingly successful. Evidently Apple underestimated the demand for smaller iPhones while lost in the success of its larger handsets.

The iPhone 7 proved to be a mixed bag, until it was actually released. The early supply chain rumors indicated a modest refresh, more the equivalent an iPhone 6s with some extra stuff. The loss of the headphone jack was known early on, but most of the complaints came before the fact. After Apple announced that an adapter plug would be supplied with the new gear — and replacements were only $9 each — the furore died down, or so it appears.

But the iPhone 7 was a more extensive upgrade than you might realize just looking at it head on compared to its predecessor. There were big changes inside. The A10 Fusion CPU delivered near desktop PC performance, and the fact the handset was genuinely water-resistant was a huge plus. That perhaps justifies removing the headphone jack, although other supposedly water-resistant smartphones do not require this sacrifice.

The new Home button, which is no longer a physical switch, might be more reliable, but the feel of the Taptic Engine, when you press it, doesn’t match the real thing. It has the same faint squishy feeling I noticed when I briefly used a Magic Trackpad 2. But it’s no doubt more reliable, and maybe justified by the water-resistance factor.

Apple touts the new camera, but tests against other smartphones don’t indicate much of a clear advantage overall. The twin-camera design of the iPhone 7 Plus does have value, and maybe that explains the reason for the high demand. But as of the time I write this, Apple is claiming on its site that you can order one now and have it delivered by December 22nd.

The real arguments persist when it comes to the Late 2016 MacBook Pro, and perceptions that Apple is abandoning pro customers due to certain controversial decisions. I see the point of the complaints, but some of it may be due to expecting too much after a drought of new Macs for so long. That pent-up demand may also explain why the models equipped with the Touch Bar remain backordered. Or perhaps professionals do see the reasoning behind Apple’s decisions beyond just making them thinner and lighter.

But the year will end with unanswered questions about the future of the Mac. Sure, the MacBook Pro undeniably took a long time to design. Apple claims they spent two years working on the Touch Bar, and I have no reason to dispute that claim. But there’s still a level of demand for desktop Macs too, and Apple has said nothing during those meetings with the press, other than justifying the logic behind the MacBook Pro, to reveal what’s going on.

The Mac Pro is still being sold at the same price as 2013. The lone change I can see offhand is that the price of upgrading to 1TB solid state storage has been reduced by $200. But that’s still expensive compared to what you pay from third parties. But at least you can upgrade the drive; you can’t do that on the MacBook Pros with Touch Bar, where the SSD is soldered to the logic board.

But Intel and AMD have released faster parts, and it wouldn’t take much in the way of expense for Apple to do a simple refresh. What are they waiting for?

All right, maybe Apple wants to redesign the Mac Pro, making a larger version with internal expansion capabilities so fewer users will be left with cable nightmares after hooking up a few things. Or maybe Apple is waiting for new processors from Intel that are due to arrive next year, and maybe we’ll see something by then.

Right now, if you go to Apple’s online ordering center, you will see no hint whatever that the Mac Pro is anything but a current product and not a three-year-old relic that never quite met its expectations.

I’m expecting new Macs by spring. I hope I’m not proven wrong, and I’m also hoping there will be some interesting hardware developments throughout the year. Rumors suggest that the next iPhone may be a huge upgrade, sufficient to call it an iPhone 8. Maybe there will be some new stuff on the iPad front. We’ll see.

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2 Responses to “Apple in 2016: Questions and More Questions”

  1. dfs says:

    I still suspect Apple shot itself in the foot over the cylindrical form factor of the Mac Pro. This has evolved into a specialized piece of lab and studio equipment. So it really ought to be rack mountable. The resulting awkwardness of its use in these environments may have a chilling effect on purchasers for labs and studios. Makes one wonder about hailing Jony Ives as a great design genius, doesn’t it?

  2. DaveD says:

    I read that about two thirds of the Mac sales are notebooks. Every year the MacBook Pros get a refresh. Last year the 13-inch model got Broadwell processor while the 15-inch one stayed on Haswell due to Intel’s manufacturing difficulties. Both got improved flash storage speed and a Force Touch trackpad. The last big redesign was in 2012 with the Retina models.

    On the desktop side, I believe this is the first year that the iMacs which were updated in October 2015 got no refresh.

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