Plotting the Mac’s Demise

April 13th, 2017

After reading about Apple’s promises about commitment to Macs, I got to thinking about a politician caught with doing something unsavory. With their hands in the cookie jar, they might first deny they’ve done anything wrong. If you don’t believe the denial, it’ll become more emphatic.

But when confronted with the failure of their excuses to take hold, they might finally admit they did something wrong, sort of. Usually it’ll come in the form of a lame admission that, “mistakes were made.” Politicians rarely want to take the blame for anything. To quote Jim Carrey in “The Mask,” “it wasn’t me, it was the one armed man.”

Now after his first two statements about loving the Mac, Tim Cook clearly realized few believed his assurances. Apple had to do a lot more to persuade Mac users, especially pros, that they had the love. It required making an unlikely move, which was to summon several high-profile tech journalists to a roundtable at Apple’s headquarters; the original headquarters, not the new one.

The end result?

Well, the story has been published over and over again: Apple executives admitted they goofed when they designed the 2013 Mac Pro, although it evidently took over three years for that message to sink in. Instead, it needs to return to a more modular approach for a high-end computing workstation, and thus is working on a new model that will not arrive this year.

The promise of easy upgrading opens up loads of possibilities, and I’ve already seen one or two proposed prototypes. What they appear to offer is extra expandability in a more compact shape. Imagine a half-sized cheese grater Mac, but if that’s all that’s needed to right the ship, why is Apple taking so long to make it so?

It may be that Apple only got the message that something had to change recently, or was lost in indecision for several years while spending most of its time working on new iPhones.

So it makes sense that the critics are out in full force to blame Apple for its Mac indiscretions.

One of those articles warns that the Mac may become “Apple’s Achilles’ heel.” Why? Well, partly because the Mac is a legacy product and Apple is heavily focused on building forward-looking stuff. But don’t forget that we’re talking about 100 million Mac users, and a business that takes in over $20 billion a year.

Why is that bad? Well, I suppose, because that’s a fraction of the revenue brought in by the iPhone.

The article goes on to make some lame suggestions about how Apple can avoid falling into this trap. It brings up the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar as something bad, although that has yet to be demonstrated. Other than the fact that it was one of the factors that made the new model cost several hundred dollars more than its predecessor, I felt rather encouraged watching the Touch Bar demonstrations at Apple’s Mac media event last October. If you can easily perform complicated workflows in Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word and other apps, isn’t that a good thing?

It does seem that apps are adding Touch Bar support at a steady pace, although the key is the extent to which they improve your productivity. Just adding a few frills to the Touch Bar hardly exploits the feature. But it’s too early to see whether it’s a silly frill or something that will have long-term benefit. It does appear to be a superior alternative to the seldom-used function keypad. Apple is trying to make Macs do more, so what’s wrong with that?

The warnings in that article suggest that Apple needs to add multitouch support to the Mac, but the writer doesn’t seem to understand Apple’s reasons not to make that move. It’s suggested that up to 70% of Mac users might be able to migrate to the iPad Pro, but the writer doesn’t see the limitations that make that move impossible for now. Clearly iPad sales do not appear to be sufficient to demonstrate that lots of Mac users are switching over, but surely some are.

Over time, as the iPad improves, I do see it becoming a more credible notebook alternative than a Mac for many users. Imagine, the author says, being able to develop iOS software on an iPad, but it’s hardly a way to also build Mac software. Don’t forget that you can develop apps for MacOS, iOS, watchOS and tvOS on a single all-purpose personal computer, a Mac. This capability — plus all the other tasks you can perform on a Mac — provide the reasons for this platform to continue to exist for the foreseeable future.

Even when the time comes to retire the Mac, I hardly think Apple will have suffered from its long-term commitment to the platform. Achilles heel? Not at all.

Don’t forget that Apple still sells iPods, long after its basic features were assumed by the iPhone. There are still millions of people who are perfectly happy to buy them, and as long as sales make it worthwhile, the iPod won’t die. And even if Mac sales fell to a fraction of what they are now, so long as millions of people need them for their work, even if that audience is largely developers and other professional users, Apple can’t do wrong by building gear for them to buy.

Some day, it’ll be necessary to pull the plug on Macs. Some day the iPhone will be a relic of the past. But Apple is a forward looking company, and is no doubt planning for both — and similar — eventualities.

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One Response to “Plotting the Mac’s Demise”

  1. John says:

    I don’t get why some people are so anxious to see the end of the Mac. I guess they don’t use one. Apple needs big iron to the heavy lifting. It was wrong of them to take their eye off the ball for so long.

    My pet theory is that this happened because Steve is not around. I know, that is already a cliche. I don’t think that Steve had a unique feel for this, I think it was just by chance that he had more connection to the pro and creative market. Tim is an operations guy. Phil is a hardware guy (and should be closest to the pro market), Eddy Cue is chasing Hollywood, Craig is a software guy.

    If Apple was starting fresh to make macOS would they care as much about rendering beautiful screen fonts? It was serendipity that Steve took a class in calligraphy then later worked on the Mac.

    I’m not knocking Apple. Just pointing out that I don’t see a senior SVP with a strong personal connection to the pro market.

    Other big companies manage to build diverse products. GE makes washing machines and jet engines. Hitachi makes electron microscopes and vacuum cleaners. Apple needs to learn how to manage diverse products if they expect to keep growing.

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