Why Should Apple Take on a Company With Declining Hardware Sales?

May 17th, 2017

It certainly makes sense for the rumors to ramp up ahead of Apple’s WWDC. You know there will be new versions of the company’s various operating systems, with the emphasis on macOS and iOS. But there has been sparse speculation about the new features, less than usual for this time of year. Perhaps that’s because hardware is getting a new emphasis.

Well, the Mac at any rate. Sure, one supposed industry analyst suggested that Apple will demonstrate an iPhone 8 at the WWDC, but that makes no sense whatever. Tim Cook already claims that iPhone sales have been hurt by expectations of this alleged new model, so why would they make matters worse? It’s just not part of Apple’s playbook, which usually involves demonstrating new products when there’s no existing model for which to gut sales.

Well, there’s the 2013 Mac Pro, and I suppose Apple might demonstrate the new model, since one has already been promised. That assumes it will ship no later than early next year, so they have something fairly complete to present.

There’s also a published report about possible Mac notebook refreshes at the WWDC, but the reasons why don’t pass the logic test.

The story claims that all three notebook lines will be updated, and that the update will include Kaby Lake processors. Indeed, many complained that Apple didn’t make that move with the Late 2016 MacBook Pro, where the Touch Bar debuted. Only thing: Quad-core versions of Kaby Lake hadn’t shipped yet, but some people don’t care about facts.

So Apple is also allegedly seriously considering an update to the 13-inch MacBook Air after two years. But at this point, if it’s to be announced next month, it would already be in production. While a refresh doesn’t seem to be out of the question, if it were to have a Retina display, wouldn’t it encroach on the MacBook, which also is due for a refresh? A MacBook Pro upgrade is questionable, since the last update was October of last year. You’d expect Apple would wait until fall, unless this is such an easy update that it would make sense to release it as soon as possible, perhaps along with a small price decrease.

While it would be real nice to see the Mac getting some love, the reason for pushing out this new hardware at a WWDC are allegedly due to Microsoft’s presumed advantages with the Surface notebooks. Does that make sense to you?

True, the media has been touting Microsoft for several years, since they entered the Windows PC business. But there’s a real problem: Sales are pathetic and remain pathetic.

Indeed, in the March quarter, Surface sales dropped 26%, and they were already a fraction of the Mac’s. Mac sales were up a few percent, largely because of the favorable reception to the new MacBook Pro. So why should Apple be concerned about a hardware maker who can’t touch them in revenue?

Clearly some people who pretend to understand Apple have a problem grasping simple facts, which is that the reasons don’t make a lick of sense. The main difference between a Mac and a Surface, other than the fact that the latter is sometimes more expensive, is the touchscreen. While delivering faster Macs is always a good thing, does it magically make them more competitive to someone else’s product with a feature Apple hasn’t and won’t imitate?

Is the public clamoring for Surfaces? Is the public ditching Macs because Apple can’t compete with the Surface? If the Surface is so great, why are sales dropping? Just months after the Surface Studio all-in-one computer was launched, at $2,999.99 for the cheapest model, is it selling like gangbusters? Are artists really hoping Apple would build an iMac with a gooseneck arm so you can manipulate the display any way you want?

Once again, Surface sales in the March quarter declined by 26%, just a few months after the Surface Studio was released. So has it made that much of a difference? I don’t dispute its value to a certain class of content creators, but it may be too much of a niche product to really catch on in a big way.

The Surface Laptop? It’s supposedly marketed to school systems, and it appears to have some value. But it’s also more expensive than the sort of gear the educators purchase these days. At a time when many are moving towards super cheap Chromebooks, why would they gravitate towards a notebook with a starting price of $999, and a fully-outfitted price of $2,199?

Well, maybe it’ll go over really big at Beverly Hills High School (the city’s average income is $193,000) or a similar school in another relatively high-income area.

All this doesn’t mean that I don’t take the possibility of a Mac notebook refresh seriously. It makes perfect sense, though the timing of a MacBook Pro update might be premature. But if the MacBook Air and the MacBook are destined to be updated around the time of the WWDC, it would probably be treated as an afterthought, scarcely getting any mention at all at the keynote except to demonstrate Apple’s ongoing commitment to the Mac.

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6 Responses to “Why Should Apple Take on a Company With Declining Hardware Sales?”

  1. dfs says:

    Gene makes cases for not showcasing this hardware product, that hardware product, and the other one too. Each of these cases makes good sense. But taken together they come up against the hard fact that Apple’s gotta showcase SOMETHING. There are important reasons for this. One of which is that AAPL is now selling for $155+. Everybody’s happy and we want to keep it that way. Unless either the next iteration of OSX or of IOS is so wizzy that it’s a real show-stealer (and there’s no visible reason to think that’s going to be the case), Apple is going to have to put some hardware in the showroom window and at least pretend it’s genuinely newsworthy. So what’s it most likely to be, Gene?

    The problem with these big Reveal conferences is that they lock Apple into coming out with an attention-grabbing blockbuster each and every time on a predetermined schedule, and if Apple can’t pony one up that becomes a p. r. setback providing ammo for the naysayers. Sometimes progress within a given timeframe only consists of incremental improvements. Incremental improvements are good, incremental improvements are necessary, but incremental improvements are also boring. The computer press and Wall St. don’t like boredom and tend to react with outspoken negativity. If I were running Apple one change I’d seriously consider would be to put an end to these pre-scheduled Reveal shows and only put them on when I had something appropriately new to announce.

  2. dfs says:

    Actually, the star of the show may turn out to be the Siri Smart Speaker. Personally, I’d be genuinely excited about this if Siri worked better than it currently does. But in my experience Siri’s comprehension rate with unfamiliar words continues to hover at about the 50% mark so why do I want yet another Apple gizmo that sometimes can barely understand me?

  3. Pool Man says:

    “some people don’t care about facts”

    look in the mirror

    1. As a former rabid Mac-only Mac guy since 1986 I was impressed when MS invented a new form factor. The Surface. It didn’t make me want to leave Apple. I didn’t get jealous. I was simply impressed Microsoft did something that didn’t smell of Donkey Kong. A tradition of countless decades finally broken.

    Any honest Apple person would have to admit that said moment and the reveal of that AiO was… pretty impressive. For Microsoft. (SurfaceBook looked like crap and did nothing for me.) So it’s a fact that two out of three of these products were impressive moments. Fact.

    So when you ask why Apple would “push out new hardware at a WWDC allegedly due to Microsoft’s presumed advantages with the Surface” — that’s why. It’s a fact that it’s a presumed advantage.

    Now you smartly argue it’s not an actual advantage based on sales. Fair enough. But then you gloss over the fact that —

    2. — Apple isn’t literally competing against MS Surfaces. It’s competing against the sales of all Surface-like products. I’m pretty sure I read ssomwhere that Surface like products and 2 and 1s are fueling a PC recovery. People like them.

    And it’s a fact that Apple doesn’t care about either category. BONUS FACT: Apple’s been asleep at the switch.

    — I just unloaded my last Mac two weeks ago. Replaced it with a 25 inch 2K Asus Monitor and i5 Asus VivoMini PC. To get the MacMini version of this would cost $1700. (That means I’m buying the same monitor.) If I went with Apple’s iMac line this would be about $2100. My price? $1100. And I can alter the amount of RAM and storage I want at anytime. —

    • I hear these “I’m a former Mac user who bought a cheaper PC” stories all the time. But PC sales continue to fall and Surface sales are falling even faster.

      No Windows 10 is not the equivalent to macOS. But you never mention the switch.


      • Pool Man says:

        So my central point was that you’re making a straw man argument. That you were asking why Apple had to have a Surface competitor when Surface ain’t doing so hot. Ignoring my point that Apple may need a Surface-like competitor. A 2in1 to compete with all such products.

        The best you could manage was “but PC sales are falling”. But that’s not because Mac has amazing sales. It has more to do with most people being scared of any computer and using their smartphones instead. And Mac is still a teeny tiny part of overall global PC sales. So that’s a silly point, and off topic.

        The topic is why does Apple feel compelled to have touch 2in1 computers? Answer: they’re growing in popularity. Google if you don’t believe me.

        Speaking of straw man, I never said Windows 10 = macOS. But that gap is closing by the day. Just as Android is getting closer and closer to feature parity. Not to mention some tricks Apple can’t manage to pull off on either platform.

        In Windows 10 I’ve missed a few features. Expose was a biggie for me. But Win10 has a similar offering and a 3rd party free software makes it identical. The only key feature that’s totally gonzo (PC and Android) is a Messages equivalent. I can use Facebook Messenger at the moment to have ‘anywhere’ texting but it’s clear both Windows and Android are preparing solutions. So now it’s only a matter of time.

        I know you’re in a position/career of being a Mac Zealot. But whether you like it or not the old Apple is gone. So is the old Windows. So is the old Android. The times… they are a changin’.

        • gene says:

          Microsoft didn’t originate 2-in-1 PCs. The issue is not how they’re selling, since PCs in general aren’t doing well, but whether people are embracing them. I suspect chiropractors are doing lots of adjustments for people who strain their arms to deal with the touchscreen and keyboard combo on a larger unit.

          From personal experience in testing, I find the keyboard/touchscreen combo is just plain awkward. They also said Apple should produce netbooks when they had their 2 weeks of fame.

          You do have a 2-in-1 Apple computer, sort of. An iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard.

          And I’ve heard the Windows and Android almost have feature-parity with macOS and iOS argument before. That’s an old one. It’s not just the features. I thought you realized that.


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