The first computer I ever used was an IBM 286. It ran the DOS command line, and I was in awe of that thing. A couple years later, I used my first Mac SE, and ever since I was hooked — I loved Apple’s operating systems.
It’s been a wild year for Mac users lately. A new MacBook Pro had been imminent since spring. Meanwhile the Mac Pro and Mac Mini have languished for over 1,000 days and 760 days respectively. Mac users were ravenous for some new hardware — my 5 year old MacBook Air was in desperate need of an upgrade — and the lack of Mac news lately had created a fever-storm of anticipation.
A new MacBook Pro was eventually introduced in October, and was met with harsh criticism over ports and price — while simultaneously getting rave reviews and flying off the shelves. This is a familiar pattern. Remember the original MacBook Air? It started at $1,799!
But at that event came a new blow dealt to Mac users: Apple is no longer making displays. The beautiful 5K Apple displays we had been dreaming of for those surely coming-soon Mac Pros and the brand new MacBook Pros would in fact be an ugly, cheap-looking, plastic PC monitor.
Okay, fine. We’ll buy our displays from LG. What’s the big deal? Well, Apple displays were always beautifully designed and perfectly integrated with other Apple hardware. In a world filled with cheap and ugly plastic, Apple displays were sleek, elegant, minimal, and reliable. They felt premium. Even more importantly, they were covered with AppleCare warranties. They eliminated a third-party vendor when troubleshooting graphics and displays issues. And they perfectly matched the aesthetic of the Apple hardware they were connecting to. A sad option to lose.
A few weeks later, Sal Soghoian announced that he was leaving Apple because his position, Manager of Automation Technologies, was being eliminated. Uh oh. Does that mean development of AppleScript, Automator, and all of the other automation systems in macOS will stop? Craig Federighi says that isn’t the case.
Then, we found out that Apple is no longer going to be making routers. I’ve used an Apple Airport since they looked like flying saucers, and I love them. I remember when I first switched from a Cisco router. Constant reboots and random performance issues were a way of life, until I used my first Airport. I’ve used one ever since, and I’ve had to reboot them maybe once a year on average. Again, it also eliminated a very important third-party vendor when troubleshooting networking issues, they were covered with AppleCare, and matched Apple’s design aesthetic. Another sad day.
Tim Cook doesn’t care about the Mac. He doesn’t even use one – the Mac is dead.
That’s a loaded statement. It’s heavy. It’s depressing. But is it true? We can’t know what Tim Cook really thinks about the Mac. Every now and then he gets on stage and tells us how important the Mac is to Apple. And Apple has a great track record of telling the truth. I’m inclined to believe what they say (and almost always, they under promise and over deliver).
But words, even from the mouth of someone with a track record of honesty, are still just words. Actions are more important. And the recent events in the Mac world seem to indicate that trouble may be ahead. What does it all mean?
And… why do I care so much? I’ve built a life, career, and hobbies with Macs. I’ve invested thousands of hours learning professional applications to get powerful results from these computers. I’ve built a company selling business software on the Mac platform.
I’ve tried Windows. It’s better than it was. But it still isn’t good. The thought of the Mac slowly dying (and thereby the apps I love, and a market of customers to buy my software), means I will have to change everything. Everything over to Microsoft or Google. Two companies I do not like, for very strong reasons. If the Mac is dying, I’ll have to re-invest everything. Money for hardware, and time to get acclimated with something new and nowhere near as powerful or efficient. Not to mention my entire software development business.
That’s why this stuff keeps me up at night. And I don’t think I’m alone. The Mac has an extremely loyal (and vocal) fan base who have engrained their lives with Apple. Some can switch to something else much easier than others, but for many of us who’ve been on this ride since the ship was all but sunk, it’s going to be painful.
So then, what is going on, anyway? Is it just house-cleaning for the fiscal new year? Are things happening behind the scenes that we don’t know about? Could they be really great things for Mac Pros, Mac Minis, great new features and healthy automation functions in macOS? Of course these are all possible, likely even.
But here’s what worries me most. Tim Cook is an operations guy, and an exceptionally bright individual. Steve Jobs handpicked him for a reason. And right now, Apple’s income from the Mac, compared to iOS devices, looks like a rounding error. Even services revenue eclipsed Mac revenue in 2016. (Is that because the Mac isn’t as popular, or is it because people don’t want to buy out-dated hardware? That’s a very good question.)
So if the Mac is responsible for such little revenue for such a huge company, shouldn’t Tim, a smart operations guy, decide to focus on where income is growing and dominating? Absolutely. However, the Mac is so deeply entrenched in the history of Apple, with such a fiercely loyal fanbase, that doing so seems absurd. And I think Tim knows this. I have to believe that he knows this.
I’m typing this now on a new MacBook Pro 15″ with the new Touch Bar. Using this computer reassures me that Apple remains committed to the Mac, at least for now. This computer is beautiful in every way. The Touch Bar is well done, and supported in dozens of apps already. The integration is perfect, and it’s clear that Apple has been working on this for a long time.
I love the screen. I love the slim and dense design. I love the space grey finish. I love the loud, low distortion speakers. I even love the keyboard. It took about a day to get used to (and yes it’s louder and clickier than I expected, which is fine by me). It’s had a few small niggles, but overall I’m very happy with it.
A company doesn’t release a product like this if they don’t care about the product line. It would have been easy to add a retina display to a MacBook Air, bump the speed in the MacBook Pros a little, and call it a day. That would have made a lot of people happy. But that’s not what they did.
I still remain optimistic that Apple does care very much about the Mac. The lack of updates across the lineup is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for someone who’s been using Macs as a Pro User™ — software development, audio recording and engineering, video editing, graphic design — since Apple was doomed and everyone laughed at me when I told them, “Just wait. You’ll see!”
I’m still heavily invested in the Apple platform and ecosystem, and I have no desire to leave. It’s painful to see parts of the Mac ecosystem that I’ve loved for years get axed. But does Apple know something we don’t? Of course they do! Are wonderful new products coming to replace Apple displays and AirPort routers? I hope so. But even if not, I’d settle for a solid lineup of great Macs, as nice as this new MacBook Pro. That would go a long way towards restoring the faith for millions of other Mac users — ranging from casual consumers all the way up to professionals who require true workstation computers.
Hey Apple, I’ve got some homework for you.
These are the things I will be watching for very closely in 2017-2018 (in no particular order). If all or most of these things do not happen, then it may be time to actually worry about the longevity of a healthy Mac lineup.
- Update the iMac
- Update or replace the Mac Mini or Mac Pro, preferably both — or — provide a viable replacement
- Release a desktop Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar
- Release timely speed bump upgrades to all Mac products across the lineup
- No more depressing news of a key Mac engineer or product being cut
If Apple can deliver on a few things in that list, I think it will really help reassure that the Mac really is important to Apple. Right now, we’re in a weird place where the future of the Mac feels uncertain. And for me personally, that’s a scary place to be. I am so insanely passionate about the Mac. I LOVE THESE COMPUTERS. Seeing them decline from true neglect would be heartbreaking. However, I don’t think we need to start thinking about abandoning ship.
Only time will tell, and I am patient. I understand it’s not always so black and white. I know Intel’s roadblocks are part of the problem. I know Apple’s product lineup is more complicated and numerous than it’s ever been before. (Is that a good thing? That’s another topic entirely.) But I’m begging you Apple — remember your core users, the ones that love you and your products, and have for a long time. Don’t forget your Mac users!