Maestros or morons? What’s Apple’s game plan for the Mac?

Category: Features

I’m not convinced Apple really know what they’re doing with the Mac. I think there’s a lot of ideas bouncing around but nothing they’ve done over the past four years has me feeling particularly confident they’ve got a solid plan and at times I wonder if there’ll be one at in a few years.

The most recent example of this came just last week at Apple’s product event, held in Brooklyn. From the products of Apple-future the latest incarnation of the iPad Pro was unveiled complete with all of Apple’s shiny-new. A newer operating system, the new A12X SoC powering it, and a regaled presentation that dominated the stage for nearly double the amount of time of everything else.

Think of the 2018’s MacBook Air as an appeasement; a consolation prize for those of us lamenting the company’s shift in focus to a series of products based on populist commercialism and what’s tragically become the Mac’s innovative death knell.

That everything else, well that was the Apple of “old” perhaps bowing to years of continual disparagement, Apple updated two of its mid-tier products: the Mac Mini & MacBook Air. The Mini was perhaps the most revered and whilst is received a considerable 2018 refresh complete with the usual “Apple tax” price-tag it was the Air and it’s now very awkward laptop lineup that shows the company’s confusion in where to go next.

Apple’s 2018 MacBook Air was underwhelming at best

Ten years ago when the MacBook Air was infamously pulled out of that manila envelope it was a product of wonderment. A symbol. It represented something for others to chase and with it Apple threw down the gauntlet, daring others to come after them.

The Air today is nothing like that. Instead it represents the end of an age. One, that for Apple, I dare say can’t come soon enough. Think of the 2018’s MacBook Air as an appeasement; a consolation prize for those of us lamenting the company’s shift in focus to a series of products based on populist commercialism and what’s tragically become the Mac’s innovative death knell.

…is it an unreasonable leap to come to the conclusion that the Mac is dead?

It makes business sense though. Apple are the creators some of the world’s most popular phones & tablets. They also happen to be the custodians of an operating system purposely built for said devices and their ARM based system on a chip (SoC) take full advantage of that fact. Customised down to the very transistors iOS was written to eek every inch of performance possible in a way competitors can only dream. And now, for the first time and in stark contrast to their transition to Mac OS X, heavyweights like Adobe are willingly adapting their software to jump on the bandwagon so why wouldn’t they invest more in that path?

With that thinking is it an unreasonable leap to come to the conclusion that the Mac is dead? Or perhaps (slightly less morbidly) the version we know today is? Its true future is known only to those within the corridors of Apple’s UFO but from an outsider’s perspective it seems likely the Mac either joins forces with its faster, younger, iOS siblings or it goes the way of the dinosaurs.

I doubt that it will be with the same hypothesised meteoric finality but Apple may very well choose to just discontinue the Mac altogether and focus on what’s generating the most sales and powering their vision moving forward. Despite Macs having a higher profit margin they’re not the driver behind many of Apple’s larger and more profitable services such as the App Store and Apple Music.

The muddy waters of Apple’s current MacBook offerings

This strategy would also mean the advancement of its iOS devices to serve as the company’s main hardware lineup. Or at the very least provide the building blocks for new ones. Looking at Apple’s now butchered laptop lineup it all but screams that this is the beginning of their end. Either that or no one at the company had the foresight to see they already sell two varieties of the same laptop at similar prices with little differences. I mean, why even have the “Air” lineup at all if that’s the case? And let’s not even start on the Mac Pro. Instead of pretending and cruelly drawing out its slow death put it and us out of our collective misery and just own it.

The other option is for Apple to continue their chip development and have it power their Mac lineup. Despite the obvious issues it wouldn’t be the first time Apple have done it. The change from PowerPC to Intel was done at a time that Motorola and IBM had all but given up on the CPU race leaving them no other choice. Today Apple are winning that race themselves, which some believe begs the question as to when rather than why they will make the switch.

Apple’s custom SoCs are purpose built to run iOS

CPU development isn’t cheap by any means and while it makes business sense in a very walled-off iOS eco-system, investing in their own ARM based CPU for Macs could be a billion dollar rabbit hole with little return. It would definitely be a gamble and one despite the cash reserve to support it, the Apple of today lacks the balls to take.

The bigger question at the moment is whether the nursing of Macs and lack of a public strategy moving forward helps or hinders Apple’s brand? For the most part Apple’s new generation of customer is the younger, mobile, millennial that drives the majority of their sales and popularity. The angered, ostracised and disgruntled are the Apple stalwarts with a link to their products of old (be it voluntary or otherwise) who true allegiance lies with macOS more than the hardware running it.

It would definitely be a gamble and one despite the cash reserve to support it, the Apple of today lacks the balls to take.

We Mac users are stuck though and Apple are more than aware their brand loyalty ranks extremely well. So much so that being drip fed the line that “there are great things to come” means suckers like me stick around waiting for it and bide our time “making do”. I’ve waited for four years in the hope of good new MacBook Air hardware and now I’m almost positive Apple are just playing us all like a fiddle. That loyalty wont last forever though and while they’d like us all to hang around and wait until their newly architectured versions undoubtably arrive some of us have already begun to make the switch. To stem that tide Apple need to produce and someone at the Mothership needs to get out there and put their money where their mouth is.

1 comment

  1. Spot on Raj!!
    Mac owners are now in the old Microsoft-position – sure this version isn’t great, but the next one will be fantastic.

    You only have to look at what happens to iPad sales if Apple goes more than a year between updates… sales drop off a cliff.

    Now imagine what would happen to a product if it was left in last century technology-wise! It’s a wonder there’s any Mac sales at all.

    Heck, even Microsoft are making Touch computers, but no, Mac stays where it was last century!

    Apple is pinning its hopes on iPad, but now we have iPad as powerful at the top of the line MacBook Pro, Pros are saying… but we still have to go back to a Mac to do our job.

    What Pros want is Pencil and touch on Mac, not a more powerful iPad!

    iOS is too cumbersome for computing tasks. It was designed for people who don’t need a computer, and there’s lots of those people and more power to them. Other than profits, there’s no reason why Apple tries to keep pushing iPad past its capabilities.

    Marco Arment points out that iOS will kill any app that uses 100% of a CPU for more than 60 seconds, so don’t expect the speed test results to translate into any real world value.

    Rene Ritchie claims the Mac hardware manager is more energised than he has been for 20 years, and there might be a Mac renaissance on its way.

    What are the odds Apple has its Mac strategy right and all the current muddiness of the Mac line is only temporary?

    I think Raj has their number here… there’s no sign Apple is going to do what’s necessary while its eye is on iOS.
    Keep up the good-fight Raj. Maybe one day Apple will get-it.

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