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Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac

If you’ve been feeling as though Apple’s heart isn’t in moving the Mac forward these days, you’re not alone. The new MacBook Pro models have taken widespread criticism, Apple has provided no roadmap for the future of its desktop Macs, and most recently, the company eliminated the position of Product Manager of Automation Technologies, presumably seeing it as unnecessary. High-end creatives have despaired about Apple’s lack of attention to their needs, and the mood among many of the consultants and support professionals at last week’s MacTech Conference was downbeat.

So what could explain Apple’s increasing marginalization of the Mac, particularly in the pro market? The culprit is clearly the iOS platform, and the iPhone in particular. But the reason why it’s happening has more to do with a structural fact about the company that Apple will have to change if the Mac is to get the attention it needs to thrive.

For better and worse, Steve Jobs burned focus into Apple’s DNA. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, he focused the entire company on the Mac, slashing projects like the Newton and eliminating the Mac clone licensing program. Famously, he limited the Mac line to just four core models: the iBook and iMac for consumers, and the PowerBook and Power Mac for professionals. That product matrix was simple, clean, and understandable, and it was probably the only reason that Apple survived that era. Focusing on one platform was essential.

Here’s the problem: Despite the fact that it now employs 115,000 people and is the most valuable company in the world, Apple still thinks like a one-platform company. Now it’s all about iOS, and everything Apple does is designed to serve the single goal of selling more iPhones and iPads. Sure, the Apple Watch and Apple TV might seem separate, but they’re not. The Apple Watch is an iPhone accessory that makes the iPhone more attractive, and Apple TV apps generally have iOS counterparts. Heck, both watchOS and tvOS are basically custom versions of iOS. Apple’s online services, from iCloud to the App Store to the iTunes Store, all support the shared ecosystem, which encourages platform lock-in.

How does the Mac fit into this new world order? It plays well with iCloud and the iTunes Store, and it increasingly taps iCloud for added functionality. It’s another link in the chain that keeps users buying iPhones and iPads because it’s easier to have a computer that talks to your smartphone and tablet seamlessly. The Mac also remains essential to iOS as a development platform, and (through macOS Server) as an organization-wide caching server for iOS and app updates. In essence, the Mac is an accessory to the iOS platform.

But that’s it. If you’re an architect who relies on AutoCAD on the Mac to design buildings, or a video editor who spends your days in Adobe Premiere and After Effects, or a photographer who works in Photoshop and Lightroom, you care primarily about what the Mac enables you do to as a Mac, not as an adjunct to iOS. You might be a huge fan of your iPhone and iPad, but the Mac is what enables you to earn your bread and butter.

Before iOS, Apple’s goals and the needs of professional Mac users were more aligned. Apple wanted to make the Macs — and versions of the Mac operating system — that would give users capabilities and efficiencies they couldn’t get from PCs running Windows. That goal also informed Apple’s relationship with developers, since Apple had a vested interest in supporting software companies whose apps made the Mac attractive to different professions.

Now that Apple’s primary task is to sell more iPhones, the company has little incentive to improve the Mac past the point that iOS developers need to run Xcode and macOS Server’s caching server effectively. Sure, the Mac business was worth $22.8 billion in revenues in 2016, which is far from chump change, but it’s nothing compared to the $192.8 billion of revenues generated by iOS and associated services.

When you look at the notable changes in the Mac operating system in the last five or six years, many of them are more about making the Mac experience more like the iPhone and iPad experience. Consider Siri, Picture in Picture, Split View, and Launchpad. And then there are Photos, Contacts, Calendar, and Mail, all of which are nearly identical across platforms. Even the iWork apps like Pages, Keynote, and Numbers have changed not to become better Mac apps, but to work more like and in tandem with their iOS cousins. The entire point of Handoff, arguably, is to make the Mac more of an accessory for iOS, handing off tasks to an iPhone so the user can leave the Mac or transferring something from the iPhone to the Mac to take advantage of a keyboard and large screen.

Plus, Apple has started to drop Mac accessories that it previously thought were important to the overall Mac experience. The 27-inch Thunderbolt Display fell by the wayside earlier this year (see “Apple Discontinues Thunderbolt Display with No Replacement in Sight,” 27 June 2016), and if the rumors are correct, Apple has disbanded the AirPort division.

Don’t misunderstand me. Apple’s focus on iOS has been insanely successful, generating unimaginable amounts of money and taking the company from the “critically acclaimed” category to “mainstream blockbuster.” I’m not criticizing that success, or the method that Apple used to get there.

However, I am troubled by what it means for the future of the Mac as a general purpose, user-focused computer. The relative success of the iPad Pro, with its Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil, suggests that Apple wants to push iOS toward the productivity market. Even app development is moving in that direction — the Swift Playgrounds app for learning to program exists only on the iPad (see “Playing Around with Swift on the iPad,” 13 June 2016). The writing would appear to be on the wall for the Mac — I can’t see Apple killing it off anytime soon, but benign neglect will have the same effect in professional markets, as developers weigh their options and direct more effort toward Windows. And that in turn will cause Mac sales to drop and Apple to be even less interested.

Steve Jobs said, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” That was appropriate when killing off the iPod with the iPhone, but assuming that the iPad can supplant the Mac would be a mistake, I believe. Unlike the iPod, which was a subset of the iPhone, there are many things we can accomplish on a Mac that would be difficult or completely impossible on any iOS device. Apple seems to be under the incorrect impression that, for whatever you might want to do, there’s an iOS app for that.

The future doesn’t have to play out this way. In fact, Apple has shown that it’s capable of breaking free of the focus on a single product in the past. That’s where the iPod came from, and without the iPod, it’s unclear if Apple would have come up with the iPad and iPhone. Focus is good, but it can be taken too far, and that’s what I’d argue is happening at Apple right now.

Instead, Apple could take FileMaker Inc. as a model. FileMaker, which emerged from the ashes of Claris, is a wholly owned subsidiary, but since the needs of the database development market differ significantly from those of Apple’s other markets, it has presumably made sense to give FileMaker more autonomy than other apps. Even if FileMaker’s independence is a historical accident — I don’t know what sets it apart from Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro, which Apple has kept in-house — the point remains: Apple could give the Mac division its head rather than tying it to the iOS wagon.

Lots of corporate giants have divisions or subsidiaries that run largely independently, and I see no inherent reason why Apple couldn’t spin the Mac out just far enough that it could focus on the needs of Mac users, rather than merely trying to be supportive of iOS. That would apply to both Mac hardware and macOS, and yes, it would require significant coordination to ensure that Apple’s famed integration didn’t suffer in the process.

Hard though it might be, letting the Mac team pursue its own goals could result in a Mac that would once again indisputably be the computer of choice for creative professionals.


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Comments about Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac

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Norm Harris  2016-11-21 17:02
Well put Adam.

I hope Tim Cook reads AND considers your thoughts.
I second this nomination. If he doesn't read this or fails to act, perhaps it is time for Apple to elect a new leader!
Steve Jobs might have been a great entrepreneur and futurist but as a chooser of CEO's his track record just might be considered questionable. First there was John Scully and now we have Tim Cook.
Jeff Hecht  2016-11-21 17:11
Well said, Adam. Let me add another future importance of the Mac. Mobile bandwidth is scarcer and more expensive than fixed bandwidth, and that will remain the case, although the price ratio may change. The smart home of the future needs a gateway and controller, and that a fixed Mac could fill that niche. That includes managing streaming video, gaming, household controls, and management centers where you keep your home records. It might not be for everybody, but it could be vital for the professional working at home, as more and more of us will be in the future.
Derek Roff  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-21 17:33
There is a foolish business meme that every company should drop the 20% of their products that bring in the least revenue, and the 20% of their employees that are least productive. Believers in this philosophy don't seem to recognize that this leads in the direction of having a single product and a single employee.

Mac pioneered the idea of a personal computing ecosystem, and now they are killing off the root and foundation, in the hopes of having only the pretty flowers.
dbrugger  2016-11-21 19:01
I couldn't be more in agreement. My iPhone and iPAD will never be a substitute for my MacBook Pro. I simply cannot do the same things and the small keys and screen are useless for most everything I do. It certainly does not have the personal files system on which I depend. I have spent the last couple months looking at and trying to decide how many refurbished MacBook Pros I should buy as my backup for future use. Apple has abandoned those who brought it to the dance, in my case 1984. More and more it comes across as if it were Microsoft with a new WORD app that they install on your computer without telling you.
Nelis van Nahuijs  2016-11-21 19:08
The only reason I use iPhone and iPad is the fact that I consider them to be more add-on's to my desktop Mac than the other way around. In other words, should there be no desktop Mac, there will be much cheaper alternatives for my iPone and iPad.
True !!!!!!!!!
Richard Fuhr  2016-11-21 19:36
And we should remember that a major factor contributing to the success of the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Apple TV is the presence of many apps on these devices.

These apps are usually designed, developed, debugged and deployed by using a Mac running a Mac app called Xcode!

So the Mac needs to continue to play a key role both within Apple and for app developers, in addition to millions of users who need a Mac for other tasks that they could not easily do on a smaller device.
Wagner  2016-11-21 19:45
"... because it’s easier to have a computer that
talks to your smartphone and tablet seamlessly."

Except that the new mb pro doesn't. Apple doesn't seem to care enough about the mac anymore even to make that happen out of the box.

I've noticed a trend over the last few years that both Mac hardware and software have decreased noticeably in quality. I've been a Mac user since 1991 and quality has been increasing steadily until a few OS X releases ago. Then the OS pretty much stagnated and bugs appear to be more common now. Applications like iTunes and iBooks are monstrosities. Safari feels like a memory hog. And the last two mb pros I've had (mid-2012 and mid-2015) have had kernel panics and random shutdowns when, previously, I hardly ever experienced any problems. It seems to me that Apple has definitely made a conscious decision to leave the Mac behind. I just didn't connect the dots as to why until I read this article.
I haven't had a kernel panic in years. By that logic, Apple is doing everything right. Neither your anecdotal experience or mine is a good measure of the actual state of the quality of Apple hardware or software.
Rob Plunkett  2016-11-22 20:25
I totally agree with this. Have experienced random shutdowns under El Capitan that I never had in earlier versions.
D Garrett   2016-11-23 13:53
I agree. I didn't know what a kernel panic was until Sierra. Now it is painfully familiar.
fastasleep  2016-11-23 17:11
How does the new MBP not talk to iOS devices? Before you say they use different USB connectors, realize almost nobody plugs their phone into their Mac directly, and if you wanted to, you'd just need a USB-C to Lightning cable. Not an issue. The connectivity that comes with Continuity/Handoff is amazing.
Scott M.  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2016-11-23 18:22
I think you would be surprised how many people charge their iPhones (or non-Apple smartphones) using a USB port on their computer. I personally don't except in rare cases, but I have encountered people who do.

And in that sense, asking those people to pay another $20 to be able to get their Apple branded phone to play nice with their Apple branded laptop just seems dumb from a marketing point of view. Yes, in the grand scheme of things paying another $20 when are dealing with at least a $1500 (if not potentially significantly more) computer is not the end of the world. But it is still very stupid marketing wise. I personally don't mind the adapters as I have been dealing with then for years (MiniDisplayPort to either VGA or DVI since 2009 and USB/Thunderbolt to Ethernet since 2010), but it is just cheap and dumb (from a marketing perspective) for Apple to at least not toss in a USB-C to USB-A adapter with each new MBP.
Simon  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-23 22:50
I'm one of those nobodies.

I charge and sync my iPhone over USB on my Mac.

I don't have to involve iCloud to get something done I can do locally. That way I stay in control of my privacy and don't have to trust Apple or iCloud with safeguarding my data.
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2016-12-01 07:24
As a Mac user in the late 90s, I certainly don't recognise "quality increasing steadily until a few OS X releases ago." The hardware quality in the mid- to late-90s was awful and on a downward trend (until the iMac), and software was not much better. Certainly my MacBook Air running Sierra is many, many times better than anything around the turn of the century, and I've found overall quality to have improved over the last few years.
Richard A Mageau  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-21 19:48
famed integration??? Yes, Microsoft is working towards more integration, but Apple?? Isn't the point of this entire article about lack of integration?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 10:30
Apple really is still working in that direction, even if there are issues with the implementations. Think about Desktop and Documents folder syncing, which enable you to access all your files on iOS devices, and Universal Clipboard, which let you copy and paste between all your Apple devices.
I don't want to sync my Mac Desktop and Documents folders to a cloud host, for security reasons. And in any case, my most important Mac files are large document database files that cannot be accessed directly in iOS. I agree with Adam. Most of my work cannot be done in the iOS environment, so I'm Mac-centric.
deweym  2016-11-21 20:02
Tim Cook has a manufacturing mindset. His job was to reduce costs to the minimum and eliminate anything that goes against that goal. He's still stuck in his ways. Too many kinds of ports? Go only with USB-C. Why a separate plug that just does audio? Whack it. We don't make as much money with Macs? Marginalize then kill them. He's destroying the Apple ecosystem.

He is not a visionary like Jobs. Cook is for reducing risk and cost and be minimalist, but not to simplify the user experience...just reduce costs. There will be nothing new from Apple while Tim Cook is in charge. He was brilliant at getting Apple equipment to market but he is focused in the opposite direction of growth and insanely cool products.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 09:25
Remember that the visionary like Jobs was the one who started the single port fetish.
Which Mac under Steve Jobs had a single port?
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 12:26
Perhaps I should have said that Steve Jobs started the fetish towards cutting ports down beyond the minimum.

There is no step 3.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 16:16
The original MacBook Air was close, with just one USB port and a Micro-DVI port for a display.
Ry Glover  2016-11-21 21:17
Thank you, Adam, for helping to express the frustration that millions of Mac users are probably feeling, without even knowing why they are feeling it. I am still running a Mac Pro 2008 and know that I will probably need to update soon, but to what? To a Mac Pro introduced in 2013 that was a monstrosity, nowhere near the usefulness of the other Mac Pros that so conveniently include onboard storage facilities and lots of options for expansion? To an iMac? Like others who have commented on this thread, I need the functionality of a major computer that I can use with a keyboard. No iPad will ever cut it for me and not even a portable feels as good to me as my Mac Pro.
Bill B  2016-11-22 19:58
I have a 2007 iMac that works very well, runs on Mavericks (because the flat OS is absolutely ugly and is undoubtedly designed to slow my iMac down so I will buy a new one), and has the ports I need. With regard to ports, Apple eliminated the microphone port (I must have an external mic to record audiobooks for my educational business) on the new iMacs and killed the optical drive in the name of "thinness". Who needs a thin desktop? THAT is unnecessary. Not to mention the insane idea of gluing down hard drives and soldering RAM to the motherboard. How terrible it is that a Windows PC seems to be the only option that I will eventually have to turn to. This article, by the way, is brilliantly expressed.
Richard Fairbanks  2016-11-21 21:19
I believe that Apple Computer has abandoned the Mac (and the Mac OS) to the point that the only reasonable solution will be to force Apple to open-source the OS, and allow users to choose between the "officially supported" version or the open-source version. Apple could distinguish between the two in firmware. This would (for the first time in a decade!) give us a functional, reliable OS, stripped of all the "bells and whistles," and allow the OS to be reliably used on "hackintoshes."
The above obviously would need to be elaborated upon, but my intention with this introductory post is to simply introduce a brief framework that would allow those of us who actually do use the Mac to "change the world" to not be (deliberately?) sabotaged by Apple Computer.
I'm sure most, if not all of us, remember, "Here's to the crazy ones . . . "
I do not allow Microsoft products near my body.
Richard Fairbanks  2016-11-21 21:25
P.S.: The above includes open-sourcing iOS, so that those of us who use our iDevices as extensions of our Macs do not have to scramble everytime a long-awaited jailbreak becomes available!!
Richard Fairbanks  2016-11-21 22:25
P.P.S.: Please support Hamish Sanderson's efforts to revive appscript into its new incarnation, SwiftAutomation.:
Pete Ronai  2016-11-21 21:23
I have been a Apple (desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone and AppleWatch) user since each of these platforms became available. However, the thought of doing serious work on anything other than my Mac Pro is laughable (though if forced by having to be away from home, I will use my MacBook Pro). Since its inception, iOS has been in my opinion an emasculated version of the Mac's operating system. Apple's apparent limited interest in the Mac Pro and Mac OS will frustrate users with serious work needs if it continues.
Mike P  2016-11-21 21:45
I don't really have anything to add to the comments that have already appeared here, so I'll just say:

THANKS, Adam, for writing this. I hope people at Apple read it and take it to heart.
bdthompson  2016-11-21 22:11
Tim Cook is a production manager. His entire life at Apple was based on selling and reducing costs. He is not a visionary (neither is Jony Ive). Apple needs to do a serious search for another visionary that can envision the entire line and see how important the Mac is to the rest of the products. I have used Apple since before the Mac and the reason I continued is because it "just works". Not now.
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-11-21 23:32
Basically you're saying Tim Cook is the 21st Century John Sculley or, "John Sculley Lite". The two biggest screwups Steve Jobs ever did were picking Sculley to be CEO and picking Cook to be CEO.

As for Jony Ive, he may be a good HARDWARE designer but as a software designer he just sucks.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2016-11-22 08:10
Steve Nicholson  2016-11-22 11:21
At this point I would debate the claim that Jony Ive is a good hardware designer. Yes, he's made a lot of beautiful, functional products and has advanced the state of the art many times. But he is now forcing every product he designs into the same "thinner and lighter" constraint at the expense of all other considerations. There's no reason an iMac needs to be 1/4" wide at the edges other than to stroke his vanity. In most installations I've seen, the sides aren't visible anyway. But because of that, the 21" iMac is 100% non-expandable and the 27" can only have its RAM upgraded (and I'd be very surprised if that's possible in any future models). The new MBP is likewise non-expandable and non-repairable.

The only thing keeping me on OS X now is the quality of the third-party software. Developers who really care about their craft are still writing for the Mac but as Apple continues to alienate them with its paltry hardware offerings, they're going to start making the difficult decision to switch platforms.
Steve L'Heureux  2016-11-21 22:52
I like your idea a lot, especially since I don't think Apple can make it work any longer!
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-11-21 23:34
"benign neglect" - that was Apple's course with the Apple II line, especially the Apple IIGS.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 10:33
Yes! Apple let the Apple II line wither away, but it took a long time. Production of the Apple IIe didn't cease until 1993, 9 years after the Mac came out.
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-11-25 12:32
Only because they needed the revenue from Apple II sales to keep the Mac line alive.
Shameer Mulji  2016-11-29 13:24
Maybe Apple intends to do the same with the Mac
Rob Lewis  2016-11-22 00:45
Abolishing Sal Soghoian's department (AppleScript, Automator, etc.) is close to the last straw for me. Surely Sal's entire budget amounted to a rounding error on Apple's overall budget, and his group served a small but influential group of enthusiasts (while getting practically no support from the bigwigs).

Apple has made a lot of PR hay over being a company that cares about more than just the bottom line, but it looks like that's where they're headed.

Furthermore, what do they do when the iOS market is saturated? Not make cars, apparently. I've felt for years that Home Automation could be their next big thing, and something like an enhanced Automator could be the key that unlocks HA for non-techies.
Jay Kinney  2016-11-22 00:50
As a Mac user since 1984 and now an iPad and iPhone user, Macs have been the core of my computing experience for over 30 years. I believe that Adam has put his finger on the neglect of the Mac platform that Apple has been extending since Jobs died.

I've been waiting for a decent upgrade of the Mac Mini for several years and there is none in sight. Mac OS becomes less versatile and functional with every new release. Steve Jobs must be rolling in his grave.

If Apple cannot upgrade its Macs on a regular basis, what will restrain us longtime Mac-users from just switching to PCs? (I use PCs at work and am no longer a Microsoft-phobe. In some ways, Windows 10 beats Mac OS.)

Thanks for pointing out the obvious, Adam.
Simon  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 01:51
I could live with having to use an Android phone. I don't need much from a smartphone. Phone, email, browser, and a few apps that also exist on Android. Security and privacy would be my main concerns.

But I use my Mac to work. Leaving the Mac behind would be something I'd very much like to avoid. And it would no doubt come with a plethora of adjustments to my tightly trimmed workflow.

This article made me think that the only way Apple might refocus again on the Mac is if the iOS business tanks. The iPad is already not doing too well. The iPhone is facing stiff competition and the writing is on the wall that Apple won't be making 30+% margins forever. As much of a shame as it would be to see some of their great iOS work go to waste, if that is what has to happen for Apple to once again take the professionally used Mac seriously, I guess I'd be fine with that.
Sam Reichberg  2016-11-22 03:21
The Mac might not have been Jobs' ultimate vision. At a Boston Apple II conference in the early 80s, I heard him not only cryptically describing the upcoming Mac, but telling the joke: "Shakespeare said 'to be or not to be', but he didn't sell. Decartes said 'I think, therefore I am', and he didn't sell either. Frank Sinatra said 'doobedoobedu' and he sold!". 35 years later Apple has become a leading entertainment company selling game, video and music (and I kick myself for, instead of buying stock right then and there, purchasing almost every Mac model it produced). Fair enough. But ignoring the technical prowess and ecosystem that brought it there, is a certain way to ensure that Apple will not remain the top doobedoobedoer for too long.
Donald van de Weyer  2016-11-22 03:28
What specifically are you missing from the Mac platform to make you productive? In my opinion you fail to make a point.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 10:42
The specifics vary by industry. At MacTech, I heard consultants talking about clients in architecture, video production, photography and more, all of whom were switching from the Mac to Windows for increased performance and more capable software (driven by developers de-emphasizing or leaving the Mac).

The closest I personally have come is with an Acrobat plug-in that we rely on for ebook production. On the Mac, it's compatible only with Acrobat XI, not the current Acrobat DC, and it doesn't look like the company will be supporting Acrobat DC on the Mac ever. That's not a deal-breaker at the moment, but if Acrobat XI stops working in the next version of macOS, we'd be forced either to figure out a way of replacing it with other tools (which I don't believe exist at this point) or simply doing that part of our production in Acrobat DC in Windows. We've had to do that in the distant past (because Microsoft Word in Windows can make a much better PDF than Word on the Mac), and we did it with a virtualized version of Windows.
George  2016-11-22 16:00
"All of whom" are switching to windows, in those fields? I am not seeing this with any contacts I have in any of those mentioned fields. I think this is much ado about nothing. Apple is making a great deal of structural changes to their operating system/file system etc. and I don't see evidence of any real change in their Mac focus other than what might be Powerpoint bullets (and I thought we were not into that?). Can you point to anything other than Acrobat where this is really an issue for anyone? I can see the pain points for publishers, but PDF as a driver for Mac sales? Can you give specifics that would make a Mac (laptop or desktop) work better for most professionals?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 16:05
I'm relaying what I was told at the conference, so no, I don't have details. But I am surprised you say you don't see a change in focus given how long different Mac lines are going without upgrades (3 years for the Mac Pro), and the preponderance of changes to macOS that are designed primarily to make it more like iOS, or to work more in concert with iOS. And the dropping of the Thunderbolt Display and potentially the AirPort base stations? To my mind, that's pretty clearly a lack of focus on the Mac.
George  2016-11-22 18:31
I've heard complaints about time between upgrades yes. And your specific examples definitely have merit. But I am not sure there is a lot of bang for the buck with yearly updates.. when Apple just bumps up specs, they get complaints from the tech press and commenters. When they make design changes, they get the same. I don't think people are fleeing to Windows either. iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) and the original iPad Pro. Not sure how much I would notice just spec changes. I suspect Apple is working on serious changes to the Mac lineup, and major file level changes that they want to get right. Won't please everyone though, in any event.
In the medical imaging market, windows rules because there aren't macs or MacBooks that can support Nvidia quadro cards, which are pretty much all we use for interventional or diagnostic imaging. I hardly ever use my MacBook anymore, and I use the MacBook Air for travel. But, not for work. Granted, it's a small market, but some of the software and hardware turnkey surgical systems I work on can run in the $100,000.00 price range. per unit.
George  2016-11-23 00:31
I don't think Apple ever competed in the field anyway right? I go to a coffee shop or airport, Mac laptops abound. Creative agencies, film editors, lots of Macs. Go to my doctor, Dell and Windows. My point in all this is that Apple isn't abandoning the Mac, and yes, updates are lagging a bit. But their hardware has never been the most powerful. It just seems the gripe du jour these days. Same with software. Apple cannot make good software anymore supposedly. As if Logic or even GarageBand or Keynote, etcetera isn't truly productive software useable by pros.
Graham Mitchell  2016-11-22 03:49
The new Macbook Pro has rightly drawn criticism because it fails to meet the needs of the target market. I've read numerous blog posts from professionals like me who have relied on their Macbook Pro for years, and are now reluctantly finding themselves having to look further afield in terms of their own IT roadmap. For me it is looking like continuing to use my mid 2010 Macbook pro (which I've upgraded - something newer machines are not capable of), and acquiring a new Linux powered desktop that I can increasingly use and migrate to over time, leaving the Macbook Pro as a low use mobile platform when needed. As a professional user I'm not interested particularly in how light or thin the machine is, or whether its got a gimmicky touch bar or whatever. I want a solid workhorse that lets me get things done, plugs in to my peripherals, and lets me upgrade it over time.
Graham Mitchell  2016-11-22 03:50
Maybe, just maybe, this latest release is simply a holding position until next spring when Kaby Lake processors and a new fully upgradeable design will hit the streets.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 10:44
That may be true, and if it is, I'd say shame on Apple for not sharing a bit more of a roadmap. Sure, they may hurt some sales today, but that's better than losing a customer entirely during that time.
Apple has never been one for sharing a roadmap, to the consternation of their enterprise customers.
Nothing new there.
Macs going 3 years without an upgrade (particularly after "Can't innovate, my @ss.") is definitely new.
Stephen Tiano  2016-11-22 04:52
I've been a Mac user since 1987. Without it, I'd never have reinvented myself as a freelance book designer back in 1991-3, after-hours from my day-job.

Now, 25 years later, 100 books under my belt, barely a year retired from the old day-job, a handful of Macs later and into my second iMac later today, a 27", I could be looking at my last Mac. My 17" MacBook Pro is the last of that line.

I never would've learned the software I use to make books, much less nurtured my book design practice to the success it is, on any other platform. Would've required too much tech. Windows, back in 1991 was the only option for me and it required too much to learn it and deal with its unreliability before learning how to do the tasks I needed to do.

Yes, I got an iPod and first- and third-gen iPads, but they're conveniences. I don't use a cell phone enough to require an iPhone, tho', oddly, we got my wife one. No iOS device will ever sub for the screen real estate and powerful design software I need.
Stefano  2016-11-22 05:41
PC/Mac replacement cycles have got longer. And many pro activities require their own specialist kinds of specs. Are architects really going to buy a bunch of laptops? Maybe they'll just have a lot of cheaper workstations loaded with RAM, in the office, operated by the CAD monkeys. OMG the MacBook Pro doesn't run Catia!

Apple seems to focus on the form factor and the ecosystem. It is a "pro" light laptop, not every specialist's laptop.
The iMac has many uses an iPad or iPhone cannot perform. For example, my outside weather station connects to a datalogger which is connected to my iMac. My iMac constantly transmits data to six international weather data collecting centers. Many stationary devices can only connect to computers which have multiple ports.

Storage and backup is something I will never trust completely to iCloud. I can backup data to an external drive on an iMac which can be isolated from the more hackable world outside my home.

Windows computers are far more prone to viruses, and the Windows OS is just now a good option.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2016-11-22 08:46
Now that Microsoft has introduced the Surface Studio, the Mac desktop is in even more trouble. Within a few years the Surface Studio will have grabbed many of the creative professionals Apple has been neglecting for so long. Combing the virtues of a desktop computer and a Wacom Cintiq, at half the price of the two, the Surface Studio will offer a serious challenge to Apple's presumed dominance among creative pros. Of course that dominance has always been more propaganda than fact, but Apple's neglect of the Mac and the macOS is providing Microsoft with a golden opportunity to eat Apple's lunch.

Tim Cook recently said that a touch screen computer was against Apple's philosophy. I don't think Cook has a clue what Apple's philosophy really is. He's just making excuses for his lack of vision, which is perfectly manifest in the decline of the Mac platform.

If artists and designers see the Mac as a dead end—as it now appears to be—they will start looking for a more promising alternative. The Mac Pro, which started out with so much potential, is now moribund. The iMac has peaked. Without a touch version of the macOS and a hardware redesign to support it, the iMac has reached EOL.

I'm too old to change now. But if I were a young graphics professional I would be looking to switch my allegiance. Frankly, given the decline in usability in the macOS in recent years, with that appalling goth interface, Windows 10 doesn't look all that bad. At least Microsoft pays attention when their crap doesn't fly. Windows RT and Windows 8 were expensive failed experiments, but with Windows 10 their OS is back on track. And now that Microsoft is making compelling hardware, too, well, Apple has far less to recommend it as a platform than they once did.

Now that you can no longer sync your iOS devices manually with the Mac in macOS 10.12 Sierra, there is even less reason for an iPhone user to have a Mac. You can back up your devices in the cloud so a Mac may be extraneous for many. Still, now that Apple has cut the cord, I can't help wondering how well all those iOS devices will do without a robust Mac platform to provide a solid base of user support. If the foundation of the Apple ecosystem fails, how long will that ecosystem survive? Not so long, I'm thinking.
Greg C  2016-11-22 08:56
I don't remember a calendar year passing without a single update to desktop models before. Will AirPlay whither and die now? Will desktop Macs get a design overhaul again? Will some of the desktop models ever be seen again? Will automation be severely weakened to the point that current tasks can no longer be performed automatically?

Apple silence about products in the past helped build excitement about new releases. But these days, Apple silence seems to be an indication that the product has secretly been dumped.

What irks me most, I think, is that a lot of time has passed without new desktop products, but seemingly Apple has time to play with building a car. Surely a company with so many employees and so much money can look after it's traditional business better than this.
Jim Royal  2016-11-22 09:12
I've sent emails to both Tim Cook and Phil Schiller about the state of the Mac. Here's the one I sent to Schiller:

Dear Mr. Schiller.

I’ve been an Apple customer for 32 years. And in all that time, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a bigger disconnect between Apple and its Mac customers than during the past few months.

I know you’re perfectly aware of the angst being expressed on Mac-centric web sites right now. Your long-time customers — mostly creative professionals — are so frustrated that some are now calling for the cloning program of the late 90s to be resurrected because they are convinced that Apple will never again sell a Mac that they want to buy.

Apple has been sending bad signals to its Mac customers literally for years. Last month’s “Hello Again” event simply caused the simmering pot of discontent to boil over. And this week’s news about the dismantling of the Automation Technologies team (for the record, I depend on Mac OS automation technologies for my work) is sending creative professionals into a tailspin.

I enjoy my iOS devices, but they are inessential luxuries for me. The Mac is where I work, create, and play. The Mac is essential.

My current machine is a 2008-era Mac Pro that is long overdue for replacement. But Apple has not provided a viable upgrade path for this machine in years.

Apple has successfully broadened the appeal of the Mac over the last ten years, and that’s great. But it seems that this has come at the expense of maintaining the Mac as a power tool for creative professionals. And if that’s not actually true, then Apple has done a poor job of communicating its intentions to its oldest and most loyal customers.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 10:46
Oh, man, I forgot that I was going to use the Power Computing "Take Back the Mac!" slogan in this article! I still have the poster up in our garage. :-)
Jim Royal  2016-11-22 11:11
That poster would make for a wonderful visual companion to this article. It could be the focus for a customer-driven revolt: "Take Back the Mac!"

On Apple World Today, Dennis Sellers links back to this article with the headline "Here's Another Idea for Saving the Mac from Apple." This seems to be an idea that is crystallizing in the Mac press, that the very concept of the Mac, and Mac users as a group, are at odds with Apple itself.
I love Adam's idea of spinning off the Mac into a wholly owned subsidiary!
On the other hand, having been a Mac technician during the days of Power Computing and Motorola clones, I hope to all that is holy that Apple never makes that mistake again. Quality on those machines was cheap to match the machines, but the customers were expecting the full quality of the Mac experience at the price of a cheap Dell. When it didn't work that way, it wasn't Power Computing or Motorola they blamed, but the Mac experience, i.e. Apple.
D Garrett   2016-11-23 14:02
Great letter. I am afraid it will go unheard until Apple has a new leadership team.
apple nut  2016-11-22 11:08
The driver in Apple's eyes may not be the iPhone but rather the "walled garden" business model of IOS (vs MacOS).

Apple seems to be taking its sweet time merging the iOS/MacOS even though iOS sprang from MacOS (OSX). Apple probably wants to convert MacOS customers to the iOS captive market walled garden as much as possible for control and... Apple's preferred captive market revenue model.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 11:21
I think that's part and parcel of the focus on iOS. The walled garden keeps people using iOS and buying iPhones, and it's those iPhone sales that really bring in the bacon.
Thanks for the excellent article Adam. You've really hit a nerve! But that's good! Hopefully, someone at Apple (in a position to effect some change) will see the comments here. :: I have been concerned about the ignoring of the Mac for some time now.
Make the Mac Great Again.
Edward Wood  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 11:48
Yes,Adam. you are right. I' not not looking for a new Mac right now,But if apple keeps up with this BS, in a year from now, I'll be looking for a new Dell.
Paul S  2016-11-23 14:08
I'm not looking one right now but soon will be. I doubt I'll be getting an Apple laptop. They've priced anything I would consider out of my reach.

I may be joining you in looking elsewhere.
I am totally blind. When I first got a Mac back in 2009, I thought, they were going to keep developing it and doing great things. However, after the Snow Leopard release of the Mac OS, I noticed that Voiceover on the Mac started getting token upgrades. Also, long standing issues with VoiceOver on the Mac were not getting fixed at all.

However, on IOS, which, by the way, I dearly love, Apple continues to make improvements with Voiceover and all other types of accessibility. I have thought, for a few years now, that Apple was slowly withdrawing attention to the Mac.

Now, these new machines are vary expensive and not upgradable.

There are some things I am more comfortable doing on a computer. However, like others, I think windows is improving and Mac OS is stagnating.

I can see why you would want a thinner and lighter IOS device for portability. But, the laptop is a production device and size shouldn't be the top consideration.
Apple survived because of us faithful customers who stayed with Apple and kept buying Apple products through thick and thin. Apple seems to have a very short memory. The last Hello Again event was the most pathetic Apple event I've ever seen.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-22 15:23
"us faithful customers"

Us faithful customers happily bought clones in such numbers in the 1990s that Apple almost went out of business and then whined loudly when Steve Jobs shut down the clone makers. Us faithful customers threaten to jump to Windows/Linux/BeOS whenever Apple drops our cherished feature/port/model etc..

All kinds of folks have short memories.
Mark Alan Thomas  2016-11-22 18:32
You say that as if it was wrong for us to buy clones. Apple created the clone market. They encouraged us to buy them. It's not our fault they bungled the business model. Short memory indeed.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-23 09:21
"It's not our fault they bungled the business model"

Ah, yes, of course it's never our fault, is it?
Simon  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-23 09:49
Of course it isn't. What are you talking about?

We're the customers. We don't owe a company anything. It's the company's job to produce products that satisfy our needs and get us to hand over money. If they fail at that they have only themselves to blame.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-29 09:56
It's the company's responsibility to produce products it thinks it can sell best. If they don't fit a particular customer's needs, it's perfectly reasonable not to hand over their money; what *isn't* reasonable is to act as if Apple has betrayed us. That latter is "what I'm talking about."
I bought an iPad and an iPhone, then the Apple Watch because they worked well with my iMac which I had bought first - After owning an Apple ][+, GS, Mac IIsi, iMac, MacMini, iMac (Intel) (three of them) plus assorted iMacs, MacBooks for friends I helped convince to order Macs. And they bought iPads and iPhones
Apple: keep the Mac family strong and flexible for each of its branches.
Terry   2016-11-22 16:28
Adam, first let me say that this is still one of the great sites for Mac users. Always thoughtful, always thorough. I only have one point. "relative success" for the iPad Pro. Well, the iPad pro has done nothing to slow Apple's iPad sales decline.

I for one, don't
really use my iPad much anymore. It was never casual enough, yet never computer enough for me. And, I can't see how it would replace my work if I can't see thew file system, and can't interoperate with other platforms.

Apple will rue the day they gave short shrift to the Mac. I know it sounds like sour grapes, but the two computers I would have automatically bought from Apple this year, are now being reconsidered.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-11-22 16:47
My understanding from Apple's financials is that yes, the sales of the iPad Pro have helped.

Unit sales were down, but the revenues were flat in Q4. The higher margin iPad Pro may have made the difference.
Peter Sichel  2016-11-22 17:20
Adam makes some great points as usual. The Mac product line is in need of some attention. But nothing Apple could do will satisfy everyone.

It's 2016. The focus of innovation has moved beyond desktop computers. This is true for Macs and PCs. Upgrade cycles have gotten longer. Intel has been slow to deliver the notebook chip set Apple needs. With much faster SSDs, very few will actually see much benefit from more than 16 GB of RAM.

4 customizable (with dongles) USB-C ports are far more flexible than the 7 dedicated ports they replace. In a couple years, few dongles will be needed while the flexibility remains.

It's a notebook designed to be easily carried and battery operated. If you don't need a lightweight notebook, that's a different product.

Before ranting, I hope people will think carefully about what Apple really can and should do to best serve the majority of Mac users. Good ideas are powerful.
Part of the issue is not everyone needs a lightweight notebook but some people do need a powerful portable - and Apple doesn't offer one.

The justification for 16Gb max in an MBP is because to increase that would require a different motherboard design with a much higher power usage. For some people, that is a price worth paying - their Macbook Pro isn't a lightweight coffee shop machine, it's "a machine I can easily transport between home and office and when I use it, it's plugged in". So the power usage doesn't matter, the extra quarter inch shaved off the height doesn't matter.

And as for "16Gb is enough" - when I buy a new machine I'm investing a significant amount of my money for something that I want to last for years. 16Gb may be OK today but it may not be soon; I know 32Gb would be OK for many years to come.
Peter Sichel  2016-11-23 15:23
I mostly agree with your observations. Based on Intel's road map, that product won't be available until next year or the year after. Apple had to consider if they should build a clunky portable this year, or build the elegant portable they can this year, and the elegant Pro+ portable next year. In my experience, Apple doesn't choose clunky to meet a short time window. Time will tell if a Pro+ machine is coming.

I don't see a huge market for desktop Apps that really need more than 16 GB anytime soon.
Simon  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-23 15:47
Even if Apple had in mind to build an awesome pro machine next year (when Intel finally delivers), what did we have to wait so long for? They could have released a spec-bumped MBP months ago. Possibly even at lower price points.

Probably we had to wait all this time for Touch Bar. So instead of a timely update to the pro portable Mac we got delayed so we could get a gimmicky semi-pro MBP along with a nice price hike.

Either way, quite disappointing.
I'm a software developer and as such I run multiple browsers (which aren't small) and multiple VMs at the same time, whilst also running my code. 16Gb is OK today but as software like browsers increase in size (which they are bound to as they grow in complexity) it won't be for much longer.

My current 16Gb machine is close to end of life.

Today I have the choice of making an expensive short term purchase, waiting for something that may never come or buying a bigger machine to run Linux (urgh but frankly each ten minute wait that I'm waiting for my code to run it's test suite is dead time and if I can get that down to five minutes that gives me an extra hour a day).

I recognise I'm not mainstream but mine is also not a small market.
Peter Sichel  2016-11-25 05:29
Agreed, When Steve Jobs introduced the simplified product matrix years ago, one of his key points was to have an "A team" working on each quadrant of the product matrix and update it regularly. I suspect the wait was mostly limited attention cycles from Apple's senior management. Which is Adam's point.

For the record, TouchID is not a gimmick.
Peter Sichel  2016-11-24 12:11
Even in your case, I suspect Apple's 2-4x faster SSD will give you way more bang per buck than 32 GB of RAM. It will be interesting to see how developers respond once they get their hands on the actual hardware.

I'm a developer too.
Bobby Dig  2016-11-22 18:23
I've been reading crap like this since 1986. Please stop writing these meaningless articles. I'm more than happy with Apple's offerings.
David Buckley  2016-11-22 22:40
The article spoke articulately about problems many longtime mac users believe are real. This is not "where is my floppy drive?"

Also, fine to disagree but be nice about it. Different people, different issues.
Beartoe  2016-11-22 23:21
Apple can produce the device of the future. It's quite easy to imagine a hybrid iOS / MacOS device: the iDevice. Form factor of an IPhone and when it's out with you, that's what it is. But this iPhone, when dropped onto a charger / dock / keyboard attached to a display, becomes a Mac. Perhaps not the most powerful Mac, but a Mac that you take with you. Perhaps it has mini-Mac functionality on the road, perhaps not. Perhaps only limited access to your files. People are hungering for one device. Charge for it what you will.
I'm one of those users that's starting to feel a bit uncertain about my future use of Macs, and I've been using them since 1985. I'm a professional photographer, writer, and filmmaker. As much as I enjoy my iOS devices, there's no way I could ever accomplish the work I do on them. I know a lot of creative professionals who who share my concerns about the direction of the Mac.

The new MacBook Pros are a good example. They're not all bad, but they're simply not designed to serve the needs of people like me. The Mac Pro situation is even worse. The 2013 model was essentially a non-starter as you knew from the start that you would be stuck with whatever specs you bought. I'm still using a previous version of the Mac Pro that I've upgraded several times with video cards, memory, and faster drives as my needs have evolved. That's the type of flexibility many content creators need. I no longer see it coming from Apple.

iOS is a much bigger business and I get why they are focused on it. Ultimately, I'm coming to grips with the fact that I'm no longer a demographic Apple cares about, and maybe that's the disappointing part.
Richard  2016-11-24 21:21
Your comment is spot on and I'm in exactly the same place. I do think Apple has enough money and human resources to walk and chew gum at the same time: they should be able to keep iOS, the iPhone and iPad moving forward and continue to support Mac OS and keep the various devices that run it moving forward. The fact that we're even having this discussion means that Apple is dropping support of professional use of its products, or, has things in the works and isn't going to talk about them until they're announced. I hope it's the latter but I'm afraid it's the former.
Scott M.  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2016-11-23 04:06
I thought the article was well done and on point.

In my case, I am not what might be considered a "professional" user in the sense that I am not doing high end graphical design, videos, etc. I mainly use my Mac for typical type stuff with occasional jaunts into "prosumer" type stuff.

That being said, I still have issues with Apple's direction of the Mac...both hardware and software.

On the hardware side, I despise the "thinner and sexier" design approach at all costs. It is too much about form over function. I am not saying that something like a new MacBook Pro need to weigh a ton and look like crap, but have awesome specs. It is more that we have reached the point of diminishing returns on making something like the MacBook Pro thinner. My 2014 15" rMBP is only .5 lbs heavier than the new MBP. How much will someone really notice that .5 lb difference? And what could we have gotten in terms of extra battery life or maybe more RAM or more repairability if Apple had NOT shed that .5 lbs?

In terms of the MBP, there is a lot I like. While I don't like that Apple did not include at least one USB-C to USB-A dongle, I do like the 4 rather flexible ports. It seems to have nice performance bumps. I can live with 16 GB of RAM, though I realize that others cannot and would have personally liked the option to pick 32 GB even if that meant worse battery performance.

The major downside of the new MBP for me is the continuation of soldering everything to the motherboard. It was bad enough when they did it with the RAM, but now they are dong it with the SSD. This essentially makes the new MBP VERY expensive to repair. I have never been under any illusions that buying a Mac was going to be endeavor on the lower end of the cost scale. The complete lack of repairability (other than replacing the motherboard) now essentially means that one should automatically add another $350 to the price of a MBP to get an AppleCare extended warranty to eliminate the chance that a faulty SSD on a just over 1 year old MBP might effectively mean buying another $2000+ computer (or whatever "discounted cost" it might be to replace the motherboard). That to me is unacceptable.

Then there is the software side of things. I have yet to update to Sierra and there is a good chance that I will not. I have no interest in any of the "Optimized Storage" options, so the reports of some of those options being turned on by default after installing Sierra or after some "point updates" to Sierra make me completely unwilling to even try it right now. That forcing people to use cloud services, whether intentional or unintentional, is again unacceptable to me. It is fine to offer it as an option, but you should make sure that there is NO way it can be turned on without express consent of the user.

These are just a few of my "gripes" about the current state of the Mac. I am not in a position where I need to get a new Mac nor switch Sierra for now. That will not last forever, however. And when I reach that point, if Apple has not corrected its direction, then as much as it pains me to say it, I might have to look at non-Mac options.
Michel Angelo  2016-11-23 07:11
[... and Apple abandons its Airport line of network devices...] Sad. Last time I remember, I had an Apple supplied modem: an Apple Djinn cosigned with France Telecom, a 2.4K thing. Soon to be abandoned by Apple, soon te be replaced by my Global Village Platinum modem, then Numeris (64K), then ADSL. After my Global village modem, the modem has always be owned by my ISP (Orange), which wants me to use their router and their wifi access point (all in one). A complete series ef entirely black black boxes. No way to know what’s in there, no way to know who has the credentials to access it. With the Apple routers and wifi, one could expect, in addition to style and ease of use, serious attention on security and privacy.

Windows users are grown-ups, supposedly capable to watch over their shoulders for bad guys (else they get beaten to pulp).

Not me, so far. This new saddens me.
I'm also worried about the state of the Mac. To make iOS apps you still need a Mac. I'm a developer and I just can't imagine making an app on my iPhone. My 3 year old Mac Pro (trash can model) is still fine, but how will it be in 2 years? Adobe keeps updating Photoshop/Illustrator. Will those programs start running on Windows only in the next few years? Will Xcode be ported to Windows and all iOS development happens on that platform?

Confused. Frustrated.
tom powers  2016-11-23 12:51
If there were a $500 Macbook I'd be out buying one this weekend. My black Macbook died a couple of months ago, and a base of $1100 to $1300 is too much to replace it. I only need something to load photos onto when I'm travelling or as a backup machine for mail. I don't need Retina. I do need USB2 or 3 and an SD card slot without a dongle. Who wants to manage dongles on vacation? I would also like an optical disc reader/writer, but that's for my convenience in backing up photos instead of sharing SD cards.
A lot of the same criteria exist for my 27" 2009 iMac. $1700 then, $2700 now? For what? Dongles add $100 to the price of a new machine, more if you upgrade that you're connecting instead of just using adapters. And a USB thumb drive in your pocket will be the universal sharing device for a good while yet.
I think the thing that stands out the most here is the amount of bad-will on display towards Apple. In the past we were loyal and always gave them the benefit of the doubt when things seemed a bit wrong and loudly praised them when things were going well.

That seems to have gone away, and although revenues mask that, it's the people who come to places like this who influence what their family and friends buy over the next ten years.
George  2016-11-24 13:39
I have noticed that. Kind of silly. Some want a cheaper Mac, others a more powerful one, some are quick to say they will switch to Windows or something other than Apple, replace Cook, bring back the clones! Etc. Adam is speaking of a specific use case that some feel is not really being addressed by Apple. This might be true, time will tell. But Apple cannot have something for everyone, please everyone, including investors and pundits. Samsung has that model of 1000 choices.. and Apple is not interested in going there. Cook has said many times he is very excited about the roadmap they have. I hardly think we have seen it all from Apple. We don't always get what we want, sometimes we don't even get what we need. But Apple does listen and if it makes sense to them, they change.
Scott M.  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2016-11-25 21:04
I agree that Apple will never satisfy everyone. They would need to many models to even try to do that.

But, I do believe that they are too narrow in the laptop line up. After all, how much difference is there really between a 13" MBA, the 12" MacBook, and a 13" rMBP (with out the TouchBar)? The 13" MBA and 13" rMBP are basically the same weight with the MB being about a lb lighter. Yes, the 13" rMBP is more powerful than that other two (significantly so when compared to the MB, but less significantly when compared to the 13" MBA), but not by leaps and bounds. In many ways, to me, the 13" MBA is the best choice (unless you need/want a Retina display) as it is the cheapest option with still good power. The main reason you would go for the 13" rMBP over it is because of the Retina display and ability to go to 16 GB of RAM and the ability for slightly more processing (and graphics) power. Personally, I see no reason to even consider a MB, but then I don't see any value to saving 1 lb in weight when talking about a 3 lb vs. 2 lb computer...and I can live without a Retina display (I still love my 11" MBA with its non-Retina display).

The point to me is that Apple's current laptop line up has too much overlap. This is mainly because I hate Apple's "everything must be a thin and sexy as possible even if that mean sacrificing some function" approach.
Great Article about an uncertain Mac future, and the best proof of uncertainty are the numerous excellent comments here !
Conquesthunter  2016-11-23 17:14
Well I have not purchased an iMac for this very reason. I want one so bad but they keep neglecting it. They are cutting off their own heads I think.imac loses sales and drops in revenue, maybe because of people like me that think they are neglecting it and that is part of the lost sales. Does this start a snowball effect where some may say that macs are dead, they aren't selling, nobody wants them, Apple is losing their touch so maybe I will buy an android next and see how they are?
Openreels  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-23 20:24
And let's not forget that while Apple is paying less attention to the computer biz, Windows machines have gotten much better! I have to use both and don't find Win7, or even XP, nearly as horrible as what Windows used to represent. I'd rather not switch myself, but plenty of people do when the reasons add up.

It would also be great if Apple would play nice again with Adobe, an incredibly innovative and important company for many pro users...
Scott M.  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2016-11-25 21:11
I agree that Windows has dramatically improved. And in many ways I would be fine with switching to it if I ever need to do so (I actually have Windows machines that I use for gaming and my structural engineering software...also run the latter in VMs on my Macs). However, there are things about Windows that bother me too. I hate Microsoft forcing automatic updates. And I hate Microsoft's forced invasion of privacy in some areas in Windows 10.

So, realistically, if I ever have to abandon the Mac, I am not sure Windows would really be a better option. Might just have to consider Linux.
Kurt Griffith  2016-11-23 21:32
As an self-employed Graphic and Web Designer, who will in all likelyhood, NEVER purchase another Mac Pro. I will be seriously reconsidering my platform options when my current MP gives it up, or, as likely, gets obsoleted by a software or OS upgrade. While i do enjoy and appreciate my iPhone and iPad for what they are. I spend eight to ten hours a day at a full on workstation.

So I am very much aligned with this post!
Richard  2016-11-23 22:53
This is the single best piece of writing on this I've seen yet.

The Mac has been the center of my digital life since 1984 and while its had its ups and downs since then, I've stuck with Apple and the Mac and it remains an extremely important part of my life.

I don't have any problem with small, incremental changes to each Macintosh model. Apple doesn't have to radically change already excellent products to get people to upgrade. People who had 128K Macs bought 512K Macs or at the very least, motherboard upgrades. Same box, more memory and we were glad to have it. Then we gladly bought Mac Pluses, and so on. Same box, incremental upgrades. Fine.

The new MacBook Pro doesn't irk me the way it does many others. It looks like a fine computer to me although it's price increase gave me pause in ordering one and now I'm irritated enough so that I may skip this generation (hopefully there will be another).

What bothers me besides simply neglect of the Macintosh is that Apple has never, and I mean never acknowledged those of us who have bought not only new Macs every few years for the past 30 years, but also all of the other pieces of the ecosystem.

Essentially, Apple is treating those of who have an AirPort network with a few Macs, a few iPads, and a number of iPhones, an Apple TV and more the same as a user who just bought their first iPhone and has never owned an Apple product before.

it's not just about the amount of money I've invested in this company's tools (which I love and have gotten great use out of), it's about the fact that I've been doing it for 30 years and now I feel like they're pulling the rug out from under me.
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-11-25 12:26
Hell, Apple NEVER acknowledged that the Mac only made it out of its infancy due to the loyal Apple II users who were left "slowly twisting in the wind". It looks like history is repeating itself with the Mac users who are now being told to "foxtrot oscar and die" by Tim Cook et al..
Richard  2016-11-26 10:53
I agree, well said.

Even if Apple isn't dumping the Mac (maybe just the Mac Pro) they need to acknowledge that a "core" of long term users and supporters exist. They used to do this with Macworld and lots of support for users groups (I started and ran one of the first ones in the country in 1984 in Eugene, Oregon) but that kind of evangelism is long gone and it wasn't Cook that did it, it died before Jobs did.
It's that point in the relationship time....

You know the one.
Where are we going, how you are treating me....

I think its important to know now, more than anytime with Apple. Where are we at?

Like other fellow creative Pros posting on this thread, I never had to look elsewhere but I find I now have to.

It was my Mac that made me buy the trinkets (iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, AirPort)... not the other way round.

For me, the Mac is centre of what I do.
(Don't get me started on Aperture or Bento, Pages, Numbers!)

So Apple, where are we at? Do we have a future?
Don't even think of waving an Apple Watch strap in face!

It would be respectful if Apple could clearly say, where we are going with the pro roadmap, not the inner most details, simply... "we have a new iMac Pro / Mac Pro on the way and we think you are going to love it" OR we (in a secretive way) prefer to focus or efforts on making woven straps. You've got 2017, tick, tick...

Kudos to Adam.
I'm glad to part of a unified voice.
Simon  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-24 10:59
Regarding Cook and lack of vision.

Isn't it a surprising coincidence that just as Mac faithfuls start complaining about lack of progress and innovation, Apple has increased its advertising spending to record levels?

Wasn't it one of Steve's mantras that if you simply built the best product, customers would eventually come all by themselves?
Henrique Gomes  2016-11-25 07:01
It's actually *much* worse than that, I'm afraid.
Tell me, when was the last time you saw an Apple ad and you thought: "I wanna see that again." "Let me show it to my friends" ?? Apple had cool ads in the 90's when Steve wasn't there. Not now. Cook has no taste what so ever.
Richard  2016-11-26 10:56
Cook doesn't make ads, you might want to point at Phil Schiller and/or Jony Ive for that.

Of course, how can they make great ads when they're letting their products coast and/or die?
nicky y schleider  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-25 12:18
i find just reading e-mail easier on a mac than on an iPad or an iPhone. i imagine there are others like me. if there were no mac, i would look elsewhere for a computer which would probably result in my switching from the iPhone and the iPad to another company with a computer. i don't want all my info in the cloud. i want it on my computer.
Peter Moeser  2016-11-25 20:51
I am clearly an outlier in this discussion. I have seen nothing that says Apple is "abandoning" the Pro market. Speculation has been based on the fact that they have not put "slightly faster" CPUs in Mac cases.
Are the current Macs not fast enough? To some maybe not. But they were fast enough when they originally came out.
I've heard Andy Ihnatko's argument that Apple have an "obligation" to support "Pro" users because Apple are the only makers of Mac hardware. This is hogwash.
Apple has an obligation on a legal basis to its shareholders.
But they have demonstrated time and time again that they
put their customer experience above all else.
Negative commentary on the new MacBook pros comes from people who haven't even used them.
As usual, Apple innovated and created faster SSD storage to compensate for a 16GB RAM limit that was imposed on them by Intel falling behind. Not Apple's supposed lack of focus on "professionals"
I expected more reasoned commentary from this site
Scott M.  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2016-11-25 21:22
"But they have demonstrated time and time again that they put their customer experience above all else."

I am going to quibble with that a bit. I would argue it is more along the lines of:

But they have demonstrated time and time again that they put what their version of customer experience above all else.

Historically, their version of customer experience has worked out rather well. Lately, they seem to be missing the boat more and more, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The dongle issue is one example. OK, the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports on the new rMBP are more powerful and more flexible...I don't disagree. But, the need to use a dongle for just about everything is where they perceive one thing while a LOT of users feel differently. Personally, I don't mind dongles. But, the insult to injury is that Apple does not even provide one USB-C to USB-A dongle with the new rMBP. That is Apple ignoring the fact that there are LOTS of people who still need to use some sort of USB-A device. In other words, Apple pushing the curve a little too hard in order to force their view of customer experience on people.

To me another recent example is optimized storage and the reports of it being turned on by default for some when they installed Sierra or being turned on after a "point upgrade" of Sierra. This might be unintentional, but it is still a very serious issue. Some of those optimized storage options can have significant consequences for someone who does not want them on, which then means a VERY bad user experience for some.
Simon  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-26 01:17
"Speculation has been based on the fact that they have not put "slightly faster" CPUs in Mac cases. "

It's not just about CPUs. It's also about not offering updates to the most pro Mac there is to for example include TB3/USB-C (considering everything has to go through that because of lack of internal expansion!) or more up-to-date GPUs. Or faster storage. Or a smarter case. Or to improve screen quality on the iMac. Or how about the fact that today's most pro portable Mac has the same 16 GB RAM limit a 2013 MBP came with, yet costs significantly more?

This is not about specs. It's about attention to your "pro" product. It's about showing you care to innovate and improve when you charge top Dollar. It's about commitment to keeping expensive "pro" products in line with technology developments - even more so if you are the one driving those developments.

In case of the Mm there's been nothing. The same for the MP. For the iMac the last big thing was retina and that's been a while. Finally, for the MBP there's basically faster SSDs. That's great, but where would the demand for even faster SSDs (the previous were doing what? ~ 1 GB/s?) have come on the list? Not the top for sure. That's usually reserved for power, power/Watt, battery life, etc. Now obviously Apple cannot deliver what Intel isn't shipping, but they very well can decide how long to let people wait for what turned out to be a minor bump or if they really want to charge more than ever in the last decade for what is essentially meh.
Richard  2016-11-26 11:03
I think what's happened is that the new MacBook Pro, which looks like an excellent computer to me (although it's higher price shocked me) has unleashed a fog of commentary about all things Mac.

Couple that with dropping the Thunderbolt display and then AirPort and Time Capsule routers and the lack of attention to the Mac Pro and mini for many years and many of us see a pattern of neglect or, as Adam says, marginalization.

Because the Macintosh computer is the center point for many of us who own other Apple products and some of us actually make a living using Macintosh computers, these issues, whether real or imagined, are very real and are causing a serious discussion.

Apple could have prevented all of this, even while not announcing new desktop computers by simply ending the MacBook Pro event with: "more great upgrades coming to the Macintosh line in the fall" but in fact, they said nothing.

So, I believe some of this is a failure to communicate at the very least, a loose roadmap.
Great article. The scariest part of Apple today is Tim Cook's seemingly lack of direction, focus or vision. Heck, I'm not even sure he's calling the shots. Jony Ive is obsessed with making things thin, but doesn't care about function. Leaving Phil to justify compromises to end users. Eddy Cue is floundering with AppleTV. It's a complete 4 headed hydra!
Mark Holmes  2016-11-26 15:01
This all rings true - nice post that sums up the sad state of the Mac, and Apple, perfectly. I wrote a long post about this on Macrumors forums months ago when I finally gave up and bought an HP Workstation when it became clear there was no intention of every giving us another Mac Pro that could be user upgradeable. Link:

Things have only worsened since then. Perhaps it's time for leadership change at Apple. I just left a job after 19 years, simply because the work had become stale and I knew that the time for a change had come. Perhaps the executive team at Apple need to do the same and let the hungry, foolish employees waiting in the wings take over.
Simon  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-11-27 09:44
I just read this very interesting article arguing that Apple's corporate structure (functional vs. divisional) might be to blame for the Mac neglect.

"Apple may have finally gotten too big for its unusual corporate structure"
Adam, you've clearly spoken to the heart of your audience at Tidbits with this article. Like many of your readers, I have been a Mac user since the early days (in my case the late 1980's). I loved Hypercard, I love Applescript, and I have loved how the computer seems to do what I want it to, rather than the other way around. This year I'm shopping for a new laptop and the Surface computers seem much more interesting than Macbooks. Such a shame. The Mac was a revolution in computers, and it was fun to be a part of it with all of you.
Mitchell Smith  2016-11-28 12:28
As an Apple consultant, do you know how many businesses I work for where the iPad and iPhone are the primary computing devices used for work? None. Customers need their computers to have mice and keyboards, not touch screens, so they can quickly and accurately enter data. They need Gigabit Ethernet, they need true multitasking, and file server access. They need to emulate Windows and they need lots of memory for the applications they have open. And they need to be able to run backup clients to make sure they don’t lose their data.

Apple would LIKE the world to run on iOS, but it will never happen. Those of us who saw the iPad debut years ago knew this. You can’t make your customers work the way you want them to, because if you try, they’ll just go to Windows.

Apple does see the Mac as an iOS accessory, but they have it backward: iOS devices are accessories to computers. People do work on iPad when a computer isn’t available, and they do work on an iPhone when they don't have an iPad.
Eolake Stobblehouse   2016-11-28 20:01
Very wise words.

I really hope such a change happens. Like David Pogue said to me long ago: "yes, I could use a Windows computer if I had to, but... ugh."
Nicholas Croft  2016-11-30 01:44
"We choose to build the expandable Mac Pro and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win".
Have read the entire thread and cannnot stress enough how loyal and considerate long-time users have responded in a considered and thoughtful way, appreciated all round. I've been using Macs of various flavours for 24 years now. I think the stalwart and patient voices all of the key points have been made.
As I see it, at the heart of this is that, reflecting society as a whole, the market is increasingly polarized into two alternative paradigms for the future of the personal computer.

At one end —at the integrated device, 'high-margin' end—the all-in-one/laptop is increasingly becoming a commodity rather than a serious content creation/productivity tool.

The desktop —defined by its easy upgrade paths, with user-upgradable components—is not a good fit for the computer as commodity. Case in point: witness the collective anguish at the 2013 Mac Pro, oh how I shared it.

Picture if you will a weighing scales with each balancing each other. Along comes mobile—and Jony Ive as an industrial designer—and computer as commodity provides the clear momentum. Can Apple serve both markets? It doesn't have the financial incentive to try whilst it can happily keep the fashion conscious and over-sharing gen Y and Millenials happy in their coffee-shops and front-desks.

Back to apple, the scale and structure of the company is simply too overstuffed and unwieldy to change course, and there is nobody close to the strength of leadership and willingness to shake-things-up or strip back to the guiding principles that created the clarity of purpose evidenced with Jobs' second stint at apple. Inherently risk averse, 2016 Apple is as far from young and foolish as it is likely to get.
It is hard to under-estimate the strength of leadership required to resist the demands of shareholders, and neith Cook nor Ive have the desire or personality. The price-gouging on the latest MBP's is distateful.

I still have huge affection for my 2009 Macbook Pro, I believe the 2009-2012 represented a high-watermark in professional laptop design and build —vitally before high-margin iOS products were not draining the company's brightest and best from the Mac ranks.

Background: As an Architect, personally, I've been Gates/Jobs ambidexterous since my first job in Practice in 1992. It was common practice for our design professionals back then in '92 to be running a mix of Unix/Mac boxes catering to the CAD/Desktop Publishing needs of the office. The PC was just starting to enter the office back then.
Remember that Architects—having to wear 'two hats' as we do—that of creative professional by night and lead consultant in the Construction Industry by day—spanning between between Engineers on one side of the aisle and Artists, Photographers and Graphics/Rendering Pros on the other.
Even back then the trajectory was clear to me that a single platform was the end-game and the route was open for the PC to blow straight down the middle of these Unix alternatives. It was always unlikely that the Mac would ever 'scale-up' as required to meet the needs and demands of the Industry at the enterprise level, and us such, Architects were always on the margins of the apple demographic. Sole-practitioners and the Self-employed have always been that natural fit for the Mac and have sadly been marginalized for years.

I picture now a vivid image of a drying lake in arid lands. Spanning the horizon —once rich and deep— stocked full of talent. The lake, ever smaller sustains and nourishes diverse species of creative professionals. These most at risk are the Developers and Graphics professionals those most inter-dependent many who have now made the leap.
Now is the time for the publishing professionals and SD slot-less photographers, and soon perhaps these most hardy DJ's or music professionals.
I pause for a moment, to share a quiet moment and contemplate the sun setting on a golden era.
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2016-12-01 08:08
As usual, Adam, I enjoy reading your (and other TidBITS contributors') well-considered and well-written articles. In this case, though, I feel some context is missing, and some points are a bit exaggerated.

The context which is missing, is that desktop/laptop computers running Mac OS (or Windows) are a very mature product. All the low-hanging fruit is gone. And this is not all bad for us users. Although change is exciting, it can also be disruptive. Even without the iPhone and iPad, I don't think we'd be seeing the same hardware or software upgrade pace as we did in the past (actually, there was a period when we had to wait several years between OS updates). The personal computer (whether Mac or Windows) has, to an extent, stabilised. Part of this is also that, increasingly, the Mac/PC is not a mass market product. I know many people who rarely use a computer, and when they do it's to log into webmail or go onto other websites. Smart phones are far more widespread, and used far more, than 'computers'. So it's not surprising that the innovation and excitement has largely shifted to mobile phones and away from desktops/laptops (again this is not a Mac- or iOS-specific phenomenon).

The other aspect of this article I'd like to bring up is the contention that most recent changes to the Mac have been to make it more like, or more of an accessory to, the iPhone. Mail is nowhere near identical between Mac OS and iOS. On the Mac, it is far, far more powerful and customisable. I am a very heavy Mac Mail user and there is just no comparison. Sure, the default Mail interface might be simple and look like the iOS layout, but there is a lot there for power users. And both Contacts and Calendar are Mac apps that have evolved over time, but not changed to be more iOS-like. (Again, Contacts is noticeably more capable on the Mac than on iOS.) And overall, some features that 'came' from iOS, like Picture-in-Picture, are just features that should have been on the Mac anyway, but they happened to come to iOS first.

Overall, I don't think there's some sinister plan to use the Mac as a mere prop for the iPhone. The Mac is developing at its own, slower, pace, inline with where it is in terms of its maturity and wider market demand. There is easily as much platform lock-in on the Mac as on the iPhone, if not more. You don't need to control all software sales to lock people in. The Mac has a lot of Mac-only software, and workflow solutions, that would make it difficult for people to switch. Many iPhone apps, on the other hand, are also available on Android. And to be honest, most people are primarily accessing social networks/web/email on their phones.

Splitting the Mac into a separate subsidiary company would, to me, be a worrying sign. I would expect it would lead to feature development taking longer, or not happening. No longer would new features be developed with consideration for both iOS and Mac OS in their design. A lot of the underlying frameworks are shared. The Mac would be a minority player that would have to just work with whatever the main Apple team came up with. This would not be good for us Mac users!

This is not to say that there aren't things that concern me. I am very concerned about the dismantling of the automation group. And the hardware updates have become too thinly spaced, even given the reduced pace of change in a mature market. But Apple is good at playing the long game, and we can home that they are setting the foundations for a cohesive Mac line. So I think there are notes of concern, but we are nowhere near the "jump ship, we're all doomed" situation.
Bill Abbott  2016-12-06 20:44
I recently needed to update my 2010 MacPro but I don't need and can't afford the video-centric new MacPro. I mostly write and send text and work in Lightroom. Since I have two good monitors I chose a Mini. Sad, no top of the line "office & home" Mac available for me.
JAlbert  2016-12-06 20:46
I've never owned an iPod.
Never owned an iPhone.
Never owned an iPad.
Never owned an Apple Watch.

For me, it's "just the Mac", since 1987. Owned a good number of them, including a couple of SuperMac clones.

Not sure where I could go if there was no Mac OS.
Windows....? No thanks.

By the way, I was ready for a new MacBook Pro to replace my trusty 2010 model. I took a good look at the new ones, and...
...bought a 2015 model instead. More bang for the buck, ports that I can use with the stuff I own today, a better keyboard, and no dongles.

Kinda like "back to the future"?
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