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  • There’s Yet Another Rant About Apple and Mac Users

    June 11th, 2018

    Over the years, some tech pundits have decided that Apple really needs to drop the Mac. To them, it has outlived its usefulness and, besides, far more money is made from selling iPhones.

    But it’s a good source of hit bait to claim that “Mac users don’t really matter to Apple.”

    Indeed, Apple has, at times, made it seem as if that claim was accurate. The Mac mini has not been refreshed since 2014. After releasing a total redesign for the Mac Pro in late 2013, Apple appeared to drop the ball and mostly abandoned that model.

    When a new MacBook Pro was launched in late 2016, some thought the claim that it was a professional notebook was a huge exaggeration. It was thinner, in the spirit of recent Apple gear, but the highly touted Touch Bar, powered by an ARM system-on-a-chip, was thought to be fluff and not much else.

    Apple also got dinged for things it had never done, such as supplying a model with 32GB of RAM. But that would have required using a different memory controller that might have impacted performance and battery life. In comparison, most PC notebooks were also limited to 16GB. A future Intel CPU update will offer an integrated memory controller that doubles memory capacity.

    Just after Christmas, a Consumer Reports review failed to recommend the 2016 MacBook Pro supposedly due to inconsistent battery life. After Apple got involved, it turned out that CR’s peculiar testing scheme, which involves disabling the browser cache, triggered a rare bug. After Apple fixed it, a retest earned the MacBook Pro an unqualified recommendation.

    Was all this proof that Apple just didn’t care about Macs?

    Well, it’s a sure thing the Touch Bar wasn’t cheap to develop, and embedding an ARM chip in a Mac is definitely innovative. But Apple’s priorities appeared to have gone askew, as the company admitted during a small press roundtable in early 2017.

    The executive team made apologies for taking the Mac Pro in the wrong direction, and promised that a new model with modular capabilities was under development, but it wouldn’t ship right away. There would, however, be a new version of the iMac with professional capabilities. VP Philip Schiller spoke briefly about loving the Mac mini, but quickly changed the subject.

    Before the 2017 WWDC, I thought that Apple would merely offer more professional parts for customized 27-inch 5K iMacs. But such components as Intel Xeon-W CPUs and ECC memory would exceed that model’s resource threshold. So Apple extensively redesigned the cooling system to support workstation-grade parts.

    The 2017 iMac Pro costs $4,999 and up, the most expensive, and most powerful, iMac ever. You can only upgrade RAM, but it’s a dealer only installation since it requires taking the unit completely apart, unlike the regular large iMac, where memory upgrades are a snap.

    Apple promised that a new Mac Pro, which would meet the requirements of pros who want a box that’s easy to configure and upgrade, would appear in 2019, so maybe it’ll be demonstrated at a fall event where new Macs are expected.

    But Apple surely wouldn’t have made the commitment to expensive Macs if it didn’t take the platform — and Mac users — seriously. The iMac Pro itself represents a significant development in all-in-one personal computers.

    Don’t forget that the Mac, while dwarfed by the iPhone, still represents a major business for Apple. Mac market share is at its highest levels in years in a declining PC market, serving tens of millions of loyal users. When you want to develop an app for iOS, tvOS or watchOS, it has to be done on a Mac. That isn’t going to change. In addition, Apple is porting several iOS apps for macOS Mojave, and developers will have the tools to do the same next year.

    According to software head Craig Federighi, iOS and macOS won’t merge and the Mac will not support touchscreens.

    Sure, the Mac may play second fiddle to the iPhone, but that doesn’t diminish the company’s commitment to the platform. But it’s still easy for fear-mongering tech pundits to say otherwise, perhaps indirectly suggesting you shouldn’t buy a Mac because it will never be upgraded, or that upgrades will be half-hearted.

    Perhaps there’s an ulterior motive behind some of those complaints; they are designed to discourage people from buying Macs and pushing them towards the latest PC boxes that, by and large, look the same as the previous PC boxes with some upgraded parts.

    But since Intel has run late with recent CPU upgrades, Apple has often been forced to wait for the right components before refreshing Macs. That doesn’t excuse the way the Mac mini and the MacBook Air have been ignored, but I’ll cut Apple some slack with the Mac Pro, since a major update has been promised for next year.

    Now this doesn’t mean the Mac isn’t going to undergo major changes in the coming years. Maybe Apple is becoming disgusted with Intel’s growing problems in upgrading its CPUs, and will move to ARM. Maybe not. But that’s then, this is now.

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    One Response to “There’s Yet Another Rant About Apple and Mac Users”

    1. dfs says:

      Okay, Apple is never going to discontinue the Mac. You know that and I know that. For a variety of reasons, Apple will always have a stake in the Mac (for one thing, a lot of the apps and media that play on the iPhone and iPad can scarcely be DEVELOPED on suchlike devices, that requires the far greater computing horsepower and screen space of a Mac, and Apple always has to pay attention to the needs of its legion of content developers, large and small). And I certainly take your point that Apple has to wait on its component suppliers to bring out new models of its products.

      These things having been said, there is still something wrong about Apple’s approach to the Mac. It is difficult to imagine any other American corporation which pays less attention to market research or to listening to the requests and complaints of its customers (Detroit would never dream of putting out a new model car without running it past a lot of focus groups – I know all about these since my wife once participated in one, it was a very educational experience for both of us). This disinterest in market demand and in understanding the needs of its customers, like much else in Apple’s corporate DNA, is rooted in the personality of its founder. Steve Jobs often thought (usually correctly) that he knew what we needed better than we did, he was such a visionary that the result often surprised and delighted us. Problem is, he is gone and his successors are mere mortals. They have a equal lack of interest in our opinions and an equally paternalistic enthusiasm for imposing their tastes and whims on their user base but lack anything like his visionary ability to foresee the needs of the future.

      Case in point: the MacMini. Time was, this was a dream machine from the viewpoint of people like purchasers for school districts who needed to fill a room with computers as cheaply as possible. Yes, nowadays they buy iPads instead but there are a few basic things an iPad can’t do. For inst., you can’t use individual iPads as slaves to repeat what the guy at the front of the room is putting on his own one. Nor can the guy at the front of the room monitor what his students are doing on their individual iPads (in fact, if half of them have wandered off to visit porn sights I don’t see how he could know that). Result: Apple has lost the secure grip on the education market it once enjoyed, and it has largely done so because it hasn’t bothered to understand the special needs of that market. Apple’s most significant corporate weakness is its lack of curiosity about its user base. Steven, unfortunately, is no longer with us, and it is high time that Apple become less Steve-like in the way it transacts its business.

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