This is a time of great unease for many Mac users. Apple has been communicating, whether it intended to or not, that the Mac is not at the top of its priority list.
Let’s review some recent Mac-related stuff:
1. No new Mac Pro computer since 2013.
2. No mention of the Mac Pro, iMac or Mac mini at the company’s recent event that unveiled the new MacBook Pro laptops.
3. The elimination of the Product Manager of Automation Technologies job.
4. Apple has gotten out of the monitor business by ending its Thunderbolt line of monitors, and the company has also recently disbanded its AirPort group.
All of these things taken together have many Mac users wondering what the heck is going on at Cupertino these days. Are the Mac's days numbered? Or is Apple just in a Mac-related lull while the company works quietly in the background on newer products?
Right now there's no way to know what's happening inside of Apple but it doesn't take a genius (no pun intended) to figure out that iOS is probably the reason why Apple seems to be less enthusiastic about the Mac these days.
iOS: The apple of Apple's eye
Adam C. Engst at TidBits recently explored the role of iOS in the marginalization of the Mac:
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.
I think Adam has hit the nail on the head with his take on this. iOS really has come to dominate Apple’s thinking and development efforts, and we can all see that the end result of this is a dismissive attitude toward the Mac. The Mac seems to have become a second rate, also-ran product inside of Apple, while iOS and the devices that run it get the lion's share of developer and executive attention.
Ignoring or eliminating the Mac is a big mistake
I think it would be a gigantic mistake for Apple to write off the Mac completely or to continue to fail to update the Mac regularly. One of Apple’s biggest selling points was its overall ecosystem of products that all worked together, and that includes the Mac.
One of the reasons why people have moved to the Mac platform is the convenience of having their desktop computers work well with the cloud and with their tablets, phones and even routers like the AirPort devices. Apple was able to offer every device needed by a user, and that gave the company momentum as people were sucked into its ecosystem orbit and then stayed there for years and years.
But that powerful ecosystem looks like it is beginning to fray as the Mac recedes in importance, and as the company eliminates Mac-related peripherals. Apple’s ecosystem is becoming less unified and appealing, and that is not a good thing for the company over the long haul.
The web that wove the company's products together may not be sticky enough to keep customers from straying to competitive products. The Mac Pro is a good example of this since the lack of an update for three years has already driven some users to buy faster, more powerful but cheaper Windows computers.
iOS is great but I still need a Mac
I own an iPad Pro, and an iPhone 6s Plus. I love both of my iOS devices, they are fantastic for certain things but they are not a replacement for my Mac. Not at all, and believe me I’ve experimented with using my iPad Pro for work and it just doesn’t cut it. Yes, I can use it but doing so means that it takes me a lot longer to get things done than using my Mac.
It’s not just iOS itself that's the problem, it's the size of the hardware that it runs on. Even the iPad Pro, with its 12.9-inch screen, pales in comparison to my 27-inch 5K iMac. I can just get more done much faster on the iMac than I can on the iPad Pro simply by having more screen space along with a Magic Trackpad and Logitech bluetooth keyboard.
I don’t think I’m alone when it comes to needing a Mac. There are millions of people out there who feel like I do that iOS as a platform (both hardware and software) just cannot compete with a Mac when it comes to productivity. The shape and size of iOS devices, and the software that runs on them doesn’t meet our needs.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t like our iOS devices, or that we don’t use them regularly. But it does mean that we still need Apple to continue improving and releasing updated Macs regularly. And not just MacBook laptops, we need desktops and some of us even need really powerful desktops like the Mac Pro.
Maybe someday iOS and the devices it runs on will improve and change to the point where the Mac is no longer needed, but that time is not yet here and probably won’t be for a very long while.
So Apple needs to rethink its marginalization of the Mac, or it runs the risk of having some Mac users move to Windows or Linux. If that starts to happen then the company might also see some of them dump their iOS devices for Android as well. The "halo effect" can also work in reverse, to Apple's big disadvantage.
The Mac is still incredibly important and it still matters to millions of us.
Are you listening, Apple?
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