Apple Drops Science as Core Market, Web Page Deleted

| Hidden Dimensions

“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be." -- Marcel Pagnol

Apple, since its inception, has always had computers that appealed to scientists and engineers, thanks to their ease of use, technical elegance, and, since 2001, UNIX. In turn, Apple embraced that market as a sign of Apple's dedication and professionalism in supporting their endeavors. Recently, Apple dropped its Web page that focuses on the use of Apple products in science. I shall atempt to shed some light on this event.

Specifically,http://www.apple.com/science was dropped at the end of 2012. It is no more.

Having been involved in the predecessor of that site, apple.com/scitech, with several other distinguished Apple colleagues, it's personally painful to see this development. Even so, I'll do my best to analyze what's going on.

The banner of apple.com/science of old.

There was, of course, a time when Apple didn't have an iPod or iPad or iPhone. During the PC era, Apple fought vigorously against Microsoft and its PC partners. To achieve traction, Apple sought to leverage its appeal to the kinds of users who appreciated the very best tool available to be pressed into serious personal, computational work.

When Mac OS X launched in March of 2001, Apple had a leg up on the competition, namely, beautiful industrial design, modern technologies, and the security and technical appeal of UNIX. It made sense to court governments, aerospace, business, science and engineering. In the end, it was too late. Microsoft and its partners had won the PC war, and nothing was ever going to boost Apple beyond single digit market share.

There's something to be said for celebrating your own products
even if specific sales are not dominant. Credit: Apple.

The iDevice Phenomenon

A look at where Apple's revenue comes from these days shows that most of it comes from iPhones and iPads.

As always, follow the money. (Credit: Business Insider.) Oct 2012.

While the iPad may appeal to various technical segments, it appeals in a different fashion. Tinkering with Perl, X11, and C compilers is a desktop PC legacy that, actually, is quite nicely handled by Linux. We are in the Post-PC era now, and Apple's core markets for the Mac have shifted accordingly. In fact, you can see a list of formal core markets that Apple is now interested at the very bottom of this page: http://www.apple.com/mac/: Business, Creative Pro, Education and Students.

Instead of catering to a specific market segment, like chemistry or physics, Apple is focused on creating elegant computers that can be pressed into service in broad market segments, like education and professional creativity. Some may consider that an easy way out, and some may consider that just plain contemporary business smarts.

Finally, Apple remains very mindful of companies that catered to needy, fussy scientists and engineers with UNIX workstations -- and largely failed. Sun (bought by Oracle), HP and IBM have had tough times doing that. SGI, a shadow of its former self, is basically a holding company because of certain government contracts. Apple never wanted to travel down that fruitless path.

A fascinating glimpse of apple.com/science from 2004. R.I.P.

The Downside

One of the downsides of all this is corporate respect granted by influential customers, the exploration of technical opportunities, and corporate leadership.

Companies that use some of their earnings, like IBM and Google, to explore the frontiers of technology are in a better position to predict and exploit the next technical revolution, whether it be quantum computing, robots, smart glasses or artificial intelligence.

To do that, a modern corporation has to subject itself to scrutiny by the leaders in these fields, and, in turn participate in technical exploration and exchange. (That can be annoying for non-technical executives.) One way to achieve that is by participating in professional conferences, something that Apple no longer does.

One can argue that focusing to extremes on the fashionable products that are easy to sell to consumers without a broad technical infrastructure is like having a golden goose, but not caring for its food, shelter and protection from predators. The money is only as good as the health of the goose. And a golden goose can get sick or be stolen.

Corporate, technical expertise and leadership, orthogonal to the quest for cash, is forever.

Predictions

Over the years, Apple has systematically divorced itself from products and software that either held it back or don't fit in with its vision of the future. Or were just plain too hard to do well. We've seen the axing of the Xserve and workgroup servers, Xserve/RAID, X11, Java, the withdrawal of support for MacResearch.org. NFS support has been problematic. OS X Server has morphed from a serious IT management tool into a toy for home and small business users.

I discussed this trend in "OS X Lion: Apple’s Continuing UNIX Dilemma," back in 2011 when the signs were becoming clear.

Apple is what it is, a company that drives relentlessly into the future. And so we can probably expect to see a few more events that will annoy the technical gurus. These are just guesses, but considering Apple's history, there will probably be more disappointments in that special, geeky, UNIX-y way.

  • Elimination of the Terminal app. We might want to brace ourselves for this in, perhaps, OS X 10.10. Of course, those who really need one can procure one somewhere else.
  • Movement away from Virtualization. In the Post-PC era, there may come a time when Apple sees the gains to be made by low power ARM processors in MacBooks outweighing the loss of virtualization hardware. I would expect virtualization to remain on desktop Macs with access to wall power. And there would be commensurate recognition of developer needs.
  • Merging of iOS and OS X, so-called iOS-ification. UNIX is no longer an important selling point to scientists and engineers. Instead, it's simply an infrastructure item that allows Apple to pursue the consumer and post-PC era. Purists who need UNIX for business and engineering have plenty of alternatives based on Linux.

We also worry about how this thinking will affect the design of the new Mac Pro that Apple promised us.

From 2012: Apple explicitly celebrated: Medicine, Genomics, Chemistry, etc. at apple.com/science.

Denial, Then Acceptance

This is not to say, and this is very important to note, that all kinds of technical professionals will no longer find Macs of all kinds appealing and productive. Nothing is ever just black and white that way.

Students, professors, engineers, scientists, creative professionals, businessmen and many government entities will prefer to use Macs in preference to crappy PCs (and what seems to be a stumble for Windows 8) for their important work. Small things that Apple does for the sake of moving forward in their typical fashion may annoy us, but those actions won't keep us from appreciating what Apple is trying to do. So far, we've always found solutions, either inside or outside of Apple, and enthusiasm remains high.

Personally, I think it's sad to see explicit support for and the celebration of Apple products for science and engineering on Apple's Website just disappear. I think it's shortsighted and isn't the kind of thing we expect from such an accomplished technical corporation.

In the end, history will tell the story of whether this corporate philosophy allowed Apple to break with the past and surge forward to long-lived success or whether Apple failed to attend to important corporate responsibilities, infrastructure, and forced exposure to humankind's most advanced technical thinking.

In the meantime, Macs are the best UNIX-based computers on the planet, and millions of users will keep right on using them for all that they do, including science and research.  We remain in this middle ground, in the present, trying to make sense of it all, and the future slowly comes into focus. It's the best we can do.

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Comments

jbruni

Hopefully, features like Terminal remain for a bit longer even if only as developer options like the Develop menu that can be enabled in Safari.

Perhaps we will be moving back into a two-machine developer model like the Lisa+Mac combo. For iOS, that’s what we already have: to program an iPad you have to have Xcode on a Mac. There may be a day when the Mac can no longer host its own development tools.

Andhaka

I’m not feeling very well… No terminal? No virtualization? No more classic OsX?

Am I starting to see a world where I’ll be buying something from a vender who is not Apple?!

Cheers

Andhaka

By the way.. we will never see a true successor to the Mac Pro. If another desktop will surface (no pun intended) it’ll be a sad excuse for a workstation.. and why not? Apple is going strong with tablets, phones and now Smart Watch!! Yeahh.. Apple, F*ck Yeah! :(

Cheers

Gareth Harris

Once I worked for a prominent computer company which had a stable of current products and a great backlog of orders.  In order to chase profits and improve their revenue for quarterly reports, they let their engineers and salesmen go. After the profitable period waned, they found themselves in the posture known as “selling from an empty wagon.”  They went out of business.

My point is: This business is based on technical creativity. Products for the public seem to rely heavily on design and usability, but underneath there is a technical platform delivering value. The Microsoft business model is collapsing because their OEMs added no value to MS products but instead raced to the bottom for market share and price. The same thing is happening even more rapidly in the Android business. Will Apple forget to feed the technical mule that is pulling the wagon for a fancy horse full of prance and fart?

geoduck

I fear this is a hint of things to come. I can see Apple totally embracing the Post PC era…by dropping the Mac altogether. Not all at once mind you, first science. Then pushing iOS for productivity for consumers. I see the Mac Pro coming back as something less than hoped. OS-X becoming more and more iOS-like.  iOS devices completely decoupled from Macs. Features in OS-X become more buried and soon disappearing altogether. Laptops getting to be thinner and lighter and eventually getting a touch screen. Then there will be iPads and iPads with keyboards. I can see in about a decade Apple selling iOS devices and the Mac name being but a memory. Sad, and I hope it doesn’t come to pass bit I won’t be surprised.

oneof52

“Will Apple forget to feed the technical mule that is pulling the wagon for a fancy horse full of prance and fart?”

OMG I love that!

John Martellaro

geoduck:  That’s a fascinating series of predictions.  It makes me wonder how we’ll get our job done, what we’ll lose and what we’ll gain.
So long as we can be creative, so long as we have the tools we need or can adapt to, we’ll be okay.  It’s part of technology change.
All that is why I chose the theme quote I did at the top of the article.

other side

Apple should take a look at Ford.

Yes, Ford sells more vehicles to consumers than they do to construction and police/fire/rescue fleets.  But not only has Ford stayed with these lower-volume and likely lower-margin markets, Ford manages to remain a major player with specialized product.

As for Apple, one fair accusation they’ve never been able to shake is that Apple never stays with a market.  I.e. you invest big and they abandon you.  If I had a non-Apple IT operation, and looked back on the recent examples of Xserve, professional video, and now this, I could only wonder “What’s next?”.

Brad Marston

I am a theoretical and computational physicist who has decided to “go with the flow” and just use Apple’s supplied development tools and environment fully—not fall back upon X11, the Linux tool chain, etc.  Though there is a loss of flexibility, it confers other benefits—access to Cocoa with its high-quality libraries, the Xcode IDE, an easy way to distribute apps, and so on.  This hasn’t prevented me from doing serious research, and at the same time it has enabled that research to reach others that I wouldn’t have normally been in touch with.  You can judge for yourself by looking at the (free) app “GCM” on the App Store.  Perhaps this will turn out to be a dead-end, but for now the biggest obstacle has been the absence of a modern update or replacement to the Mac Pro.

geoduck

That’s a fascinating series of predictions.

Oh no, I’m not silly enough to call them predictions, just that I would not be surprised to see them come to pass.
People forget how far the iPad has come in just a couple of years. Add a decade of development to it and you’d have a machine that could be used for a lot of the functions we need Macs for now.

Paul Goodwin

We can only hope that OS X’ification of iOS becomes the path rather than the reverse. The Mac platform saw some great pioneering in technical software, and most of the great software eventually got ported to the PC. One good example is National Instruments’ LabView. There’s many other examples, like music software. Being the technical innovator’s platform of choice because it’s far easier to do at a point in time is worth as much as advertising, even when total sales may never be huge. A portfolio full of iOS devices won’t carry Apple into the future.

The total sales portion of all Macs in the chart above still shows it as significant, even though it’s smaller than the iPhones and iPads. Hopefully the horses pulling that cart aren’t dumb enough to let that market go. Apple’s laptops have literally driven the entire segment’s designs. Every company jumped all over the MacBook Air design, as well as all their other laptops.

You cannot call yourself the greatest technology company in the world if all you make are phones, tablets, and streaming video devices.

Lots of good comments above.

John Martellaro

Dr. Marston:  Your observations are terrific and remind us that while our tools may change, what we can achieve will not.

DudeMac

I’d be very upset at Apple if they were to castrate the Unix appeal from Mac OS X (like killing Terminal, etc…).  It was bad enough they took away X11 and and now depend on someone else for its future (XQuartz?).  I am keeping Ubuntu in my back pocket for possible transition if Apple takes it too far with its innovating into the future and forgetting the past OCD-ness.

wab95

John:

I’d like to underscore your opening quote from Marcel Pagnol, and highlight one key point from that quote, which is that happiness, or more pertinent to the theme of your discussion, equanimity and productivity, are about managing uncertainty, and as Dr Marston points out, they are equally about adaptability.

When it comes to perspective on past, present and future, a major complication is that our recall (and that is what is at play - memory) is selective, which means, outside of an objective exercise, our perspective on the past is distorted, which can cast an unfavourable pall over both present and future, more so if fear and apprehension are the lens through which we look forward.

I think some of the comments above lean towards accepting some of the potential scenarios you outline as near certain eventualities, which was not your point, as I understood it.

Back to your theme, it is in our nature as a species to assign a pattern where there may be none, as this is how our brains process information. Our survival has erstwhile depended upon our ability to recognise a pattern (e.g. a predator) against the background (e.g. the savannah). Studies have shown that the brain will sometimes screen out (meaning we don’t see it) patterns that don’t fit or accommodate patterns that we expect or recognise.

Cognitively, we seem unable to avoid doing the same thing with observations about actions. We assign a recognisable or comprehensible pattern, or in this case, meaning to events in our environment. Apple discontinuing the science section, as much as I too regret the loss of the webpage, remains unexplained by Apple. Without doubt, there was a reason. As I understood it, your discussion was less about the reason per se than it was about what this might portend as an indicator of Apple’s corporate trajectory and business plan.

As to meaning, one might just as well ascribe this to OSX’s having matured as a system whose UNIX core is now well recognised, and has which has become well ensconced in science, medicine and related circles. I just returned about a week ago from a symposium on respiratory viruses in Rotterdam, and tweeted that, for the first time in my observation, Macs were the dominant laptop in the room at a scientific meeting I attended. The IT/AV engineers at the back of the auditorium likewise used Macs. If you added iPads, then Apple owned north of 70% (maybe 80%) of the market in the meeting. In international meeting after meeting and consortium after consortium, Apple’s marketshare in the scientific and medical meetings that I attend continually increases, and is now a dominant presence compared to any other single OEM. Perhaps, then, another interpretation on the discontinuation of the science website is that Apple feel that they’ve made their point, and the platform’s value to the field is appreciated, and no longer needs to be, shall we say, ‘evangelised’. Possible and plausible.

As to trajectory portent, we live in interesting times. Expectations about where we should be at this stage have been upended and swept aside by companies like Apple and Google that, thankfully, did not read the playbook that relegated them to bit parts in a world owned by Microsoft and their OEMs. This has increased uncertainty. With uncertainty comes both peril and opportunity. Uncertainty, as stated above, must therefore be managed if we are to minimise the peril and maximise beneficent opportunity. When Tim Cook recently stated that Apple was not simply a hardware company (a welcomed and accurate statement in my view), but a platform, he drew a line between Apple’s past and future, and planted a flag firmly in that future frontier. Apple has graduated to a platform. Whatever Apple will be henceforth, it will not be exactly what it was, neither will be its products and services. What must characterise these, going forward, is adaptability to a rapidly evolving present and a future that is nothing if not uncertain; adaptability being a trait that will increasingly be required of Apple clients.

For those of us who are less tolerant of uncertainty, and not strong on adaptability, there are other options, which many commentators have cited in the past (Ubuntu and other flavours of Linux, Windows XP through 7 in legacy-friendly boxes), but intolerance of uncertainty and lack of adaptability are not characteristics of either science or successful scientists. Perhaps Apple recognised this pattern, and concluded that by dropping science’s explicit mention, they were effectively communicating with scientists in an implicit language that they would recognise. Possible. Plausible? Time will tell.

Peter Kelly

I don’t think the future is going to be as dire as you predict. OS X is very much the preferred platform for a large number of developers and technical professionals, in large part because of its UNIX foundation. I was using Linux up until 2007 before eventually switching to a mac (at which point almost everyone around me had already switched), and I’ve never looked back. Everything more or less “just works” on OS X (though it seems to be in a gradual decline since the peak they achieved with snow leopard).

I don’t know how Apple thinks about this internally, but I personally feel that developers are *really* important for Apple’s future. Although they represent only a very small proportion of the market, they’re among the most influential, as it’s important for a company to attract good developers to their platform if they want good software available.

The day they abandon Terminal is the day I switch back to Linux, and join (or start) an open source project to develop a cross-compilation toolchain that lets you develop iOS apps without ever having to touch a mac. I have multiple command-line windows open roughly 90% of the time, and rely heavily on tools like git for my workflow - as do many other developers. If they were to take this away, it would cripple the development experience on the mac, and upset the majority of the people they rely on to develop software for iOS and OS X. So I don’t think this is likely to happen.

I think this is more likely a switch in marketing focus than a switch in technical focus. The power tools will always be there for those who want them, it’s just that they’ve decided to de-emphasise them. I think this is unfortunate, but in practice I don’t it’s likely to mean much in terms of their actual products.

Terrin

Apple dropped “Hot Stories” as well. Too bad, I liked those sections.

give_me_a_break

I think you hit the nail on the head.  Apple stops supporting anything that is hard or challenging.  Unfortunately, apple is simply not good at software, so just about everything will, in the end, become too hard for apple to continue supporting.  Just read an article on what a mess core data and icloud are.  I remember looking at core-data and thinking,  one thing we know how to do is databases,  why reinvent a known, mature category with something as opaque, verbose and obscure as core-data.

We can see the solution in front of us.  Intel should start investing in the development of Linux to produce an OSX like platform that will free them from dependency on Apple and MSFT.

I still like OSX best, but for many things Linux is easier and demands less of my attention.

Aftermac

IMO, part of controlling the “whole widget” is continuing to provide the necessary tools to allow people to develop and create within Apple’s ecosystem. I don’t see Apple cutting off developers and powerusers anytime in the near future.

With that said, it is kind of sad to see Apple less focused on science and research markets. The early 2000’s were a really exciting time talking about Mac’s in terms of Gigaflops and supercomputing.

Helge

I am a SysAdmin in a small VFX / Motion Design company. For years now we have relied heavily on Macs. With every release of MacOS it gets harder for me to integrate our Macs into Active Directory (we abandoned OpenDirectory as Apple basically did so). The story continues with not being able to integrate basic tools like Maya and Nuke any more and ends with the unavailability of badly needed new MacPros (ours are too old now and my company is reluctant to invest ten thousands of Euro in two year old hardware).
Right now I am selling our the last MacPros on Ebay; then (apart form a few privately owned notebooks) ten years of Apple in my company will end. At least I will shed no tear for them.

jonricmd

Perhaps we are reading too much into the “tea leaves”.  But this is not a recent pattern with Apple.  They shed the Apple II/III line of computers way back, ceding the educational market to Microsoft and its orcs.  They dropped the Newton.  They stopped making/supporting the Laserwriter - the printer (and technology behind it) that started the whole “desktop publishing” revolution.  They stopped making Xserve servers and the XRaid drives.  They are starving Final Cut Pro and appear to be about to shed it, once again ceding another market.  And for too long, the MacPro has languished.  Mr. Cook promises a new & better MacPro “real soon”, his comment then looking like a lame promise so that the whole creative content segment of their market didn’t leave en masse. 
  Granted, processing power has stopped increasing logarithmically, but Apple has had the $billions on hand to have made the OS be able to use multiple processors and for the OS to be smart enough to enable third party vendors software be able to run on multiple processors.  We shouldn’t have to be putting up with the “spinning beachball”.  We shouldn’t have to go do something else while a graphic renders. 
    Apple abandoning science and high performance computing would be like Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes or Audi pulling out of Formula 1.  What would their consumer cars look like/perform like 5 years later?  They might be better, but probably because they were copying someone else.  We are so used to Apple leading from the front, being on the cutting edge of personal computing that it gives us angst when they are not.

wab95

@jonricmd: I got your email, but got a bounceback on reply. Please re-send with an updated email address. Always happy to oblige a fellow physician.

Jewels

Hi John!!  This is very sad!  Back when I worked at NASA I forward migrated many scientists to laptops running Mac OS X.  Those folks have never looked back!  -Julie

Kevin

I see the removal of the Science section as just one more in a long line of moves by Apple showing - at a minimum - a deemphasis on scientists and UNIX geeks.  At worst, it’s an abandonment of them.  Which it is only time will tell (unless someone wants to give me enough money to win the bid for tea with Tim Cook and then I’ll ask him point blank!).

Most of these moves are discussed in either the article or the comments, but one that I didn’t see mentioned is the fact that Apple has unbundled the command line developer tools from the Xcode package.  So if you do everything from the Xcode GUI you’re set, but if you want the command line tools you’ve got to download and install a 2nd package.  It was this very thing that was the last straw which caused my co-worker setting next to me to dump his MacBook Pro for a Linux based laptop.

I am really disappointed in Apple (and I say this as someone who is typing this on a MBP with an iPad to his left and an iPhone to his right).  If nothing else it seems that they would not so easily forget that back in the dark, early days of OS X the very first enthusiastic adopters of the “new” OS were scientists and UNIX geeks.  It seems that a company with $140+ billion in the bank could throw us a bone of appreciation.

But maybe their relentless pursuit of the future prevents them from taking an introspective look back?

Kevin

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