Apple May be Reluctant to Revitalize the Mac

| Particle Debris

Part of being a high technology consumer electronics company is creating a sense of excitement and possibility for our technical future. Many, many Mac customers, perhaps 60 million active users, look to Apple to lay out a vision for their future. But is Apple too obsessed with mobility to take a stand there?

I grew up in a time when there seemed to be no bounds on what a technology company could do, if it wanted to. And for the first 30+ years of the PC revolution, that's what our computer life was all about: a relentless surge forward in computer speed and the challenge to harness it.

It's not about what we can buy. It's about what we can achieve.

Mobile devices, however, powerful as they are, have set us back just a bit. Their small size dictates the available electrical power and, hence, the speed. And so we find that our technical life has been driven more towards being consumers of Internet information (with associated privacy issues), and less about the promise of what can be achieved by the creative mind with a powerful computer.

That direction has been taken up by university students and professors who can cobble together fabulous computing resources, typically stitched together with Linux. There, work is being done in robotics, artificial intelligence, medicine, materials, and computation.

Apple is a company that is relentless in its drive into the future. Consumer electronics, smartphones, tablets, mobile payments, and social discovery is where it's at right now. So even if Apple wanted to reignite the flames of the personal computer, there are forces that are pushing back. We're in a Post-PC era. Notebook computers have battery, power and heat limits. Desktop Macs are low volume products. Even though Tim Cook appeared to promise a new Mac Pro for 2013, what we may end up getting tends to make us fret instead of gush with excitement. Is that part of the ennui surrounding Apple?

There's no doubt, our current Macs are cool. Retina displays are nice. But have we reached an era where it is no longer possible for any new iMac, Mac Pro or MacBook to capture our imagination? Or are these simply exotic, nicely built place holders until the tablet achieves its proper destiny?

I saw some conversation this week, (referenced below in the Tech News Debris) -- unjustified I think -- that the Mac may be on its death bed, finally, itself a victim of the Post-PC era. I don't believe that, and I still think there is plenty of technology and vision at Apple that could capture our Macintosh imagination for years to come. For example, a screaming fast, beautiful, expandable Mac Pro, combined with a rethought iteration of OS X, "Lynx," that reveals the fine hand of Jonathan Ive in a refreshing update of the UI, true to the spirit of OS X, would breathe new life into Apple and its Mac customers.

If the modern tablet meets the needs of many users for email, browsing, shopping and games, then what is the design goal of a MacBook? To look more like an iPad? Or to seek a different level of existence? To be everything an iPad cannot be?

But will Apple do that? Is the company too fretful of the competitive pressures in the tablet era, to regroup and rethink their commitment to the Mac as a powerful, creative tool that challenges the user? Maybe that new spirit from Apple is exactly the excitement customers and investors are looking for. The promise of what we might be able to achieve captures our imagination far better than simply being consumers and targets of interest.

Tech News Debris

I've expressed my doubts before about Apple's Fusion drive for my personal use. It's not a bad technology; it's just not one that I am enthusiastic about embracing. That's because all three of our family Macs boot from pure SSDs, and I'm never going back to rotating disks for internal boot drives - even hybrids.

That said, Fusion drives are probably a good solution for many users, and Bob LeVitus has waxed almost poetic in his love for a Fusion drive he tested. I'm not shy about referring you to it. "Fusion Drive wins on need for iMac speed."

I think it's interesting how Java has devolved on the Mac. At one time, the serious desktop Mac was seen as an excellent platform on which to do Java development. That may have been due to, in part, the elegant integration of Java with a classy, UNIX system (OS X) that has a great GUI.

Along the way, however, two things happened. Java came to be embraced, big time, in the enterprise for just about every aspect of business software and simultaneously, Apple lost interest in enterprise development. The security problems, on the other hand, surfaced, to create difficulties for a Apple's consumer products. Hence, Apple's deprecation of Java of late. But make no mistake, Java is essential in the enterprise, and people with J2E expertise are in high demand. "Top 7 Most In-Demand Tech Skills For 2013."

The next item is a wonderful, nicely conceived conspiracy theory story. I don't believe it. I communicated with the author, and she doesn't believe it either. But I present it because it is so clever and shows what you can do with some memory of historical events combined with some imagination. Have fun with "Conspiracy Theory: Did Apple And Google Agree To Split The Smart Phone Market?" by Kate MacKenzie. I wish more authors had this kind of whimsical, playful approach --instead of Big Business Gloom and Doom Charlatan Writing.

There are people who understand Apple completely. Daniel Eran Dilger, a name you'll recognize, is one of them. In this article, Mr. Dilger explains why Apple is introducing an 128 GB iPad, and after you read it, you'll be better informed about Apple's business strategies. "Apple's 128GB iPad aims to drive profits up a path competitors can't easily follow." Compare that to this drivel that tries to use ignorance and fear to manipulate the reader. [But I must say that Mr. Crothers is a solid writer; he's just passing the drivel along to us for consideration.]

Some observers are all too happy to believe that the sky is falling in the Mac world. The recent inability of Apple to meet demand for the new iMacs combined with general holiday enthusiasm for tablets in the Post-PC era led to this chart, developed by Dan Frommer. [I'll point to the Fortune article because the main chart is at the top of the article.]

If you look at the historical Mac sales, the blue bars, you could conclude that 1) The Mac is dying or 2) there are statistical, seasonal and manufacturing reasons for the quarter-to-quarter variances. You could also conclude that, looking at the yellow bars, the Mac could disappear from the product line and Apple would be fine. Or would they?

Image Credit: Dan Frommer

This just all goes to show that jumping to conclusions from a single chart (or two or three) doesn't stand up when cooler, saner heads can always provide the needed perspective. (Like Mr. Dilger above.) We need to see a long term trend of decline before declaring the Mac in dire straights, and even then, there are competitive and strategic reasons for Apple to continue selling the Mac -- at least for the time being.

Time to move on. When a company files for FCC certification of its product, you know they're serious. Like Apple and the iPad, it's not so important to get everything right out of the gate as it is to get a head start and build a learning curve. When Google comes out with Glass 3.0 in 2015, others will just be waking up to the possibilities. "Google Glass headset with bone-conduction speakers revealed in FCC filing."

Finally, here's fun story about a fellow who was suffering in his hotel room. The hotel policy set a specific temperature, and it was driving him crazy. But wait! There's an iPhone app for that! "Is your hotel trying to choke you with an iPhone app?"

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16 Comments Leave Your Own

mrmwebmax

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While I now work for an IT department and have two Windows machines in my cube, I also have the brand-new 21.5” iMac mentioned in a previous coment. Despite—as you pointed out, John—the lack of RAM expandability, it is by far the best computer I’ve ever used, and OS X 10.8 has proved to be a very pleasant surprise for this die-hard Snow Leopard user. My point: Does Apple need to revitalize the Mac, or is the Mac doing just fine as is?

Granted, when I had a G4 Tower, it was great to be able to pop open the side door and swap out hard drives, add RAM, and keep it up and running for pretty much forever. (At my previous job, I was still using a 933MHz G4 tower along with a new MBPro.) And I’ve mentioned before how when I blew the hard drive on my home iMac (the one I’m using now), the replacement procedure seemed so complicated that I opted to go with an external LaCie FireWire 800 1 TB hard drive as my boot disk.

Yes, I wish I could replace the internal hard drive on my iMac as easily as I did on my old 800MHz G4 tower. Then again, I don’t miss the G4’s fan noise, that often sounded like a 747 at full take-off thrust, and love the Zen-like silence of my iMac.

I know we’re all waiting to see what Apple delivers with the new Mac Pro. I certainly am. But I again say that the Mac is doing just fine with their line of high-powered portables and the very powerful and affordable iMac line. I’m still getting the same mileage out of my Macs that I always did, despite switching to the “consumer” desktop, and am still doing the same computationally-intensive work I’ve always done, including Adobe CS, Final Cut Pro X, and Cinema 4D. The only thing my iMac can’t do well is rendering 3D HD animation, but that’s best left to a rendering farm anyway.

Having said all of that, I’ll be just as anxious as anyone to see what Apple has planned for the new Mac Pro.

geoduck

Or are these simply exotic, nicely built place holders until the tablet achieves its proper destiny?

I would not be surprised if in about 5 years my next mac is an 8th generation iPad. At the rate they are improving I could see it taking over all my computing needs.

CudaBoy

Wait, let me get this right, Mr. Martellaro is actually blogging about Macintosh on the MacObserver???? Wow. OK, I’ve never hidden my disdain for the Apple Toy Co. as I call it. Whoopee, Apple abandoned computing to stay alive and by fortune and good luck Mobile came along and the Toy company got and gets all the attention. Fine. I understand that. I am officially old and irrelevant now.
Phones, Pods, Pads - phooey.
I would LOVE Apple to spin the Macs off - and iMacs don’t count - they stay with the toy company - they are nice rentals for a year or so before they are old n slow and can’t be updated.
The Mac towers have never been the fastest, (heck even Pixar doesn’t use Apple products for rendering), never cared about raw speed either for graphics or number crunching, still based on ancient SCSI technology. Apple does screwed up things with I/O, and they refuse obvious things like Blu-Ray capability hard and software, on and on BUT despite it all it still is the only computer I will ever use for audio (Pro Tools) and high end graphics despite the weird deficiencies. Why no HDMI on a tower but it’s on the Mini??? They friggin’ work, and work, and expand-and then work some more.
But even more curious was the weird abandonment of Final Cut Pro - the Pro version?? Huge step backwards and a big laugh here in Hollywood within my buddies editing world. You think Apple Maps was a disaster??
I don’t expect a darn thing from Apple except incremental update of the Pro but I wish it would be more. Or, spin the Mac off to a company that will make it a cutting edge desktop like it’s never been. Let the Apple Toy company continue it’s dive to the middle of the pack with the toys - the customers of which will just like me become fickle and irrelevant in a few years.
P.S. I can relate to the above post re: the “Wind Tunnel” nickname of the G4. All I can say is my old G5 3GzDP with nine fans in it is silent compared to the G4 I had before - an amazing thing considering a G5 is an overclocked G4 to begin with.

Paul Goodwin

Good article John.

Jaheezus ...“the drivel” article was just that….“That defensiveness is rooted in “trying to head off the onslaught of Haswell-based Ultrabooks and hybrids targeted for 2H13 release,” he added, referring to laptop-tablet hybrids based on Intel’s upcoming power-efficient Haswell chip due in the second half of this year.”

The Dilger article had a lot of good points in it.

I’ve gotten great mileage out of my iMacs too….1998 Bondi Blue, 2002 Flat Panel, now mid-2010 21.5 inch that is still going strong even with nothing added except external drives for storage) even though I went for the low end model for this one. And my wife’s 2006 MBP is still pretty strong after a RAM upgrade and a 2.5” 7200 rpm drive update, although it’s limited to 10.6.8 (the best Apple OS ever?). I still have a 2003 dual 1.25 GHz G4 that I use from time to time. And mrmwebmax-it sure is LOUD

geoduck

Paul Goodwin:
A couple of years ago I sold my dual 1.25Ghz G4 PowerMac. I still got ~$400 for it which wasn’t bad for a six or seven year old computer.

Paul Goodwin

$400 was great.

Paul Goodwin

I still have a PowerBook 520c that fired up 6 months ago…battery gone. I still have two original 1997 PowerMac G3’s and an SE, but I haven’t turned them on for over 10 years. If I remember right, I put an accelerator card in the SE…16 MHz I think instead of the original 8, with 4 MB of RAM and a 20 MB hard drive. My wife started a desktop publishing business in 1988 with the SE ($3200), and a LaserWriter II (I think it was the II) - it cost about $3000 too. They were pretty high tech at the time. She used to lay out a 24 page newspaper on that 9inch screen haha. When she first started she’d print the text and ad graphics out on the LaserWriter, then cut and paste them onto full size 2-page boards. She called the phone company to put an ad in the yellow pages. They asked her what category to put it in. She said Desktop Publishing. They didn’t have that category yet, and didn’t even know what it meant. LOL

aardman

I just want to ask anyone who says that the Mac is soon to disappear:  Exactly how will iOS developers develop their iOS apps, on Windows?

FWIW, Dilger and Martellaro are my go to guys for Apple insight.

John Martellaro

aardman: Recall, in the very early days of the Mac, Mac software had to be written on a Lisa.  Quickly, we were able to use the Mac itself to build Mac software.

What if… someone at Apple got the bright idea that, considering the bright future of the iPad in the Post-PC era, iPad software should, some day, be written on an iPad. (15-inch iPad, Bluetooth KB, etc.) Just a thought.

Compile times would take a hit, and most developers wouldn’t be enthusiastic at first.  But it could be useful down the road. After all, mobility rules.  Anything that *can* be done usually gets done.  Or at least tried.

John Martellaro

Mike Elgan and I are thinking alike lately. (But he’s probably better.)

http://www.cultofmac.com/214005/can-apple-still-dent-the-universe/

 

Ralph Megna

Can I demand a refund for the 5 minutes I wasted reading this blog?

As I see it, this was a collection of words, technically organized into sentences but saying nothing, under a click-baiting headline.

Heck, this article provided less information and insight than the notoriously secretive Apple itself has in recent months. Even a casual online search reveals that Apple - in the person, no less, than its CEO - plans to build a line of Macs in the US in 2013 (a major investment, since indications are that they really mean “build” - not just assemble), that it will introduce an impressive new Mac Pro, that Jony Ive has been given responsibility to provide clear UI direction for all of Apple’s operating systems including MacOS, and that Tim Cook strongly believes in Steve Jobs’ truck vs car metaphor, that he sees the need for both trucks and cars, and that he doesn’t see MacOS and iOS converging in the future.

But Mr. Martellaro manages to write 612 hand-wringing words that barely mention any of these public statements (that are subject to SEC scrutiny), and instead feeds a narrative that Apple is losing interest in the Mac without a single shred of evidence. If this is what passes for thoughtful commentary on MacObserver, I think in the future I will pass.

PS - The observations on Fusion Drive are similarly pointless, but thankfully shorter. I happen to love the FD set-up on my Mac mini, and I got it at a fraction of the cost of a pure SSD of the same size, which is the whole point of Fusion Drive. Apparently this point eluded Mr. Martellaro.

Mondrian

I use a QuadCore MacPro Tower with two screens that I plan to keep going as long as it will run. Since I use Adobe CSS for many heavy-dutycreative jobs,  I sure do agree with CudaBoy that “Apple screwed up things with I/O.” Not having elevator arrows for working with docs in editing certainly has made my job harder in my desktop Tower work place. I guess Apple doesn’t care much about pro users anymore. It is catering to the rush-around dilettantes who just punch text into a hand-held device as they jump into another moving vehicle. Too bad for a lot of us. I hope Apple will start to listen to the pro users again.

vpndev

Forcing iOS apps to be written on iPads would be the best thing that ever happened to Android. Seriously. Developers would bail on iOS and flock to Android, or WP8, or whatever.

Apple does some weird things sometimes, but not *this* weird.

Perry Clease

“Can I demand a refund for the 5 minutes I wasted reading this blog?”

How much time did you waste writing your response?

Bazz

Apple’s Mac Pro has been caught in a bind not of its making.
First Intel well enough said!
Second Liquid Metal again a tough ask.
Thirdly foreign subcontractors who steal and then laugh at Apple.
Lastly iOS stuff.

Cook said wait till late ‘13 for a new design Mac Pro. Why?
A little background first. Almost every partnership Apple has had with the big guys has failed because of incompatibility and different goals. And the successful ones Apple sold out!

The only way Apple won’t be screwed is if it makes the important stuff itself.
What is the important stuff? IC-CPUs, Hi tech materials and Intellectual property.

Cringley said some years ago that he could not understand the super large Cloud center somewhere west of DC. He said a couple of Mac Mansions would do.

The answer is simple – the space is for a factory. But not any sort but a chip fabrication factory.
That’s why $8 B is earmarked for machines this year.

And one more thing:      the site has multiple electricity supply – PV, Fuel cells and grid – its all needed for uninterrupted power supply for silicon crystal growth. I’m only sorry that Apples is not using Gallium Arsenide as a substrate. That would put the fear of god in Intel!

The other is Liquid Metal technology for the new Mac Pro and Mac Mini. The learning curve is steep,  why Agreement extensions were made and now (Jan ‘13) Apple is Patenting manufacture process for large scale production on USA soil to keep the technology safe from the Japanese and Koreans. – The NY factory.

The problems Apple has had in making CPU in Korea and elsewhere will vanish in a year or so, when they start making their own. The beauty of ARM and Apple’s modification of it is that its very very very scalable so it can make chips for TVs phones pads Macs and super Apples. Almost like how cars are now made.

When everything falls into place I think Apple will be the first trillion dollar company with a share value of say $1500.

db

Hey Apple—Its the Operating System Dummy.  Snow Leopard was so much better and could be used with MANY Universal Apps.  LION SUX like MS SUX.  Go back to SL and Get THE People Back.  Your EGO got the best of you.  Go back to Middle of the Road Operating Systems.  Not Proprietary Only….or You’ll be Doomed as a Military Govt. Contractor only.
Just like MicroSoft’s Path

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