Apple’s overall Macintosh sales are in decline, for how long we don’t know. The MacBook Pro is long over due for a refresh. Apple’s Mac Pro has languished. The Mac mini, last updated in 2014, was less than intoxicating. What’s happening?
There is no single issue that seems to be driving Apple’s Mac Problem. By Mac Problem, I mean a general sense of anxiety about the current state of the Macintosh product line.
The 2013 Mac Pro hasn’t been updated since it was released. The last MacBook Pro updates were March, 2015 (13-inch) and May, 2015 (15-inch). The last Mac mini update was October, 2014 and was severely criticized by TekRevue, with good reason. The only shining stars in all this are the 4K (21.5-inch) and 5K (27-inch) iMacs released in October, 2015.
Last week, I surmised that one way to view the situation is that Apple is working on new technologies, including Thunderbolt 3, that will allow the company to rethink and refresh the entire product line. Perhaps create new products.
Pause for Fantasy. It’s possible that Apple has learned from the design mistakes of the 2013 Mac Pro and will present us with a glorious new 2016 Mac Pro in September. One with many Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 ports, better expansion capability, easy upgrade to 128/256 GB RAM and 4th generation Xeons. It’s possible (likely) that Apple will present us with exciting new, thinner MacBook Pros, in the style of the 2015/2016 MacBook and include OLED function keys. It’s possible that Apple will utterly rethink the introductory Mac mini to make it fast, expandable and affordable.
The Current Macintosh Crisis
The above fantasies notwithstanding, there remains a sense of alarm about Apple’s current, visible commitment to the Macintosh product line. For example, nothing happened on the MacBook Pro anniversary dates. No announcement was made at WWDC. Right now, 16 months is a long time to wait for an update to the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The best estimate of time and technology I’ve seen are that we’ll finally get new MacBook Pros in the 4th calendar quarter.
If I were to guess, I’d say that there will now be a joint hardware event in September that announces both new MacBook Pros and the new iPhone 7. It’s reasonable to speculate, based on recent history of Apple’s OS designs, that there will be a closer technical relationship between all the product lines. The delay in the MBP’s would allow Apple to achieve that in one fell swoop. Then we’ll be delighted and all will be forgiven.
What I don’t think is reasonable is to conclude, from idle analysis or fear, that Apple is mindfully allowing the Macintosh product line to disintegrate. It’s all too tempting for naysayers to jump on Apple, exhibit a great loss of faith and malign Apple for the sake of juicy headlines. This isn’t productive. History has and will again prove them wrong.
The Macintosh Sales Downturn
Another aspect of the current Mac Problem is the sluggish sales of Macs. I saw this article at the Denver Post: “Apple’s Mac no longer bucking PC industry’s sales slide.” I checked the article against my own spreadsheet of Apple’s Mac sales, and the numbers seem right.
This downturn probably has more to do with the growing strength of the U.S. dollar, the squeeze on Apple customers who have too many devices to manage and update, the global economy, and the thirsty anticipation of new MacBook Pros. Plus, if the slowdown in the iPhone replacement rate extends to Macs, that could be factor in the (temporary) decline of Mac sales.
Patience: Ignition and Synergy
Essentially, Apple is in a situation where it has the opportunity to re-ignite interest across the line in order to regain an overall sense of healthy enthusiasm for the Mac. My instincts tell me that Apple is prepping just that. Why else macOS Sierra in the fall and APFS in 2017? It all goes back to the Fantasy paragraph above and includes, perhaps, some delicious synergy between our Apple Watch, iPhone and Macintoshes. For example, we already know about Auto Unlock in Sierra.
Recently, Ken Ray reminded me that Apple is a company that has so many revenue sources that it can afford to take its time when it comes to technical leaps in any one product. That is, Apple’s bottom line isn’t going to suffer if it sells a million fewer Macs in a quarter or two. Or it goes 18+ months before an Apple Watch hardware update. It will all be made up in the future.
This is what Apple does, and we love the company for it. Let’s give Infinite Loop a little more time.