How to Decipher Apple’s Conflicting Messaging About Macs

| Columns & Opinions

Mixed messages are coming out of Cupertino. On one hand, Apple failed to say the things it needed to say about the Mac during a recent Mac event. Now Tim Cook says he’ll fix that. Meanwhile, the community has spoken with a loud and unmistakable voice that the Mac is not yet dead. Tim Cook seems to have gotten the message, but now we wait for products in 2017 to certify Apple’s change of heart.

It’s easy to rationalize that the things one doesn’t have time for aren’t that important. Put another way, according to our Dave Hamilton, procrastination is just another form of prioritization.

Apple CEO Tim Cook says new desktop computers are coming

Tim Cook says Apple has big plans for the desktop. But that might not mean headless Macs.

Mac Time Pressure

Apple is a very big company with a lot on its plate. I won’t even try to list the things that Apple is involved in these days. But one thing is certain. Apple’s executive team puts its focus on some very key competitive areas. Things like artificial intelligence, project Titan, augmented reality, the iPhone, and its expanding services get a lot of internal attention.

When a product, like the Mac, is no longer critical to Apple’s bottom line, it’s easy to rationalize that a few cool MacBook Pros can satisfy the hunger of users. One might argue that stretching out the update cycle for Macs is okay because the world revolves around mobility, smartphones and iPads.

That doesn’t work because Apple Mac customers who need to upgrade now can’t be expected to sit around for years, wondering if Apple will meet their needs. Windows 10 is good enough, on really great hardware, to create reverse switchers. In this way, the technical community moves faster than Apple.

Two very interesting articles apply to this discussion.

The Conflicting Mac Messaging

1.Apple’s Tim Cook assures employees that it is committed to the Mac and that ‘great desktops’ are coming.” This response, related by Tech Crunch from CEO Tim Cook is almost certainly in direct response to the furor about Apple’s lack of attention to the entire Mac lineup.

In the past, it was the PC fanatics who made fun of Apple for their own self-serving purposes. In contrast, lately, many of the most notable and respectable voices in the Apple community, those who have always been very positive, have written concise, authoritative, logical, blistering critiques of Apple’s inattention to the Mac.

The removal of the battery time remaining in macOS Sierra 10.12.2 was the final straw that made it wholly respectable to declare Apple worthy of mockery.

Fortunately, the sting has sunk in and Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has formally responded to all the criticism. However….

2. “How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists.” This excellent article by Mark Gurman explains some of the management issues behind the stagnation of the Mac.

In another sign that the company has prioritized the iPhone, Apple re-organized its software engineering department so there’s no longer a dedicated Mac operating system team. There is now just one team, and most of the engineers are iOS first, giving the people working on the iPhone and iPad more power….

Interviews with people familiar with Apple’s inner workings reveal that the Mac is getting far less attention than it once did. They say the Mac team has lost clout with the famed industrial design group led by Jony Ive and the company’s software team. They also describe a lack of clear direction from senior management, departures of key people working on Mac hardware and technical challenges that have delayed the roll-out of new computers.

2016 MacBook Pro, 13 and 15.

2016 MacBook Pro, 13 and 15. Very nice, but too little, too late. Image credit: Apple

Remedial Mac Action

This excellent diagnostic in article #2 does more to explain the past than predict the future. The question before us now is this. What management or strategy changes does Tim Cook envision, mentioned in article #1, that will remedy the historical problems, from article #2, that led to the awful Mac lineup bust that occurred in 2016?

I expect that the depth and breadth of the arguments, in the last month, in favor of breathing some life into the Mac lineup have been digested by the entire Apple executive team by now. In addition, they must be mindful of the fact that both Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft are positioning themselves to swoop in and capture any market which shows weakness created by Apple’s fumbles.

There’s money to be made in the creative, technical professional, education, science and engineering, CAD, AI, medicine, and computer science markets. The heat provided by Apple’s competitors will lead to a goodly sum of influencers in those markets moving back to Windows and Linux. That’s a place they were told they really belonged all along, but they never believed it until Apple failed them in 2016.

I expect some Mac products that had been shelved in the past will be un-shelved in 2017. Or new initiatives designed to make us adore Apple desktops again will be accelerated. Then all will be well.

Down the road, when Apple gives us everything we need to do our technical work in iOS, we can breathe easier. But that time is not 2017.

The Mac community has spoken.

11 Comments Add a comment

  1. John:

    Very well written summary.

    I, like other “Pros” rely on a continuously supported Mac platform to get my job done each day. I only converted full time to Mac from Windows a few years ago, for the same reasons I now have doubts about that decision.

    I too trust that all the uproar from the credible Mac community has inspired Tim Cook to once again treat us like true customers again as well. Otherwise, I can easily, but sadly, revert back to the Windows platform where there’s no issue obtaining enough horsepower from a variety of suppliers to get the job done.

    My feeling is that Cook has taken a die-hard, loyal, Mac community for granted thinking we would be excited for anything the company announced at their precious event and run out to purchase it.

    Times have changed Tim…it’s time Apple does again too.

  2. macjeffff

    A huge ongoing investment has been made in the Mac/IOS ecosystem with iTunes, Messages, Photos, etc. How then can one justify disinvestment in Mac hardware? Bushels of cash are being left on the table. I could easily afford to upgrade my office Macs, but why should I?

  3. jackadoodle

    “Windows 10 is good enough, on really great hardware, to create reverse switchers.”

    No, no, no, and by the way, no. I have used it a bit. There is nothing like the Mac. I’m not being a fanboy. I’m being real. Windows is a dark, dark place. Sit down to your new Windows machine and start uninstalling adware. Oh, and every few weeks run your anti-virus, and pay your annual antivirus upgrade. Hey, and my friend says every few months, he completely reinstalls Windows just to clean things up. And that “great” Windows interface with all the subway type symbols. With 2, 3, or even 4 or 5 symbols, it’s cool. But a screen full of 25 gets maddening.

    Meanwhile, kiss “QuickLook” goodbye. And bye bye FaceTime. And bye bye Continuity. And bye bye LaunchPad, Mission Control, and so many other things.

    I am using a 7 year old Mac and need an upgrade. I could go out and get a $400 Windows laptop right now. Nope. I’ll scrimp and save and wait for my $2,300 MacBook Pro because it’s that darn good.

  4. While I believe the uproar from the Mac community has indeed caused Tim to make those statements, I do not believe Apple is re-evaluating anything as far as the Mac is concerned. It’s clear that Apple sees a majority of the world moving to mobile. The fact that they’ve stopped selling displays more than likely means, they’ve given up on headless Macs. As painful as that might sound to some people, it means we’ll probably see much more powerful iMacs in the future – Apple may be waiting for Intel. “Pros” who need expandability will have to buy an external PCI enclosure.

    I’d also like to point out that Apple’s reorganization of their OS development team has nothing to do with taking focus off the Mac. It had everything to do with bringing all OS development under one group. This is how things like Continuity, Handoff and Auto-Unlock get developed. Those are technologies that have to be developed across all platforms at the same time. It’s easier to do that if it’s all being done by the same team. Mac OS X used to be based on a version of Darwin that was an entire year behind iOS. Now they’re the same. That’s not neglecting a platform, that’s keeping it relevant.

  5. MuppetGate

    Yes, I have to agree with mjtomlin: this is not a change of strategy or a sudden realisation that the Mac is still relevant. The plans are the same; the only thing that has changed is that Cook has had to make a statement because the teeth-gnashing in the Mac community has reached such a level he had to say something.

    Apple has never released roadmaps, but at the same time, Apple has never left such large gaps between updating the product lines. Granted, Intel’s improvements have not warranted a complete redesign, but it might have been prudent for them to update the chips once in a while.

    On the other hand, if they did that the headlines would read: “Apple’s lacklustre improvements show that the Mac is on the way out.”

    So no change there.

  6. I think a lot more has to do with the difficulty of innovation. Intel has stalled in the creation of new chips, and this affects the Mac the same way it did when IBM stalled with the PowerPC.

    Apple could move to multiple processors, a second generation microkernal (see the L series from the work of the late Jochen Liedtke), and the usual upgrades of ports and peripherals. I’m afraid the same is true for the Power Mac.

  7. [longer post over at the roadmap article – Cook doesn’t have a road map. He has a train wreck and he’s directing traffic around it!]

    Customers are getting tired of apologists saying Apple has a lot on its plate… every company has a lot on its plate. I think the problem is at the top and Cook needs to sort it out because Job’s fundamental rule is not being met – these “artists” are not shipping!

    Today’s Apple is 10 times bigger than it was pre-iPhone. That leaves PLENTY of room to devote 80% to iPhone, 10% to iPad and 10% to Mac and still devote the same resources to yearly updates for Mac!

    No excuses.

    The problem seems to be the executive funnel at the top squirting out the same number of products the company did when it was 1/10th the size it is now. It’s not an easy thing to solve – but that’s exactly why Cook gets the big bucks.
    [there’s more over at ‘roadmap’ if you want my detailed ruminations]

  8. @jackadoodle: Sorry, but that’s not true. Not anymore. i just switched back during the last 6 months (just got rid of my old Macbook) and nothing of what you say it’s happened to me at all.

    No adware, no viruses (antivirus is included in Win10 and quite good), no problem with peripherals or drivers at all, true plug and play and a lot of power under the hood for way cheaper than a Mac.

    What you experienced is just the disorientation of using something different from what you are used to and not a real impression of the merit (or demerit cause believe me it’s not a perfect OS… no one is) of Windows 10.

    Cheers

  9. While it’s true that the world is going more and more down the mobile route, it’s also true that THAT world is mostly the consumption world, people who use their devices just to consume contents.

    On the other hand creators of contents still needs powerful and versatile machine BOTH mobile and fixed to put all the necessary power to bear in creating new apps, art, content, science and so on.

    Sure, the former market is easier and more exploitable… but I never thought of Apple, in all the years I’ve used its products, to be the company to take the easier way. Fancy that…

    Cheers

  10. True Intel x86 is needed on Mac for real compatibility with the rest of the world (read, Windows). iOS cannot offer it on ARM. Did Apple learn from previous fiascos like PowerPC? Move the Mac to ARM and we will switch from Mac to Windows. A shame for all, but we need full x86 compatibility for productivity.

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