Blood in the Macintosh Water: Apple’s Competitors Now Sense Weakness

| Columns & Opinions

Apple’s competitors are sensing Macintosh weakness and are making bold moves. The MacBook Air hasn’t been updated since March, 2015. The Mac Pro, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini are very long of tooth. The latest iMac is coming up on a year old, and only the MacBook looks fresh. Soon, there may be much blood in the water.

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2013 Mac Pro

2013 Mac Pro. Image credit: Apple

The Pro Market

Hewlett-Packard was probably the first to sense Apple’s gentle, distracted, worrisome departure from arduous support of technical professionals. While these professionals have always appreciated Apple’s focus on great design, an equivalent need is for power and expandability (memory and graphics). HP now has a reverse-switcher-like page, directed at those technical professionals called “Mac to Z.” How ironic. Power is in. Glitz is not.

The “Z” reference is to HP’s line of Z-class displays and workstations. In my case, I long ago gave up on Apple when it came to replacing its obsolete 27-inch Thunderbolt display from 2011. I bought a Z34c display myself, as did our Jeff Gamet, and we reviewed it. “The Display You’ve Always Wanted For Your Mac: HP Z34c.” We love it.

On the CPU side, HP makes much of the HP Z8 workstation with 24 cores, up to 512 GB of RAM (compared to the Mac Pro’s max of 64 GB), seven PCIe slots and up to 15 TB of internal stoprage. This would be not so impressive if that hardware had to run Windows 8.x, but the arrival of a competent, secure, modern OS like Windows 10 makes HP’s proposition worth considering. That’s especially true for many who aren’t married to UNIX and simply focus on productivity apps.

HP Z8

HP-Z8 starting at $2400. Image credit: Hewlett-Packard. Ugly. Powerful.

The Sharks Are Closing In

Microsoft also senses blood in the water. Apple never upgraded the MacBook Air with a Retina display, apparently looking to make it the bottom of the line. Or kill it. But Apple did neither. That left an opening for both Microsoft and Google. Microsoft’s latest TV ad compares its Surface Pro 4 to a MacBook Air with good effect.

This ad has its weaknesses to be sure. A touch-screen tablet is compared to a notebook, for one. Qualitative statements are made about the Surface Pro 4 while the weaknesses of the MBA are emphasized. But since when do effective, pointed ads have to be strictly fair? Microsoft saw an opening and has made its point.

 

Previously, Microsoft has taken a healthy shot against the iPad’s weaknesses as well. “A Clever Microsoft Ad Gets to the Heart of Apple’s Fuzzy iPad Message.

When Apple stops updating its products fast enough, staying ahead of the competition, openings appear and can be exploited.

Finally, Google has been exploiting an Apple weakness as well in its notebook line. Young people and schools are faced with an aging MacBook Air that, in any size and configuration, will set them back the better part of US$1,000. That’s a tough sell. Meanwhile, Chromebooks, given an appropriate position in the school curriculum, combined wit Google Docs, can meet the needs of many students for a small fraction of the cost.

For Apple, apparently, education is in its DNA but not its product vision.

Needed: A Really Big Macintosh Event

After the dust settles on Apple’s September 7th event, an event that has the smart money focussed on the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch 2, we’ll wait for a Macintosh event.

If all we get is the new MacBook Pro family, the Sturm und Drang will continue at an even higher level than before.

Concept of Macintosh, MacBook Pro with OLED strip

A new MacBook Pro with OLED function keys, Touch ID & Skylake, alone, won’t be enough to calm the Mac storm. Concept image credit: Martin Hajek

However, if such a Macintosh event covers all the bases and brings forth a coherent update to the Mac family, all will be forgiven. We’ll just shrug and say, “Apple needed more time to do something great.”

No one knows what Apple is really up to here. The company could be working on something dramatic for the Mac lineup. And so guesses (and wishes) based on past products would be shortsighted. But I think it’s safe to say that Apple would want to address the professional desktop market, the technical, enterprise mobile market, the educational market and the home market. Just how the company does that, and with what refreshed product mix, is probably the most eagerly awaited Apple event of the year.

Meanwhile, the competition is preparing for a shark-like feeding frenzy if Apple falters.

9 Comments Add a comment

  1. Yes, I agree, most of Apple’s current Mac line is in need of updating, and we are all waiting for new Mac hardware to be released soon. But I don’t believe for a second that Apple will not be soon introducing new Mac products that are much more innovative and desirable than the current crop of Mac products.

    We do know that Apple has been spending a record $10 Billion on R&D this year. That is much more than they have spent in the past, and it is logically going toward a new and improved product portfolio.

    Apple, unlike its competitors, has a tendency to work on new products in complete secrecy, and those new products are not released until Apple “gets it right”. It is this secrecy, and the waiting, that causes some people to become anxious and impatient. The secrecy also opens the door for rumourmongers to fabricate negative rumors about Apple, since they know that Apple will not respond to rumors, and that the company will not leak information about upcoming new products just to quell false rumors.

  2. “Microsoft also senses blood in the water.”

    Actually I think that Microsoft’s most recent Surface commercial (like its previous ones) misses the mark.

    Those poor marketing people at Microsoft just continue to make fools of themselves, and continue providing free advertising for Apple’s products.

    They compare the Surface, which is not a real tablet (too thick, heavy, short battery life, overpriced, has an Intel processor instead of ARM, and runs a desktop operating system and apps, but hardly any real multi-touch tablet apps) to an iPad.

    Then they compare the Surface to a Macbook Pro, even though the Surface fails as a real notebook computer (thin, substandard and floppy keyboard, small and terrible trackpad, all of the weight behind the display so it is less easy to angle and almost impossible to use on your lap, it has a touch screen which is unnecessary and a hindrance when you have an excellent multi-touch trackpad on the MacBook Pro, and it can’t run BOTH Windows and Mac apps simultaneously like the MacBook Pro).

    It’s as if Microsoft is uncertain whether they should be selling the Surface as a tablet computer (like the iPad) or as a notebook computer (like the MacBook Pro).

    What they end up doing is showing that the Surface, by trying to be two completely different types of computers, is not really good at being either one of them!

    People who watch these commercials are much smarter than Microsoft gives them credit for. But by talking down to users as if they are children (“like a hat for your cat”) they are actually insulting the people that they are trying to sell their product to.

  3. Paul Goodwin

    It’s hard for me to make a case for Apple pouring billions of dollars of investment into the Mac lineup which is part of a slowly shrinking market. It seems like more evolutionary updates might be more likely. I may get surprised by Apple (hope I am), but I would think a big part of their investment dollars is going into the new OS. A really great OS and a Mac App Store full new 3rd party software would seem like the profitable way. Update the computers enough to run the new OD and apps quickly. I don’t know whether Apple thinks it’s worth it to produce a new halo machine replacement for the Mac Pro. They’ve let too many years pass with their approach to the Ned’s of professionals in both hardware and software. And Apple’s approach to computers as non-upgradable appliances doesn’t lend itself to buyers other than very average users. Their pricing has been a problem. It used to be you could justify the price on value. You used to be able to price a fully loaded up PC with what a Mac had in it and the price difference wasn’t that much. That’s getting harder to do – hence my still using my mid-2010 iMac. It was upgradable, so purchasing a lower tier iMac and upgrading later was a lot easier than plunking down the big bucks up front for one that will last 6-8 years.

    Again, I hope they surprise me with some awesome new Macs, but I’m not thrilled with their current design approach of non-upgradable computers.

  4. macjeffff

    Looking at the big Z box makes me wonder. Couldn’t a team of Apple engineers take the old Mac Pro form factor and turn out a killer prototype in about 90 days, if they had the resources? They could. And it could be on the market 90 days later. The old Apple could.

  5. I do hope that Apple will knock our proverbial socks off in the fall with some amazing Mac announcements, but in reality I don’t expect much. Whether I like it or not, Apple is changing. Cook says ““I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one? Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones.”

    I know, I know that doesn’t necessarily mean that Macs aren’t a priority, but you have to wonder….

  6. Absolutely right John, Apple needs a BIG Macintosh wcwnr. But I just don’t see it happening. I’m not terribly hopeful. I’d like to see Apple overhaul it’s whole Mac lineup. Top to bottom refresh. I’d love to see Pro systems that emphasize function over thin and light. But there would have been more rumours about the upgrades. As of now I’m expecting new MacBook Pro’s, but no new Mac Pro, iMac, MacMini, and probably no update to the MacBook Air, which will likely be axed. I’m hopeful but I’m also specking out hardware to run MintLinux if they don’t. I’ve mentioned here before that I am as worried about the future of the Mac as I was 20 years ago when they made a bazillion performa models and the stock was at $12/share.

    bjbeast: I agree, you have to wonder if the Mac HAS a future. However, the trouble with Apple’s idea that the iPad is a replacement for the Mac is iOS. Until iOS is hugely improved it isn’t a replacement OS for desktop use. I write on my iPad, but edit on my Mac. I film with my iPhone and camera, but I edit on my Mac. Both because the Mac and Mac software and the Mac environment just work better. Apple may well be thinking that they can move users to iPads, but that just reveals a huge disconnect between Apple designers and how things work in the field. A very troubling disconnect.

    NorthSaanichBC: Hey neighbour. I’m in Nanaimo.

  7. A look at the competition:

    Boxx Apex 5

    Dell PowerEdge T630 – Dual purpose for Pro’s and Server’s

    HP Z Workstation

    The Mac Pro is toast. Only thing it has going for it is that it runs Mac OS X versus Windows.
    Apple needs to dump the cylinder and go back to the upgradable tower format. External thunderbolt expansion is slow and not practical (messy and not apple like). A new Mac Pro to server both Pro and Enterprise markets is needed. The design of the Dell PowerEdge T630 is the way. Dual power supplies, rack mount, multiple expansion slots (GPU, capture cards at least 5 slots) tons of cores and memory along with SSD storage in the front.

    This will stop the bleeding.

  8. Geoduck, I do agree with you – for the biggest problem with the iPad is iOS. For me it’s just a lot harder to do some things on the Pad. This is what Cook and company seem to miss. Sure – I can use Word on my iPad if I want – but I can’t even have two word docs open at once….

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