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

3 minute read
| 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUOttPF4UTo

 

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.

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bjeast
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bjeast

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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z3r0bit

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… Read more »

geoduck
Member
geoduck

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… Read more »

bjeast
Member
bjeast

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… Read more »

macjeffff
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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.

Paul Goodwin
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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… Read more »

Lee Dronick
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Lee Dronick

They need to improve their sensors

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NorthSaanichBC

“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… Read more »

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NorthSaanichBC

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… Read more »