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