Apple’s Mac Lineup: Judge, Jury and Execution

| Particle Debris

Preamble

Two camps have emerged from the aftermath of Apple’s “hello again” event. on October 27. There are those who have tried to explain and rationalize the gaping holes in Apple’s presentation. Part of Apple’s structuring of the event may have been driven by Intel’s CPU/GPU roadmap. Part of it may have been that Apple executives have been sidetracked by the Apple Car, Campus 2 construction and EU/Ireland affairs. Part of it may have been that they were taken by surprise by both the Microsoft’s Surface Studio design and the warm reaction to it. This might be constructed as some of the case for the defense.

The prosecution claims that Apple took too long update all of its Mac lineup. There should have been more periodic updates along the way for each kind of Mac. Leading up to the event, the often cited MacRumors Mac Buying Guide showed that all of the Macs, except the MacBook, have been painfully neglected. The addition of a Touch Pad to the Skylake-based 2016 MacBook Pros wasn’t enough of a broad corporate affirmation to both the mobile and desktop lines. The tagline, “hello again” suggested that Apple would reignite the Mac. It didn’t happen. Neglect and indifference to consumers as well as to technical and creative professionals were cited.

Below, I have a list of notable articles for each side of the argument. Then my verdict.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Apple’s MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

Apple’s Defense

1. Jason Snell presented: “Why 2016 is such a terrible year for the Mac.” He lays out the best defense for Apple by explaining Apple’s situation and the elements of the huge pushback. He’s critical of Apple in parts, but also explains some of Apple’s plight. With respect to Intel’s roadmap:

In this case, Apple’s timing appears to have been bad. There’s no way to know for sure, but it seems like Apple decided to dance to its own rhythm, skip an Intel chip generation, and then wait for the good stuff, only to get bitten by slippage in Intel’s schedule. If that’s what happened, it’s hard to blame it on Intel. After all, it was Apple’s gamble.

2. Horace Dediu, in his quintessential analytical style, lays out the business and market forces related to desktop and mobile computing. “Wherefore Art Thou Macintosh.”

If the market, the tendencies, the future and all the money are on mobile, it’s going to be hard for Apple not to place all of its attention there. This is a great article. An excerpt:

The Mac is thus not treated disparagingly. It deserves and gets respect. It is preserved but with limited responsibilities….

It’s [the Mac] not obsolete but it is a decreasing share of engagement. Alternate ways of doing the jobs it does well with direct input are emerging on the third pivot but they are not yet good enough. The children are still adolescent and making lots of stupid mistakes. There’s still life in the parents….

The Mac is what it is because it’s not alone. It’s part of a family. It is a parent. It strives to be better but will not take the future from its child.

3. Finally, belatedly, the defendant takes the stand. The Independent was later given an interview by Apple SVP Phil Schiller. “Apple’s Philip Schiller talks computers, touchscreens and voice on the new MacBook Pro.” SVP Schiller responds to all the negative outcry about Apple’s deafening silence regarding other Macs.

I hope everyone gets a chance to try it for themselves and see how great the MacBook Pro is. It is a really big step forward and an example of how much we continue to invest in the Mac. We love the Mac and are as committed to it, in both desktops and notebooks, as we ever have been.

Not everyone will see that mea culpa.  That one sentence in the event itself would have saved the day.  Now, on to Apple’s prosecution on page 2.

Next page: The Case Against Apple’s “hello again” event.

19 Comments Add a comment

  1. Imagestealer

    Downright depressing, is what this is. I should have left reading this until Monday.

    I looked at that Surface Studio machine ad. That is a pretty slick looking piece of equipment. I am also starting to hear good things about Win10 (but it is still WINDOWS )

    I then went to the Apple site and priced out a loaded 2016 MBP. (Warning, I live in Canada). Damn near had a heart attack! Almost $6000.00. That does not even include a monitor and the necessary converters to attach all my external drives and other devices.

    It is extremely unlikely that there is one of these in my future. I will make my existing 15″ rMBP last as long as possible.

    If Apple is determined to exit the PC business (in spite of their protestations to the contrary), then the least they could do is license macOS. That is the main reason I use Apple PCs in the first place.

    I can wait for a while, but when I am ready for a new machine, I will be evaluating very carefully if it is worthwhile to remain in the Apple ecosystem.

  2. Albatrossflyer

    Until people stop buying iPhones because Apple won’t provide the MacBook Pros, iMacs, & Mac Pros they want, Apple won’t give a damn what you think about their computer lineup.

  3. MarcusNewton

    With my 20/20 hindsight, I think Apple should have released a spec-bumped MacBook Pro back in July with Skylake processors, and waited until June 2017 to release the touch-bar MacBook Pro with Kaby Lake processors. This would have allowed Apple to shift the blame squarely on Intel for a delayed redesign, instead of releasing a compromised MacBook Pro this month.

    One article I read this week said that this new MacBook Pro is not a continuation of that Pro line we are use to (the 2012 line), but it is instead the “full” version of the 12″ MacBook. Based on everything I have read this week I have to sadly agree. I have also seen people now referring to it as MacBook Amateur.

    I remember when I bought the original iMac, everything necessary was already in the box; including a phone cable so I could connect the modem to the wall outlet. I love the Ad that Jeff Goldblum did for the iMac where he was explaining the 3 steps to get an iMac on the Internet and there was no step 3.

    One of the main reasons I have so strongly advocated Apple products to friends and family is that I knew that just about everything they would need would be mostly likely included and well thought out with whatever they bought with Apple.

    With the new MacBook Pro I feel like Apple has set its users adrift into a sea of adapters, cables, dongles, and hubs with little regard as to how that affects the overall Mac experience. Especially, after Amazon revealed how many counterfeit and bogus cables where being sold on its site. Playing Russian roulette with 3rd-party cables and adapters is hardly a positive and consistent user experience.

    With that said, I am happy about Thunderbolt 3 finally emerging. I love the idea of being able to run two 5K monitors from a single cable while also charging a laptop. However, that is the only thing I need Thunderbolt 3 for. All of my current devices: the audio interfaces, external hard drives, graphics tablets, scanner, and printer, all max out at USB 3 speeds. I am not going to update my $300 Yamaha audio interface just so I can use a USB-C cable; there is literally no improvement.

    Finally, Apple not supporting 4K on the Apple TV is making me move away from it. I saved up my money and bought a 65″ Samsung 4K SUHD TV with HDR (the KS8000). It is amazing. The TV has Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now apps built right in. Streaming 4K shows off of Netflix like Daredevil, Narcos, and Marco Polo is breathtakingly good. The only reason I have even turned on my Apple TV in the last three weeks was to watch the “hello, again” keynote.

    I can shoot 4K video on my iPhone, edit the 4K footage in both iMovie and Final Cut Pro on either my iPad Pro or MacBook Pro, but I cannot play it at 4K on my Apple TV.

  4. “Observers have noted that Tim Cook’s presentation seemed strained, not as well rehearsed, and invoked what seems to be filler material at the outset. The team seems to have been up late, re-thinking the agenda in light of what Microsoft announced. All the earmarks of failure to execute are there.”

    In light of no evidence, that’s nothing more than idle speculation. I think Schiller did a stand up job.

  5. It has to be said.
    Tim Cook must go.

    I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I tried to tell myself that his style was different from Steve Jobs style. Not better or worse just different. That his Apple would be different from the old Apple but the core of what made Apple my favourite company would still be there. But there’s a difference between following a different course and being rudderless. Today’s Apple reminds me a lot of the mid 2000s Microsoft under Balmer. Lots of little pet projects that come and go, but the core systems have stagnated. Apple now worries more about share price, and profit centres more than making great products. That is a philosophical change that starts from the top.

    The philosophy of Jobs Apple was to make delightful products and profit would follow.
    The philosophy of Cooks Apple is to chase profit and assume the products will sell.

    Apple needs another dreamer, someone who knows that these aren’t toasters. Someone that worries more about making the product perfect, than how many pennies he can shave off the cost to get it made. There are people like that out there. The new head of Microsoft is exhibit number 1. Bill Gates choice of Steve Balmer as his replacement showed that the founder of the company is not necessarily the best person to make that choice. It’s time to admit that Steve Jobs choice of Tim Cook was just as misguided.

    Tim, you had five years, but it isn’t working. You’ve shown that, as talented as you are, you are not the right person for the job.

    It’s time for Tim to go.

  6. Totally agree John, but it is worse than that. It is not just the Mac, there is lame all over at Apple. It is time for Tim Cook to go. It is deja vu all over again and they are playing the part of Microsoft 1999.

  7. It’s been a long time since there’s been this much criticism about Apple from all quarters. I tried to give Tim cook the benefit of the doubt, but at this point he’s getting perilously close to Ballmer’s reign of error. Yes, the company is still making money. But the Mac is still suffering from neglect. Under his watch, there has been incredibly poor rollouts of the new Maps and Apple Music. Schiller is, amazingly, getting worse at presenting. In fact, this was the worst presentation ever. From the awkward, awkward demos of the touch bar, to the amazingly lame comparison of the new MacBook Pro to an early Apple portable (utterly pointless), the presentation just dragged. It was easily a half an hour or more longer than it needed to be. And yes, I completely agree with everyone who says that the slogan “Hello, Again” was a significant misstep. How anyone could have thought that was a good idea and wouldn’t raise expectations is beyond belief.

  8. There is such a thing as “too much elegance and not enough practicality/value.” I think Apple has crossed over this line with the current crop of MacBooks (I will not call them Pro machines). Thin in a consumer device is nice but really is out of place in a Pro machine. Too thin? Yes.

    While some are claiming Tim Cook should go, I think his only failing is not having enough balls to stand up to Jone Ive and say, “No! Stop obsessing about thinness!” How about a screen with NO bezel… well, it needs to be thicker. How about some useful legacy ports… well, it needs to be thicker.

  9. I hate to admit it, but I agree with the other posters. Tim’s Apple seems to have lost its way. I have no idea who is ultimately responsible, I doubt very much it’s one individual, but I haven’t had thoughts like these about the company since the System 7 days. Something has gotta change.

  10. For those that argue that it’s OK because Apple is still making money, I’d like to point out that no matter how Balmer’s Microsoft blundered, it was also profitable. No matter how utterly clueless, leaderless, or feckless Microsoft became, it still made money.

  11. archimedes

    I’m not going to join the chorus calling for the head of Messrs. Cook/Schiller/Ive, but I’m puzzled as to why there has been no follow-through on the 2013 Mac Pro, and I agree that “Hello, Again” raised expectations to iMac ’98 level but delivered less of a step forward than Apple’s 2012 Retina MacBook Pro (or the neglected 2013 Mac Pro.)

    On the other hand, unlike many commenters here, I am a huge fan of the iPad Pro. I rarely use the Microsoft-style smart keyboard, but I use the iPad all the time and find the 12″ form factor to be a definite sweet spot for many uses (sketchbook, music apps, sheet music, reading, video, etc..)

    Apple doesn’t usually respond directly to competitors, but I would be interested in hearing more from Cupertino about why they think the adjustable drafting table format (e.g. Surface Studio) is a losing idea, and what they think is better for artists, designers and musicians. Personally I find the idea of a large format iOS device to be somewhat appealing.

  12. Scott B in DC

    Before I make my comment:

    “heads” – sadly there seems to be no editing for TMO comments!

    May I recommend Grammarly. Even if you just sign up for the free version and add the Safari Extension, it might be enough to help you get past those typing nits!

    Since it is getting to be all about the apps, the software we use, what is the difference if that software runs on a Mac or a PC. I can get along without Safari since I use Firefox as an alternative. Other than Photos, what other Mac-only software will keep my tied to my Mac?

    Don’t get me wrong, I was hoping for an excuse to replace by late-2009 27-inch iMac. But I can see keeping this machine as my bridge for iOS (no, I do not use iCloud) and Photos while I get a Surface Studio for everything else. I’ve already ditched a laptop for an iPad Air, why not ditch the Mac if working in a browser, Word, Evernote, and the other programs work closer to how they do on my iPad than on my Mac?

  13. John:

    For a topic like this, it’s hard to know where to begin, so let me begin with a quote from HL Mencken,

    “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”.

    To illustrate, as a young intern, I had a complicated post-op patient who had had surgery for aesophageal strictures (look it up if you’re curious). During his recovery, he became febrile. We gave him acetaminophen (Tylenol), and did a workup to rule out infection. There was none. Still, he complained of fever. Clearly, in order to break his fever, I’d have to use something stronger than Tylenol, so I gave him a true non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent (NSAID), ibuprofen. What could be simpler? As expected, his fever broke. And then he began to cough up blood. And bleed. I took no consolation that he was finally afebrile as he was wheeled off to the ICU. It turns out that what the patient had was ‘atelectasis’ or isolated areas of lung collapse that can happen post surgery and can cause fever. The cure for his fever was to make him take deep breaths, and not NSAIDs, which can lead to bleeding, and in this case, made things worse. Who’d have known, right? A more knowledgeable and experienced physician, that’s whom. As an inexperienced intern, I was focussed on the fever and not the whole patient.(I also learnt that New Yorkers have a rich repertoire of words for ‘stupid’, some of them in Yiddish, but I digress). It was a valuable lesson.

    As an avid Mac user, I realise that the Mac is important, but it’s no longer the core of Apple’s existence, and may not be a vital organ of Apple’s future. Still, it’s tempting to look at Apple, focus on their computer line in isolation and say, ‘Let’s make Apple great again’, on the grounds that the Mac made Apple great in the first place. What could be simpler? The problem with that narrative is that it’s false. Post SJ2, as great as they were, Macs never made Apple great. Rather, that was mobile. The so-called halo effect meant that expanded Mac market share was lofted on the wings of the iPhone, and not by the Mac’s own bootstraps.

    What about fixing Apple by replacing Tim Cook as Apple’s CEO? Okay, with whom? The point above was that, in a complex situation, clear and simple solutions are seldom correct, and may be harmful. What do we know about CEO replacements at Apple? Empirical data on bringing in CEOs from outside Apple indicate a poor outcome, and that was during a simpler time for the industry and for Apple’s product line up, and pre-dated their global expansion. Leadership today requires an experienced and knowledgeable CEO, proficient both in that system and in leveraging those assets into a prosperous future. That can best be achieved through an apprenticed CEO from within. If anyone doubts this, then point to that company that is currently outcompeting Apple across the entire spectrum of products and services, and is beating Apple at being Apple. Apprenticeship takes time, and is doubtless already underway, but would likely be premature today.

    The industrial context in which Apple compete is characterised by uncertainty. I suggest that that uncertainty is driven by two things: 1) a plateauing of mature technologies, like CPUs and GPUs, in which real world gains are marginal, and; 2) an abundance of potentially new directions driven by emerging technologies, like AI, virtual reality, robotics, and smart devices like wearables and transportation, to name a few. The choice of direction should be driven by one question; what is the company’s goal? Apple have stated that their goal is to unleash human creativity and make the world a better place. However Apple achieve that, they cannot do so but from a position of strength in finances, footprint, growth and mindshare. I posit that the path to that goal is not a retreat to a comfortable past rooted in mature technologies, particularly one based on a false narrative around one product line nestled in simpler time that no longer exists. Apple, like all living things with a hope of a future, have to adapt and evolve.

    Finally, regarding the criticism that Apple have squandered precious time on abortive research and development, like the Apple Car, progress from R&D is not, nor has ever been, linear. Furthermore, R&D among integrated technologies has carry-over benefits into related areas even if a specific project is aborted. NASA tech is rife with examples. One can imagine Apple’s car R&D leading to benefits in software, secure systems, robotics, AI, and a host of smart devices, to name just a few. However, such progress is inapparent until Apple invest this in new products, which too are likely under development.

    The point is that, in an environment of evolving complexity, such as the tech industry, adaptation is essential, but the direction of that adaptation will come at a cost, and if poorly selected, can lead to extinction. The clearest, simplest solution is seldom the right one. A knowledgable and experienced CEO can best shepherd that process, and his/her prescription may, and likely will, run contrary to lay expectations. Further, there is always a lag between environmental change and effective adaptation. While it may not be clear in what direction Apple will or should go, a panicked jettison of their leadership, internal cohesion, or simplistic management of the complex interplay between today’s Apple and their increasingly complex environment will not get them there, neither will an over-emphasis on legacy technology that was never responsible for their rise to prominence.

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