The Macintosh Product Line Will Soon Change Before Our Eyes

5 minute read
| Particle Debris

There are certain Macintosh products that are carry overs from the past, and there are top selling Macs that suggest the future of Apple. While some suggest that the gradual transformation of the product line means the end of the Mac, I think it means a glorious new beginning.

“A role for the Macintosh as far as our eye can see.”

Concept of Macintosh, MacBook Pro with OLED strip

Concept: MBP with OLED function keys. Image credit: Martin Hajek

That’s a quote from Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Mac in 2014.

Wherever I think about what Apple may be up to next, I think about Apple’s history. This is a company that thinks boldly and always has in store for us something that we need—but didn’t deeply realize that we needed. And so, when I look at the demise of certain of product lines, my mind tends to think about what could be next instead of what we’re about to lose.

Related to that, I saw an intriguing article this week by Kate Mackenzie. I generally like her stuff because she’s a bold, thoughtful writer. This article by her caught my attention. “Say Goodbye To These Macs.” Here are the Macs that are likely on the chopping block.

  1. MacBook Air
  2. Mac mini
  3. Mac Pro

While you may or may not agree with her logic, the article does serve to foster thoughts about what we need next. Where, exactly, is the Macintosh product line going? Apple certainly isn’t giving up on the Mac, as I argued here: “Apple’s Change From OS X to macOS Hardly ‘Muddies the Waters’.”

In turn, that makes me think that it’s certainly time to examine the product line with an eye to the future, not the past.


The MacBook Air, as it is now, is a Mac whose time has come and gone. We’ve seen the future of Apple’s notebook line, and it’s foreshadowed by the 2015 MacBook. We’ll see all those technologies in the new MacBook Pros soon. Yet, Apple has a competitive problem in the education market in the form of Chromebooks, and iPads are not the complete solution. Nor are expensive MacBooks. Less expensive MacBook Airs, perhaps renamed, with conventional ports designed for education might be the answer.

Mac mini. I agree with author Mackenzie on this. Apple’s heart and soul are just not in the Mac mini. It was a good idea when Apple was trying to lure Switchers to the Mac, those who already had a keyboard and mouse. But now the PC wars are over and mobility rules. While a niche market has formed using Mac minis as servers, I don’t think it’s enough of a market to sustain Apple’s creativity and energies. I color it gone also.

Mac Pro. We certainly need big iron, 5K Macs for everything we do on the desktop. There doesn’t seem to be any special need for a Mac that’s headless, like the Mac Pro, because Apple is into integrated systems whose components are well matched.

That is, unless Apple still wants to garner favor with the pro market. In that case, I envision a next generation Mac Pro that’s more easily expandable and has the latest Xeons and Thunderbolt 3 as well. What I don’ think we’ll see is a modest update with the same case design. I’m thinking something more radical, more mouth watering. More expandable. A halo Mac to, once again, die for.

In summary, I think Apple will respond to the market realities, but not by backing out. Desktop iMacs with fabulous displays sell fairly well. Sleek MacBooks and MacBooks Pros sell even better and are the favored computers for professionals, college students, scientists, developers on the move, and you name it. That said, I don’t see the Macintosh product line circling its wagons into a just a handful of products. As technology advances, it will enable new instantiations of the Mac to meet future needs.

It’s just that, for now, some products need to be retired while we wait for new ones to blossom.

Next page: The Tech News Debris for the Week of July 4th. What if Apple had stayed with supercomputer tech?

9 Comments Add a comment

  1. furbies

    Apple should keep the Mac mini.
    It’s a useful basic Mac for folks what already have a Monitor they like or that connect a Mac mini to a TV and use a bluetooth keyboard/mouse.

  2. xmattingly

    With Apple, I certainly wouldn’t rule anything out for their future plans. Concentration on mobile is a given; as with all follow-the-money scenarios, we’re definitely going to see them continue to find more innovative ways to integrate multiple devices, such as cloud-based clipboard coming in Sierra.

    As far as the three mentioned, this is my suggestion/take:

    MacBook Air: Either eliminated or slightly updated & repackaged as an “eBook Air” to compete against Chrome machines, as mentioned.

    Mac Mini: While it has unquestionably surpassed its original purpose and doesn’t make much money, it still has value. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that a specialized variation was sold as a server, and I think it’s still well suited for that, or home theater, or any implementation where you just need the guts of a macOS machine. Regardless, there is very little benefit for Apple to continue updating so I’d expect those to be fewer and further between.

    Mac Pro: Apple has had its roots in the creative market from the very beginning. I’d frankly be shocked if they gave up their halo machine. It’d be a PR blunder to see them pull production of their sole “manufactured in the US” computer, and more or less an end to product differentiation of Apple computers are for creative people. As with Mac Mini, further and fewer updates makes the most sense (which is presently the case of course), but they are sorely overdue for a refresh.

  3. Paul Goodwin

    It’s really too bad they screwed up the Mini. It used to be the most flexible, with expandable memory. There’s less to love about it now.

  4. lilpir8

    I agree with Paul. When Apple last updated the mini I immediately went online and purchased the best 2012 model I could find. The Mac Mini was, by far the most flexible desktop ever made!

  5. d'monder

    If anything needs to change, it’s the Mac Pro. Imagine an automaker whose flagship sports car could be competently challenged by their family crossover, in the same model year and for less money. Yeah, ouch.

    IMO, for some time now the role of the Macintosh has been to develop apps and content for iOS. Any other use is secondary to that. Just wish Apple would say so directly, instead of letting the entire Mac line sit in limbo like it has.

  6. ibuck

    I too want Apple to keep the Mac Mini, or its evolutionary successor. With a Cinema Display with plenty of remaining life, I replaced my 8 year old Mini in late 2014. I still do most of my computer use with a Mac, and the Mac Mini is an inexpensive, efficient way to run the latest macOS. etc. The power is good, and laptop compromises (like keyboard, etc) don’t have to be made. And aren’t Mac Minis still used as servers on the web?

    With regard to your report of the less expensive iOS controlled light switch, I can envision Apple repurposing the Mini (or its successor) as a home server (using a TV, iPad or laptop for occasional use as it’s monitor) to securely & remotely control lights, temperature, etc, and maybe videos and so on. And perhaps with capabilities similar to Amazon’s Echo. IMO, cavalierly saying adios because it doesn’t fit some Apple-disparaging, click-bait writer’s idea of what an appropriate computer should be, is a leap best not taken.

  7. zewazir

    I can see the need for certain changes in the product line. MacBook Air and MacBook pros no longer have a significant difference, so may as well revamp the Air line to compete with Chromebooks, which could also include a name change and “MacBook Air” goes bye-bye. OTOH, why get rid of the name? The general public already views the Air as a relatively inexpensive, high quality, entry level portable computer. Redesign it so it can compete with the Chromebook , but keep the name. Maybe add an “e” to indicate it is specifically designed for the education market, like the old “eMac”.

    I agree with those who say getting rid of the Mini would be a mistake. However, I also believe it was a mistake to make the newer minis with no user upgrades. One of the selling points of the entire Mac line – until recently – has been their relative longevity compared to equivalent Windows machines. A huge part of that longevity was the ability to cram 4-8 times as much RAM in the thing after it reached 3-4 years old. What is the selling point of a Mac which is obsoleted within 3 years because the RAM demands of the newer OS outstrip even the higher end editions? When RAM is a user upgrade, it extends the user lifetime of the model significantly. If Apple’s idea on this is they don’t WANT the user lifetime of their products extended, then Apple is begging to be re-marginalized by less expensive alternates. People are already suing Apple for planned obsolescence. Switchers who were drawn in by the Mini line 5 years ago will start leaving in droves if the planned obsolescence continues.

    This also applies to the MacBook Pro line. There was a time I would argue – successfully, I might add – that the district purchase the more expensive MB Pros for staff, because they could be upgraded, and thus have a longer usable lifetime. That advantage has gone away, so there is no longer a practical reason for spending more on the Pro. We habitually purchase several hundred new units every year. Multiply that by hundreds of school districts whose purchasing habits will change due to Apple seemingly pursuing the path of planned obsolescence, and Apple is losing a TON of money in the education market.

    The trash-can Mac Pro was a mistake from the start, but Apple would be making a huge mistake if they stop providing a product for the ultra-high end. High end users need big, power-house boxes that can accept multiple internal drives, massive amounts of RAM, and massive heat disbursement because the high end creative users are going to be pushing the CPUs and multiple GPUs to their maximum. The old Pro box (which began as the G5) was ideal. Yes, it was large and clunky, and even trended toward ugly, but the people who use that type of computer don’t mind large or clunky, or even ugly, because their needs are for a big box full of high end components running at maximum capability for days on end.

  8. ppartekim

    I agree to keep the Mac Mini. I do not want/need a laptop, I don’t want an iMac as I already have dual 24″ monitors (which may be upgraded to one new 34″ ultra-wide). While I would love a Mac Pro it is way overpowered and priced for my needs. Now if the Mac Pro were brought down a decent chunk under $2K we can talk about dumping the Mini.

  9. leeeoooooo

    John, you’re dreaming (and listening to far too many rumors).

    The MacBook Air is the sweet spot for the low end entry level laptop. It is in its prime. Do you really think they’ll ditch this one because it doesn’t have a Retina display?

    Heck, they’re still selling my 13″ MacBook Pro that I bought in 2013 and was designed in mid-2012.

    The Mac mini is the server for the rest of us. Sure, the latest model doesn’t come with a quad core anymore and the RAM isn’t upgradeable, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead, just not at the front of Apple’s attention.

    Yes, the Mac Pro is overdue for some love from Apple, but Intel has been overdue with those CPUs. They promised we’d have Thunderbolt 3 by now. The recent problems with graphic card lockups indicates a motherboard redesign is in order, but there is no reason to monkey with the basic design.

    I’m looking for Mac mini and Mac Pro updates when Apple brings out their replacement for that Thunderbolt display.

    Mac on ARM? Keep dreaming…

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