Why Is There So Much Pain Extracting Truth From Apple?

| Particle Debris

Astonishingly, Apple creates unnecessary problems for itself. Locked in the old era, modern Apple executive thinking continues to focus on drama while excising important elements of its vision. That leads to pain, criticism, and disaffection with Apple. It wouldn’t be hard to avoid all that these days.

Apple Media Event

Apple’s October 27 “hello again” event has created a flurry of critical thinking about Apple and a vision that failed to be articulated. With just one repetition from last week, here’s a good sampling of some very astute, pointed analysis by professionals of how Apple failed during its presentation.

  1. From the enthusiast to the general consumer, Apple’s recipe for success has become boring
  2. An Open Letter To Apple From The Actual Working Pros.
  3. Apple just told the world it has no idea who the Mac is for
  4. The MacBook Pro is a lie

That’s enough of a sampling to reveal how some very loyal and informed members of the Apple community have reacted.

The Source of Apple’s Problem

Putting the above critiques into context requires some deep thought and understanding of Apple’s philosophy.

Perhaps a partial antidote to some of the thinking involves this analysis by the talented Neil Cybart. “Apple Is Placing a Big Bet with the New MacBook Pro.” This article explores the balance between what professionals need today and Apple’s roadmap for the the future by invoking “The Grand Unified Theory of Apple Products.” Quoting….

All of Apple’s major product categories are interrelated. The goal or job for each is to gain enough capability to reduce the importance of the next most powerful product. For example, the goal of the iPad is to handle so many tasks that we no longer need a Mac.

Key to the analysis is the tension between what technical and creative professionals need from their Macs today and what the everyday consumer has discovered about the utility of the iPhone, a device that can often do everything they’d care to do. Continuing….

While Apple was pledging continued support for the Mac, the product category became long in the tooth. Circling back to The Grand Unified Theory of Apple Products, the Mac was no longer keeping up with Schiller’s proclamation of it being the computer meant to push Apple’s entire product line forward. While the tech press has remained infatuated with the debate as to whether an iPad can replace a Mac, consumers have already determined that the iPhone is able to handle most of the tasks once given to the Mac.

Caught up in this tension, it appears that Apple is loathe to proclaim a product vision that explains how all this will evolve. Instead, it seems, Apple is content to focus on only one thing at a time, taking the easy way out, while letting the Grand Unified Theory linger, hidden and lurking in the background.

While this may be an economical way for a stressed executive team to deal with the complexities of a mature, US$250 billion company, it failed on October 27 to address the pent up frustration of a vast majority of users who work across all of Apple’s platforms, not just casual iPhone users. That included, of course, high end pro users and technically demanding users who use iMacs.

So the fur was kicked up in a flurry of angst, and we’ve been trying to sort things out ever since. It’s been painful.

Apple’s Remedial Action: Too Late

Taken by surprise the day before by Microsoft and not having new Touch Pad enabled iMacs ready, Apple limped through the presentation without explanation. Then Apple executives expressed (feigned?) surprise at the resulting pushback.

First, Phil Schiller had to quickly line up an interview with the Independent to explain the vision gaps during the event itself.

We love the Mac and are as committed to it, in both desktops and notebooks, as we ever have been.

That didn’t quell the fever of criticism that Apple hadn’t met the needs of pro users, and so what appears to be an Apple sponsored, seeded attempt to have a technical professional put a MacBook Pro through its paces and sing its praise was conjured up.

One Professional’s Look At The New MacBook Pro

First off, It’s really fast. I’ve been using the MacBook Pro with the new version of FCP X and cutting 5k ProRes material all week, it’s buttery smooth. No matter what you think the specs say, the fact is the software and hardware are so well integrated it tears strips off “superior spec’d” Windows counterparts in the real world….

A ‘Professional’ should be defined by the work they deliver and the value they bring, not their gear. Use the new MacBook Pro, don’t use the new MacBook Pro. Your audience don’t care. You just have to keep making great work however you can. For me, I love it and I think most people will do too… once they actually touch it.

Why didn’t Apple express this vision in the event? Instead, it got behind in the news and vision cycle.

The Big Question

Frustration & painThe question I keep asking myself is why Apple has to put the community through so much pain with these mop up operations. Is it too much to ask for a company as large as Apple, with so many dependent and loyal customers, to 1) Articulate a grand vision for the Mac, 2) Develop, and update a coherent Mac product line and 3) Explain in detail the performance and advantages of the Mac being focused on in any given event. One product line chart combined with an expression of vision would have avoided so much pushback.

Instead we are left with passionate, articulate observers and developers to speak for Apple, as in this excellent missive by the influential Marco Arment. “A world without the Mac Pro.” He makes the case for continuing the Mac Pro with keen insight.

Apple has, in the past, exhibited a ledendary ability to present us with grand visions for its products. Remember the Steve Jobs 2 x 2 product chart?  The result is that we believe. We trust. We approach the company’s products with both occasional envy and lasting satisfaction. We can even plan ahead.

Apple's 1997 Mac lineup

Apple’s product strategy of 1999 that saved the company.

After the event, the most respected members of the community had to struggle to express the preferred strategy on Apple’s behalf. They struggled to figure out how Apple is going to meet our needs. In that process, there’s been much pain and confusion. We all felt let down, despite the coolness and speed of the 15-inch, quad-core 2016 MacBook Pro.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It wouldn’t be hard to replace the pain with joy once again.

Next page: A bit more news debris for the week of Nov 7th. The case for encrypted communications: diplomacy.

12 Comments Add a comment

  1. The reason Apple can’t formulate a coherent strategy for the Mac is because they don’t have a clue what users want or need. Steve Jobs’ quote about us not knowing what we want until he gave it to us only worked because Steve knew what we needed. Today, many of us do know what we want, need, and expect from a Mac and frankly, we’re not getting it. We want peripheral connections that make sense and cables that don’t cost an arm and a leg. We to be able to change the RAM and hard drives ourselves and the way to do that is to quit making things thinner. We don’t need thinner stuff, we need stuff that works the way we want it to. We want real graphics processors so that we can run games and edit 4k video. We might even want a Mac mini that has room for us to put our own graphics card in it. And believe it or not, some of us want a Mac that isn’t made of boring aluminum but of new materials or at least new finishes. I miss my Blueberry iMac, to be honest. Not that I want to go backward, but surely Jonny Ive has other materials to work with.

  2. KK
    I agree. Apple needs an understanding of what Mac customers want and need. This will not come from Ive. This will not come from Schiller. This will not come from Cue, or Federighi, or Ahrendts. It has to come from the top. It comes from the person in the CEO chair. The CEO has to understand what the users want. The CEO has to be strong enough to tell someone that their idea they’ve worked so hard on is crap. The CEO has to be able to say a great idea is not part of the companies core functions. The CEO has to have an intrinsic understanding of the industry and the customers. Tim Cook has an intrinsic understanding of supply chains, and that’s the problem. He’s the wrong person for the job.

  3. Y’all talk about the great “Apple Vision” but in reality what has happened in the last decade? Some Toys that are now ubiquitous- the phones and Pads AND THAT’S IT (The failed watch is part and parcel of the toy iOS stuff) DO NOT talk about Laptops as Pro devices – they simply aren’t and by their nature never will be – not in any studio here in Hollywood anyway. Mac Pro users felt so upset about the trash can thing that we didn’t upgrade. We need to stuff expensive peripheral cards for massive ultra high speed transfer (ATTO etc); lightpipe; room for cables; forget 4k, you better give us 8k UHD because that is the new standard NHK has and Sony and Red are following. I’m done hoping though; a lot of shops are, too and are switching to Linux.

  4. Scott B in DC

    Apple better figure something out. I was curious and walked into a Microsoft store and looked at the Surface Pro. There was a lot to like about the Surface Pro. If the Surface Studio is as impressive, I might have to look to change.

    I would prefer to stay with a Mac for my desktop machine. I like having the instant access to a Unix-like OS at any time. In some of the work I do, I like to use a lot of the tools to gather data and reformat them. But for being on the go, there is a lot to love for the Surface Pro over the iPad.

    I can wait a while, but not long!

  5. CudaBoy
    I’ve disagreed with you in the past, but this time you’re dead on. Unless Apple gets their act together and FAST the Mac will join the Amegas, and Gateway models in the dustbin of history. Honestly I have not been this pessimistic about the future of the Mac since I bought my PM7200 and got a DOS card to run Windows “just in case”. The most recent MBP event should have re-energized my passion. Instead it only served to confirm my fears.

    In the near future I’ll be running Sierra with Linux under Virtualization. But if things continue this way I’m ready to partition the drive, dual boot and run Linux MOST of the time. Then in a few years who knows. If things aren’t any better I may just build a box and go all Linux.

  6. I sure would be happy to have a “Mac Mini Pro” with a quad i7 and upgradeable memory.

    And don’t make it thinner and smaller – it’s not a portable, after all. Give it a bit more room and allow better airflow. Cooler running does great things for longevity.

  7. MarcusNewton

    The current group of Apple executives believe in an all-wireless and mobile-first vision for the future. I think the problem with that vision is that future is still 5 to 10 years away at best.

    There are two main things that would be required for a true first-class all-wireless and mobile-first future to occur: one, excellent and super fast wireless networks blanketing every corner of a country; and two, cloud technology that could surpass a desktop experience on every level.

    Today, the Mac as central hub for a digital life still holds true because cloud technology is just not there yet. Mobile has supplanted desktop activities on many levels, especially for normal consumer type activities, but not professional tasks and workloads. Affordable, super-fast national coverage of wireless networks is also still many years away.

    For me, I have reached peak mobile. I have so many mobile devices I think my iPad has an iPad. Really, I have an iPad Pro, iPad Air, and an iPad mini; along with an iPhone 6s, Apple Watch, and two TVs connected to an Apple TV 4 each. My house is blasted with two Airport wifi routers, so no device has to ever be physically plugged in for Internet. I cannot get any more mobile then I already am.

    The Apple executives seem to think that iCloud is way better then it really is. I like iCloud for what it is, which for me is mostly syncing all my stuff between devices, but it has a long way to go before desktops are no longer necessary. iCloud is not my center, my main Mac is still my central hub, and iCloud is just a conduit for my Mac to reach out and communicate with my mobiles devices. When iCloud can do everything macOS can do, and as well as it does, only then will the desktop be dead.

    Until cloud systems and wireless infrastructure is vastly improved, the desktop will remain the central hub for most people; especially businesses and professionals.

    Apple is trying to currently build systems and devices for an environment that is not here yet. I imagine it is easy for Apple employees to be lulled into a false sense of current conditions because the Apple campus probably has every tech feature a person can imagine. So for a person spending their days at Apple headquarters and Silicon Valley, they get to be a lucky few that can live in a near all-wireless mobile-first world. But for the rest of us, that world is a long ways away still.

    Ultimately, this is why I think Apple neglecting their desktops feels like such a disappointment. Apple executives think the world has moved past desktops when we have not. I think Apple got too caught up in making everything mobile and they forgot how to innovate with desktops and are either not interested anymore or now playing catch-up.

    Where exactly is the mobile world suppose to go from here? What else is Facebook, Ebay, Snapchat, etc., suppose to do that they do not already do?

    I am not sure how it is going to happen, whether it is VR, augmented reality, or something else yet unforeseen, but I believe the desktop will truly have a Return of the Jedi moment in the future.

  8. I’m going to share my personal opinion… Apple truly is struggling vision-wise. If they had a clear vision, they’d communicate it one way or another. But there is lacking an over-arching vision of the whole widget. I think that Cook is a good logistics person–capable of seeing how to maximize profit by streamlining the process. I think he’s also good at bringing what does come out of the creative minds in Apple to market. I think there are also people in Apple who have a good, clear vision–in fact, Apple employees and the top brass all have some vision for Apple–those platitudes that they mention–the highest quality, etc. But what they lack is a unifying vision, and a clear concept of where to go next. They have pieces–lots of pieces of the puzzle, but what they don’t have is the means to put those pieces together to make an over-arching picture that not only we can see, but they as well…
    Process is good. Process is important. Process is how things get done, and even vision can come from process… But this isn’t true for everyone. Whenever Apple was at its best, it operated with a visionary at the helm. I don’t think that Jobs was the only one, but he certainly was the best visionary.

    I know that Jobs tried to create a system–a process–that could continue to come up with a vision, but that is very much personality dependent.

    If you want my opinion (ha), I think that there are too many little visions in Apple, and the others are too dependent on the little visions, and nobody is willing or able to take upon themselves the unifying vision. The corporate culture at Apple has always been a bit unique. Other companies, like Google, can throw lots of ideas at the wall, and keep the ones that stick, but Apple has always failed when trying that. They really need to re-install some discipline. I always remember Jobs’ statement–“Real artists ship.” I think, for one, that needs to come back.

  9. “Apple’s recipe for success has become boring”

    Instead, the author offers a very exciting recipe for failure. 😉

    Apple (and any other company) is in the business of selling products and/or services.

    With the new MacBook Pro, Apple has an undeniable sales success. In fact, it has already proven to have the most successful sales of a Mac product EVER!

    Not every Apple product is going to be the perfect product that everyone will buy, but with the irrefutable fact of its record-breaking sales, the new MacBook Pro is a winner!

  10. With the new MacBook Pro, Apple has an undeniable sales success. In fact, it has already proven to have the most successful sales of a Mac product EVER!

    I looked at one today and was very impressed and will get one within a month or so. The store did not have one with a Touch Bar on display so I will wait to give that a try before making a decision.

    Sidebar: With the help of my Apple Watch and the fitness apps I have lost almost 40 lbs this year. I have gone from a 38 waist to a 34 bordering on a 32. I still have a way to go before I meet my goal, but I am very pleased with what I have done so far.

  11. I’ve got a early 2013 MB Pro Retina 15″. I usually buy the highest-specced MB Pro they have at the time, keep it for 3-4 years, and then repeat. I’ve been waiting awhile to see what they might come out with.

    Frankly, I’m totally underwhelmed by the new MB Pros. For the amount of time it’s taken them to release them, there’s nothing compelling about them I can see. Touch bar? Come on.

    This is the first time in over 12 years I won’t be upgrading any time soon. I have been toying with the OWC 1TB SSD upgrade, but held off to see if anything really good would be announced. But with that horrid keyboard, 16gb of RAM still, no more MagSafe, and incredibly expensive (would be $3500 to replicate my current machine), I’ve just ordered the kit from Macsales.

    Those enthusing about the sales of the new ones are failing to consider that many of the sales will be to people who have been waiting for eons with REALLY old machines and have no choice but to upgrade to these latest yawners.

    Really, the Surface Studio look far more Apple-like in terms of innovation than anything Apple has put out recently. How insane is THAT?

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