Ken Segall: What Has Apple Been Doing All These Years?

2 minute read
| The Back Page

“That’s it? You could have done this one day after our last meeting. What have you been doing for the past two weeks?” That’s Steve Jobs after many presentations from his employees, according to Ken Segall, an ad exec who worked with Apple and Steve Jobs. In a blog post, Mr. Segall used that to succinctly and accurately (to me) capture the frustrations many Mac fans have about Apple.

Time in the Apple Trash

Item One

Here’s the first thing that grabbed my attention:

Apple doesn’t have to make category-shaking products every year to be successful. Its formula for success is creating revolutionary products when they’re ready and keeping existing product lines fresh in between.

When updates between revolutions disappear, the result is bad press and restless customers — both of which are well earned.

Item Two

Followed by:

After the MacBook Pro event, he basically gave up. He needed to replace his Air, and the new MacBook Pro was over his budget. So he ordered the 13-inch MacBook Air. His order confirmation described his new computer as “MacBook Air (early 2015).”

For my friend, that let some air out of the balloon. He does love his new computer, but with caveats. He’d bought Apple’s latest and greatest Air, and it was already a year and a half old.

That about sizes it up. I’ve seen some people argue that because we don’t need a new Mac every year, Apple doesn’t need to update them. But, that’s total nonsense. New Mac models aren’t aimed at customers who upgraded last year. Their target market are people who upgraded 2-6 years ago.

And no one wants to buy two year old technology when it’s being sold at the same price it was two years ago. It’s one to choose to buy last year’s model because it’s cheaper than this year’s. It’s another altogether to be asked to buy last year’s technology at full price.

All That Time

And that line from Steve Jobs is precisely what goes through many of our minds. What has Apple been doing for the past four years? MacBook Air, Mac Pro, Mac mini, and iMac are languishing. iPad is languishing (iPad Pro (9.7-inch) is less than a year old, but it was 18 months old when it was updated). Apple TV is languishing. Apple’s display is dead, and AirPort appears to be on the way out.

In short, Apple released just 13 new products in 2016. What has it been doing for the last X years?

Our own John Kheit was early to identify this. His piece on Apple’s failure to scale nailed these points nicely, and his comments since about Apple doing less and less with more and more are even more pertinent.

But outside observers are cottoning on to these issues, too, and we’re all feeling it. We want Apple to keep iterating on these existing product lines. We want to feel like we’re buying great new products that push boundaries, not yesterday’s devices at today’s prices.

Ken Segall’s piece is a good read.

13 Comments Add a comment

  1. MarcusNewton

    Considering we are just 12 days away from the Mac Pro being a whopping 1,100 days old, I would say this article is spot on. Perhaps people would prefer the much younger and newer iPod Touch at just 514 days old. Let that sink in a minute that the iPod Touch is only half as old as the current Mac Pro.

    Like the article, my main complaint isn’t the lack of new revolutionary designs, its the lack of spec-bumps in between that has me so grumpy. If Apple wants to take five years before releasing a redesigned computer or device, then I am totally fine with that so long as they at least attempt to provide spec-bumps for the existing products or price the older items accordingly.

    With Apple killing off all of these product lines, what exactly are they suppose to be selling in all those stores? It would be total overkill to have a multi-million dollar architecture sculpture for a store if all they want to do is sell phones. AT&T and T-Mobile probably don’t spend $50,000 on their stores and they do just fine.

    I think another thing that makes me more grumpy now then before is that my tolerance is lower. In the past, I was more willing to tolerate mistakes and mishaps from Apple because they were such a smaller company with less resources then their competitors. But now, as John Kheit correctly pointed out, they are doing less with more; and are even charging more for less.

  2. Aftermac

    I would almost prefer that Apple just open up Mac OS to run on any PC, then go years without updating hardware. Unlike the 1990’s I think Apple could successfully do it today, since they are mostly a phone company. I’m a whole widget guy, but the lackluster attitude toward Mac hardware is frustrating.

  3. NorthSaanichBC

    There has been a lot of hand-wringing and rending of tunics by some people about Apple’s lack of attention to its Mac products. Those people tend to forget the reality of the situation… That being that PCs (personal computers, which includes Apple’s Mac products) are a dying sector.

    At one point in Apple’s history, the Apple II and later the Mac made up 100% of the company’s revenues and profits. But over the past several years, sales of PCs have been consistently dropping.

    Apple is devoting less time and resources to the development of new Mac products for the very same reason that Apple is devoting less time and resources to the development of new iPod products. It has become a very low priority compared to its main sources of income (iPhone, iPad, and Services).

    Currently, Macs make up less than 10% of Apple’s income… And worse, that proportion has been getting smaller and smaller with each quarter.

    Everyone knows that Apple’s primary revenue source is the iPhone. But also, Apple makes more money selling iPads than Macs, and more money from Services than selling Macs (and Services have been growing by double digits each year!). Even Apple’s newest product line, Apple Watch, is on the incline and will likely overtake Macs as a source of income in 2017.

    And Apple is not resting on its current line of products for the future. Apple has been quietly redefining itself with HUGE investments in Transportation, Augmented Reality, and Renewable Energy. And with the addition and growth of new Services (like Apple Music), Apple has been re-inventing itself rather than standing still like other computer tech companies.

    The next time you argue how it has been over 1,000 days since the Mac Pro has been updated, remember that this product was was NEVER a big seller, EVEN in its first year of sales! Apple is right not to waste time and money trying to “save” a poor selling product… Especially if that product is in a product category that is dwindling away.

  4. Wassim Jabi

    The problem with the logic that states that it is justifiable that unpopular products should get less attention is that somehow we seem to excuse the reason that they were unpopular in the first place. If Apple made a killer MacPro at the right price point and with the right expandability that customers crave, it would have done better. But it is a vicious cycle: They made a product that did not match well with market demand and instead of fixing that equation, they shelved it and moved their focus to another product that does sell well resulting in the Mac Pro becoming obsolete and thus sold even less.

  5. Brutno

    North, I’ve read your arguments before. Not that they’re not valid, but perchance if Apple would put some resources towards computers the percentage of sales might tilt a bit in favor of computers. Deciding to back-burner a product line because another product line is selling well and represents a larger percentage of sales/profits is a sure way to have that product line descend even further in the abyss. Make the product better; refresh it periodically – well within Apple’s purview, and they could own the PC market. An increasing share of a declining market can still represent massive profits. Instead, Apple left an opening for, say, HP, and they exploited it.
    The upside of this is we all wouldn’t be determining what we’ll do to replace aging hardware, we wouldn’t be complaining about the lack of new or refreshed hardware, and Apple would keep our mindset – and keep it’s ecosystem intact.

  6. skipaq

    I have been critical of the poor upgrade history for the Mac over the last several years. A while ago I expressed that the Mac is a dying platform. It appears that the “trucks” that we have used for decades are not a big part of Apple’s future. In a way we are seeing the words of Steve Jobs when the iPad was introduced bear fruit.

  7. Andrush

    What these tech journos and web fans seem to forget is that, for the typical user who is satisfied with their Mac, iPhone or whatever, the “upgrades” come, not with hardware specs, but with the OS, which is “free”. As just such a user, it has been a constant delight, every time there is a new version of OSX or iOS, to discover the new things you can do, or the ways the old things just got a little easier.

    And what everyone on this article, including the author, seems to forget, is that even Steve Jobs, when he said “You could have done this one day after our last meeting … ” must have seen the ironic side …..

  8. Aftermac

    So, are some of you suggesting that people looking to replace aging equipment should buy a new Mac ( a supposedly dying brand) with confidence? Quite frankly there is much more innovation in PC hardware. If that what Apple wants, and there is no money in selling Mac’s then just give me my damn OS to take to another vendor! I need a new laptop… one expandable past 16 GB of RAM. Apple is forgetting about professionals that still need trucks, and forcing them to other vendors. Unlike the Apple II days, Apple does NOT have an equivalent platform replacement. The Mac replacing the Apple II was a truck replacing a truck. The iPad, while a very capable device is NOT a truck. I wish it was a truck.

    Each Mac line doesn’t need a yearly revolution. A 3-5 year revolution cycle with yearly spec and pricing updates is fine. Unfortunately, the current revolution is lackluster. Apple is also missing the boat right now with touch screens, just like when they missed the boat initially on CD burning. Apple is still selling more Macs now than when if was their flagship product, and they are clearly investing some resources into it, they’re just getting it wrong and taking this important market for granted.

  9. Lancashire-Witch

    So much for the “exciting pipeline” we’ve been told about for several years.
    Relatively speaking, perhaps a lot goes in – consumes time and resources – but not much comes out.

  10. Andrew_Holleron

    Apple is the Bell Labs of our generation.
    After it’s heyday, Bell Labs continued to innovate but produced little in marketable products.

    If Apple wants to stay intact, it’s time to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

    Apple excels at succeeding at not being first but being best. It has the resources to do so.
    The question is where will innovation meet the street.

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