After 30 Years, the Future of the Mac Remains Bright

We just celebrated the 30th birthday of the Apple Macintosh. Now, in the Post-PC era of iPads and other tablets, I want to look at what seems to be a continued bright future for the venerable Mac.


Sooner or later, every technology runs out of gas. But the Mac isn't just a point technology; it's a more generalized, aggregated concept. Each technology of the classic Mac, from internal drives and storage, graphics,  displays, CPU, networking, and so on has continuously evolved to the point where someone from 1984 arriving today in a time machine would hardly think to call it a Mac -- although they'd smile and be pleased when they saw the desktop, menus and a trashcan on the display.

But if it were just a matter of evolving technology, PCs would have good prospects. The reason PC sales are down so drastically is because Windows-based PCs were just too much of a headache to manage by the average person compared to the typical user tasks: email, browsing, shopping, reading, banking etc. So cannibalization is kicking in Big Time in the PC world where an iPad solves 95 percent of most people's problems.

When companies that make PCs see a declining market, it's very likely they'll shift R&D resources over to tablets. It's hard to justify major efforts towards new PCs in the Post-PC era.

Apple's Mac sales, on the other hand, aren't being dragged downwards by this effect. I've been watching that closely, and there's no clear downward trend. Here's a chart of Mac sales, by quarter, in millions, as far back as I have data, Q103 to Q114

Mac Sales in millions by fiscal quarter since Q1, 2003.

I started to think about the effect of steady Mac sales versus declining PC sales, even though PC sales in sheer numbers are still greater by far. What would be the consequences?

Desktop Computing. The new Mac Pro suggests, with 7 teraflop capabilities, that Apple is poising itself for future desktop technologies. Even thought the iPad Air and iPhone 5s have 64-bit processors, so-called (by Apple), "a desktop architecture" there are still limits on what can be achieved by a small device running on battery power. What technologies might appear, driven by supercomputer research, like IBM's Watson, holographic entertainment, super advanced simulations and games, educational intelligent agents that require serious horsepower that are better achieved with a Mac Pro and a UHDTV? Or even a future iMac.

Today's top end Mac Pro. Image credit: Apple

Future of Windows. How will the technical future of Microsoft's Windows develop when, eventually, no company is seriously investing in PC architecture? Will a day come when Microsoft might have to abandon future Windows development and develop a brand new tablet OS? That will accelerate the Post-PC era.

The Enterprise. The Mac Pro is small enough that, sitting innocuously on the desktop, in combination with virtual machine technology, it will likely run Windows better than any future PC.  Sooner or later, the price of the Mac Pro will come down to the point where businesses, government, and research organizations will have to ask themselves why they should invest in PCs, with limited prospects, that can no longer keep pace with their needs. I'm talking here about the heavy lifting machines for databases, finance, CAD, etc. -- not personal productivity notebooks.

All of these factors, and there may be more, will lead to the crumbling of the PC installed base. Tablets will do the most damage initially, then aftereffects like those above, will arrive and accelerate the process. But the Mac continues to look strong.

Apple's continuing investment in Macintosh technologies is looking very shrewd.


Original 1984 Mac image credit: Apple