Apple May be Reluctant to Revitalize the Mac

Part of being a high technology consumer electronics company is creating a sense of excitement and possibility for our technical future. Many, many Mac customers, perhaps 60 million active users, look to Apple to lay out a vision for their future. But is Apple too obsessed with mobility to take a stand there?

I grew up in a time when there seemed to be no bounds on what a technology company could do, if it wanted to. And for the first 30+ years of the PC revolution, that's what our computer life was all about: a relentless surge forward in computer speed and the challenge to harness it.

It's not about what we can buy. It's about what we can achieve.

Mobile devices, however, powerful as they are, have set us back just a bit. Their small size dictates the available electrical power and, hence, the speed. And so we find that our technical life has been driven more towards being consumers of Internet information (with associated privacy issues), and less about the promise of what can be achieved by the creative mind with a powerful computer.

That direction has been taken up by university students and professors who can cobble together fabulous computing resources, typically stitched together with Linux. There, work is being done in robotics, artificial intelligence, medicine, materials, and computation.

Apple is a company that is relentless in its drive into the future. Consumer electronics, smartphones, tablets, mobile payments, and social discovery is where it's at right now. So even if Apple wanted to reignite the flames of the personal computer, there are forces that are pushing back. We're in a Post-PC era. Notebook computers have battery, power and heat limits. Desktop Macs are low volume products. Even though Tim Cook appeared to promise a new Mac Pro for 2013, what we may end up getting tends to make us fret instead of gush with excitement. Is that part of the ennui surrounding Apple?

There's no doubt, our current Macs are cool. Retina displays are nice. But have we reached an era where it is no longer possible for any new iMac, Mac Pro or MacBook to capture our imagination? Or are these simply exotic, nicely built place holders until the tablet achieves its proper destiny?

I saw some conversation this week, (referenced below in the Tech News Debris) -- unjustified I think -- that the Mac may be on its death bed, finally, itself a victim of the Post-PC era. I don't believe that, and I still think there is plenty of technology and vision at Apple that could capture our Macintosh imagination for years to come. For example, a screaming fast, beautiful, expandable Mac Pro, combined with a rethought iteration of OS X, "Lynx," that reveals the fine hand of Jonathan Ive in a refreshing update of the UI, true to the spirit of OS X, would breathe new life into Apple and its Mac customers.

If the modern tablet meets the needs of many users for email, browsing, shopping and games, then what is the design goal of a MacBook? To look more like an iPad? Or to seek a different level of existence? To be everything an iPad cannot be?

But will Apple do that? Is the company too fretful of the competitive pressures in the tablet era, to regroup and rethink their commitment to the Mac as a powerful, creative tool that challenges the user? Maybe that new spirit from Apple is exactly the excitement customers and investors are looking for. The promise of what we might be able to achieve captures our imagination far better than simply being consumers and targets of interest.

Tech News Debris

I've expressed my doubts before about Apple's Fusion drive for my personal use. It's not a bad technology; it's just not one that I am enthusiastic about embracing. That's because all three of our family Macs boot from pure SSDs, and I'm never going back to rotating disks for internal boot drives - even hybrids.

That said, Fusion drives are probably a good solution for many users, and Bob LeVitus has waxed almost poetic in his love for a Fusion drive he tested. I'm not shy about referring you to it. "Fusion Drive wins on need for iMac speed."

I think it's interesting how Java has devolved on the Mac. At one time, the serious desktop Mac was seen as an excellent platform on which to do Java development. That may have been due to, in part, the elegant integration of Java with a classy, UNIX system (OS X) that has a great GUI.

Along the way, however, two things happened. Java came to be embraced, big time, in the enterprise for just about every aspect of business software and simultaneously, Apple lost interest in enterprise development. The security problems, on the other hand, surfaced, to create difficulties for a Apple's consumer products. Hence, Apple's deprecation of Java of late. But make no mistake, Java is essential in the enterprise, and people with J2E expertise are in high demand. "Top 7 Most In-Demand Tech Skills For 2013."

The next item is a wonderful, nicely conceived conspiracy theory story. I don't believe it. I communicated with the author, and she doesn't believe it either. But I present it because it is so clever and shows what you can do with some memory of historical events combined with some imagination. Have fun with "Conspiracy Theory: Did Apple And Google Agree To Split The Smart Phone Market?" by Kate MacKenzie. I wish more authors had this kind of whimsical, playful approach --instead of Big Business Gloom and Doom Charlatan Writing.

There are people who understand Apple completely. Daniel Eran Dilger, a name you'll recognize, is one of them. In this article, Mr. Dilger explains why Apple is introducing an 128 GB iPad, and after you read it, you'll be better informed about Apple's business strategies. "Apple's 128GB iPad aims to drive profits up a path competitors can't easily follow." Compare that to this drivel that tries to use ignorance and fear to manipulate the reader. [But I must say that Mr. Crothers is a solid writer; he's just passing the drivel along to us for consideration.]

Some observers are all too happy to believe that the sky is falling in the Mac world. The recent inability of Apple to meet demand for the new iMacs combined with general holiday enthusiasm for tablets in the Post-PC era led to this chart, developed by Dan Frommer. [I'll point to the Fortune article because the main chart is at the top of the article.]

If you look at the historical Mac sales, the blue bars, you could conclude that 1) The Mac is dying or 2) there are statistical, seasonal and manufacturing reasons for the quarter-to-quarter variances. You could also conclude that, looking at the yellow bars, the Mac could disappear from the product line and Apple would be fine. Or would they?

Image Credit: Dan Frommer

This just all goes to show that jumping to conclusions from a single chart (or two or three) doesn't stand up when cooler, saner heads can always provide the needed perspective. (Like Mr. Dilger above.) We need to see a long term trend of decline before declaring the Mac in dire straights, and even then, there are competitive and strategic reasons for Apple to continue selling the Mac -- at least for the time being.

Time to move on. When a company files for FCC certification of its product, you know they're serious. Like Apple and the iPad, it's not so important to get everything right out of the gate as it is to get a head start and build a learning curve. When Google comes out with Glass 3.0 in 2015, others will just be waking up to the possibilities. "Google Glass headset with bone-conduction speakers revealed in FCC filing."

Finally, here's fun story about a fellow who was suffering in his hotel room. The hotel policy set a specific temperature, and it was driving him crazy. But wait! There's an iPhone app for that! "Is your hotel trying to choke you with an iPhone app?"