Apple’s Failure to Scale

| The Devil's Advocate

Apple is about to cross into a cycle of decline if we do not see some significant updates across the board. Right now Apple is a company not producing. If you look back at, say 2008, while the company was still under Steve Jobs, it was pretty much regularly and annually updating all Macs, operating systems, peripherals, iPods, even meaningful updates to its iLife/iWork suites as well as the iPhone and its software.

Since then Apple has about quadrupled its work force, but it hasn’t quadrupled product output. If anything, product output seems to have gone down. They’ve killed lots and lots of features across the line. They killed Aperture. There hasn’t been a meaningful or substantial update to iLife or iWork in years, and in fact they’ve reduced its features. iTunes has bloated into a menace that would even make Microsoft blush.

How about the Mac, it’s an embarrassment of inactivity. Apple hasn’t updated its Cinema Display since September of 2011, and hasn’t updated its top of the line Mac Pro since December 2013. Even its ‘most up to date’ iMac is sporting a pathetic maximum-sized 3TB hard drive when you can get 8TB drives for about $200.

Right now, it seems Apple just cannot get anything out the door. They haven’t bothered to update so many of their machines (even with deminimus speed bumped processors), I guess, because either they’re incapable or they don’t care. And that’s a problem. A big one.

Wired 1997 Cover


And it brings to mind my real fear here. What the heck is Apple doing? It has more people than ever and more resources than ever, yet is producing less than ever. What are all those people doing? Why does it appear that Apple is failing to scale—it’s doing less with more.

This reminds me how after Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple, CEO John Sculley actually increased revenues at Apple for the first few years. Apple was at the top of the PC game. All until there was no vision or meaningful updates, and then Apple went into decline and neared bankruptcy before Steve came back and saved the company with his NeXT technology vision.

A lot of people say Apple makes most of it’s money on the iPhone, so it doesn't really need to make the Mac (or trucks as Steve Jobs once called them). But all those people are wrong. Along with Steve Jobs, it was the creative professionals and the techno elite who saved Apple. They were convinced that having a clean unix on the desktop was cool, and they bought Macs. Later, they bought iPods that their kids thought were cool and went and spread the halo effect.

They were the shepherds that guided the flock. And those people are leaving Apple in droves right now. Why? Because Macs are so stale and old. They simply are not competitive for power users and creative professionals. Don’t believe me? On the next page I'll explore some reactions from power users—Mac power users—that are out there right now.

Next: Mac Power Users and Creative Pros Turning Elsewhere

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on a TMO article, but this one hits the nail on the head! You are absolutely right. Apple has stopped innovating and now is in a perpetual cycle of minuscule upgrades that just aren’t cutting it anymore. It’s incredibly frustrating that I can’t buy a 21” iMac with a 3TB drive. Really Apple!? It’s 2016. I just want a reasonable machine with reasonable amounts of storage. Apparently this is too much to ask from a company that used to care about its desktop users.

Peter Panagiotou

wow, what a bunch of crybabies. Don’t worry guys, along with the iPhone 7, which will probably be great [again], you will get you’re iMac and mac pro upgrades. They never gave huge upgrades on an annual basis. So this premise of Apple constantly giving major upgrades every year is false. Especially when it comes to the Mac Pro type of machines, the ones that last a minimum of 5 years before you need to consider a new one. I understand there is this small 1% of mac users that need a Mac Pro and the ridiculous specs it comes with. But to expect break throughs on an a yearly basis is fantasy.


I do agree with the majority of this article.  I am mostly disappointed with Apple’s current Mac offerings.  I love my iPhone 6s and iPad Pro, but I have no desire to upgrade to the current line of Macs.

My fear is that Apple wants to be a luxury product maker instead of our beloved premium product maker during the Steve years.  It seems to me that every since Angela Ahrendts joined Apple from Burberry, the focus on over priced luxury items has over run everything else.

From a software and operating system point of view, I think the 80/20 philosophy has ruined Apple’s ability to make really useful and powerful software.  For reference, the 80/20 philosophy means that product’s are designed to meet 80% of the targeted audience’s needs while ignoring the top 20% of user’s needs, which are typically more demanding and specific.

Apple’s current version of the Pages app is a good example of the 80/20 method in action, which is also why I think so many people say that Apple’s products are dumbed down.  The people who used Pages the most were the top 20% of users and now they have had those features either watered down, or worse, completely removed.  The same thing can be said for Final Cut Pro when it became FCPX and Aperture being replaced by the bland and weak Photos app.

I miss the days when simple to use and powerful feature sets were once the same thing.  Maybe I am simply blinded by nostalgia, but my memory of Apple’s software was that 80% of what I did in a typical day was there and simple to use, and if I need the top 20% of features it was there too.

Finally, I am not going to spend $2,000 or more on a new computer to do what I currently do, because I can already do that with the system I have now.  I bought Macs because I wanted to do more, learn new techniques, and grow into different areas.


Could not agree more. I’ve owned Macs since the ‘80s. Through most of the late ‘90s and early 2000’s I owned Mac Pros. More recently it’s been MacBook Pros. My current 2012 MBP, “The Beast” was a seriously powerful unit when it came out. But it’s showing its age and I’m due for a refresh.

Unfortunately I’m not seeing good things when it comes to the Pro line. A bit high priced, and skimping on features. A Preo laptop where I can’t replace the drive or RAM? Really? And then the rumours I’m hearing, not the least from John M. here on TMO have me very worried. A paper thin unit with nothing replaceable, and only two USB-C ports? I hope not. If I’m going to be spending $2000+ for a Pro level laptop it better be a lot more than eye-candy.

So I’m trying to withhold judgement. But if Apple puts out a MacBook version of the MacBook Pro, long on style and short on capability I may be jumping ship. I can get a solid, very good quality, system from someone else, burn it down and install Linux. Power and all the crunchy UNIX goodness I want for a lot less.

Apple, the ball is in your court.


I have to begrudgingly agree. Someone has to create the cool stuff for all of those other and emerging platforms on *something*, and I still find Windows and Linux inferior to OS X for this purpose. Without creators and power users, whither the content?

Maybe Apple *should* license OS X for other platforms if they don’t want to build the hardware anymore, iOS is never going to cut it as a pro-level OS. I understand that that represents a minority among users, but ignoring that minority will ultimately leave the majority bereft.

I hate to invoke the ghost of Jobs, but he had a much better understanding of these things, it seems. The ‘fad economy’ in tech is just that, and it won’t last forever.

Darryl Mylrea

@Peter Panagiotou…“crybabies”?  The facts are facts, and although you probably have never owned or needed to own a top-performing Mac computer, many due.  And the article spells it out very clearly…it’s those who have the top-tier computing devices that keep the excitement going. 

Would you shell out $6K for old 2013 hardware?  We’re not asking for yearly “break throughs”, but on the other hand yearly “refreshes” to bring models out with new up-to-date technology and an occasional new technological breakthrough would be nice. 

Has Apple abandoned the Mac Pro and Cinema display line?  Who knows?  They (like always) don’t ever say anything.  Their software is becoming more dumbed-down each release.  No more server products.  Instead, we have iPhones (and none with great new features) and watches.  Woohoo!  NOT!

Shameer Mulji 1

I suggest regarding this article by someone who was actually in charge of the Windows & Office platform & his thoughts on iPad and being able to replace your laptop.  It’s a devil’s advocate to your article

John Kheit

@Shameer. Thanks. I like you article very much. But it glosses over the professionals’ needs. I suggest you read through the comments of the macrumors forum. The people there are leaving the apple Eco system, and many are responsible for many other sales through their tastemaker status. Further, it’s pretty indisputable that the mac line has been neglected and Apple is selling stale, second class hardware at the moment. Even if we disregard the professionals needs, having an entire product line that is neglected and relegated to second class status cannot be good for any company, much less Apple. At least that’s my perspective. Reasonable people may freely disagree.


Oh hey!... look everyone. It’s time for another article on how Apple is doomed because they don’t make a headless Mac that is infinitely upgradeable… yea!!!!!

Stay tuned next week when the author explains why not licensing the MacOS is another nail in Apple’s coffin.

John Kheit

Forget the headless mac. How about an iMac with a drive bigger than 3tb for starters.

Sean O'hAimheirgin

Couldn’t agree more John. I’ve stuck with Apple since 1981 and will probably continue to do so although I now don’t recommend either iPhones or Macs to my friends. I’ve developed apps for the Mac as well as iOS and have run a local user group as well as run hardware and software support services. I avoid Apple Music and all Apple’s cloud-based services. I am an unhappy ex-user of Aperture. I detest iTunes. I keep finding bugs in both OSX and iOS, minor and major. I didn’t bother even applying for WWDC this year. The sun is shining outside and I think maybe I’ve given enough of my time to this race. I’m sure Tim Cook is a lovely guy but he’s no Steve Jobs and anytime I think of Jonathan Ive being put in control of software design I break out in a cold sweat. There are amazing people out there but unfortunately the bigger Apple gets the harder the political minded fight for attention. This looks to be the same problem that faces all corporations (and countries) that get too big.


Unfortunately, John’s points are accurate and concerning. Apple’s Mac hardware is behind in many ways. For example, Thunderbolt 3 connectors are available on many Window-based machines.  Apple introduced TB3 with Intel and how many Macs have TB3?



A very tight argument, nicely presented.

I take your point to be that Apple are failing to leverage their advantages in product position, market and mindshare; and not that another hardware/software manufacturer is necessarily executing and outperforming Apple by these metrics, albeit they might have specific superior offerings; and further that Apple risks losing their cache of trend-setting professionals due to Apple’s own failure to deliver. While you cite the Surface as evidence of innovation at MS, you do not appear to argue that MS is outperforming Apple on all fronts.

This is a reasonable, indeed sobering, anecdotally-supported thesis with which it is difficult to argue, particularly given the user testimonials you’ve cited.

That said, there are limitations to your opinion piece, for that matter any opinion piece, that leave room for reasonable doubt and scepticism insofar as to how concerned we should be.

First, user citations are not data, and more importantly even if they represent truth, lack a denominator in order to know what fraction of the power user community these represent. Equally important, even if we had a denominator, we would still want to make a comparison to another supposedly baseline or healthy status period to determine if this represents a change, in which direction and of what magnitude. We have none of that.

Second, anecdotes risk being inaccurate if not entirely untrue. We have no evidence that these unhappy clients have actually made the switches that they’ve claimed to have made, or that they are, in fact, Apple clients at all.

Third, secular trends or changes over time, are observations whose interpretation requires wider context beyond the observation itself if we are to identify a modifiable risk factor or cause for the change. Specifically in this case, what is the status of Apple’s competition in those specific key indicators? How do their productivity cycles compare over the same observation period to Apple’s? What is the productivity status of the industry writ large? Are there external factors affecting either the industry or Apple specifically? If there is a directional outflow of creative power users at Apple, where are they going and what is happening there that is not happening at Apple? A simple comparator can provide insight.

One could go on, but the point is that context and additional data are needed in order to both understand what is happening, why and what should be done to correct it. Too often when investigators have only a partial understanding or inadequate data, they are tempted to provide an overly simplified solution to the problem, such as, ‘just do it’ (no disrespect to Nike, whose products I use), whereas there may be unknown but very real constraints to performing as expected or desired.

As nettlesome as these points can be, they are nonetheless important if we are to have an accurate description of the problem and an evidenced - based path to correcting it. This is not intended as a rebuttal of your argument, merely a qualifier.

In any case, the points you raise are important, alarming and should be taken seriously by Apple, and one can hope that they are by those in Cupertino whose job it is to monitor the chatter and feed back to key decision makers.



I’m not about to let anyone with one star call me a crybaby. wink

I’ve been using Macs and other Apple gear for content creation for decades at this point, and this is a very real concern. If all you are doing is coding, then no sweat, but that covers only a small portion of content creation.

Additionally, former pro-level hardware could be upgraded according to one’s needs going forward. I am not going to shell out $6 - $10,000 for the privilege of using OS X every couple of years just to be able to do my work, svelte form factors be damned.


Peter wrote:

But to expect break throughs on an a yearly basis is fantasy

Is it fantasy to expect upgraded Xeons on the Mac Pro every year or so? The current Mac Pro Xeons are ( IIRC ) Ivy Bridge series. Very few pro users who require serious performance are going to pay $6 to $10k for almost 4 year old technology.  They don’t necessarily expect annual “break throughs”.

Apple may not announce a lot but their actions are loud:
(1) No Mac Pro updates since 2013
(2) No sign Apple still wants to sell modern(2016) monitors
(3) Apple eliminating support for professional apps
(4) Except for the iMac 5k retina, almost no Mac upgrades for a while ( MacBook was basically an upgrade to Skylake CPU which bestowed all of its benefits ).

It’s undoubtedly true that many Apple customers don’t notice because they buy iPads for their basic needs. But the folks that need Macs are very aware and watching closely. Brian


Yep, I reluctantly agree, John. Apple seems to have turned into lumbering behemoth.


Sorry but the base premise is poor at best, “Apple has about quadrupled its work force”. Yeah but where? Retail, retail, retail, I would guesstimate is about 60-70k people WW. Those employees don’t build or design systems. In addition the sales, finance and operations teams have grown dramatically, so I would guesstimate based on understanding of corporations that the actual engineering has probably grown 50% (maybe 100%) but also look at the expansion of the MacBook line, iPad line, iPhone line, and addition of Apple Watch. Let’s not even get started on special projects….

The Apple too slow argument has been around forever, and has more to do with designing things instead of slapping the latest CPU & GPU into a box and calling it good.

And, yes, I do want the fastest computer in the best design yesterday but Apple is tied to Intel. Hopefully TB3 will give us expansion chassis options with addition CPU and GPUs cards.

John Kheit

“Yeah but where?”

Thanks for making my point.


@John Kheit “Yeah, but where?” do you mean where are those %0% more engineers? AS I stated , expansion of the MacBook line, iPad line, iPhone line, and addition of Apple Watch. Let’s not even get started on special projects….

MacBook line has doubled, iPad line tripled, iPhone line has tripled just look at the number of variations and models.


The good folks at Macrumors are not Apple fanboys and I read more snarks there than anywhere else.

Colin Darby

Wow, good article, needed to be said.

I’ve been a Mac user since 1993 and I’ve never been more worried about Apple than I am now.

After having purchased a new mid-range iMac to replace my other iMac from 2006, and discovering that it was more expensive and slower than the Mac that it replaced, this iMac may be the last I purchase from Apple.

Who thought it was a good idea to put a 5400rpm and integrated GPU drive into a desktop computer that you can’t even upgrade the memory?

Oh yeah it was Mr Ive, who seems obsessed with how skinny Mac’s look, not how they actually work.

I never thought I’d do this, but I’ve just created a Hackintosh for my son for 1/3rd the price, at it screams along.

I will probably do the same for my next Mac, or what the hell, I may just install Windows on it and give up.

Apple need to get rid of Jony - he’s destroying Apple.


Hey Mac users, how years have you been hearing that Apple has lost it’s innovative edge? This is just another “the sky is falling” article about Apple. Most of the stuff the author is talking about effects probably 1% of the user population.

Let’s face it, technology in general is stale. Google hasn’t released anything innovated in years, Microsoft Surface sales are not beating the iPad Pro (too funny) and Intel processor haven’t increase in speed in decades it seems.

Apple still and will continue to give it’s user the best experience. Sure I can find one off products that beat them at price and specs, but that is where it ends. BTW: I’m disappointed about Aperture, but it still runs well and giving me no reason to move to Lightroom. As for FCPX, it handles 4K video on my 2011 iMac without issues. Consider this, I paid $299 for FCPX and NEVER paid for an upgrade. If I moved to Premiere my cost would be in the thousands and it will not give me any editing advantages. Premiere is not better than FCPX, its just an old style editing process for people unwilling to learn something new.


Yes I believe that Apple is abandoning their pro users. You seem to think that this will trickle down to non-pros. I’m not so sure. My contractor drives a GMC Truck which can haul everything he needs. It’s a really nice truck with lots of cool features, but I bought a Honda because it just works better for me.

To the Pro who stopped recommending Macs to their family, that’s their problem. I use windows to do my work and Linux to host applications, but when a family member wants to buy a computer, I recommend a Mac for ease of use and manufacturer support.

All those new Apple employees working retail are helping the customers and setting an expectation for excellent customer service. When I’m in a room with non-techicies, it’s all macs.

John Kheit

Yea, but trucks are not halo products, they are not products driven by a demographic that is aspirational to others. Further, real truck owners don’t go around making recommendations to many others about sedans.  So the car analogy has it’s limits, although I think it’s a fair and good analogy.

Further, I disagree that the problem is for the Pro users that stopped recommending apple.  It’s a problem for apple whenn influencers stop influencing towards apple as that is simply a scenario of lost sales for apple.

  Those pro level folks simply do make tons of recommendations and influence a lot of purchasing.  It’s one of the reasons why social media mavens get paid a lot of money for product placement and advertising on their Youtube, facebook, twitter feeds, because of their power to influence.

Look at all of apple’s advertising, and it’s all about creatives. People making little movies, sure they are personal ones, but they all are about such creative activities. Underestimating the power and influence of power and creative professional users is a mistake, IMO, but fair minded folks can disagree.


I’m also on the outs with Apple over the Mac.

My systems need to be graphic card intense: An i5 and a powerful desktop card will give me more bang for the buck in vital apps than an i7 with a mobile card, or dual Fire Pros.

blender 3d is an important part of my computer use. The OpenCL rendering engine was broken on AMD cards for a long time, and while that has finally been improved recently, Apple’s restrictions on OpenGL usage mean that the Mac versions of blender can’t use the new OpenSubdiv libraries, which allow animation to render through the GPU rather than the CPU. Now that Apple has abandonded the open source Vulkan path for OpenGL in favor of the proprietary Metal API, I worry that we’ll see the recent swell of OpenGL cross-platform games and apps start to dry up again.

I’m just at the point where there’s no longer an Apple system that makes sense for me to buy. Unless there’s a major sea change in the next 5 years, chances are my next computer will be a Windows box.

John Kheit

Nice podcast on topic.


The quad triple numbers were mainly retail, if we count those out, and add the amount of people required for iPhone Supply Chain management, iPhone specific engineeres ( Camera, speakers etc )

It is painfully obvious Apple is running lack of engineers for its Software.

And I have been crying load for a long time Apple needs to have at least Double the software engineers to maintain all the work there is.

But I also think Apple knew this already, or at least Steve Jobs saw it it coming, the iPhone was better then anyone’s imagination. They will need to concentrate of that first, and planned ahead for the future, and they did, which is where the last of SJ gift to us will come, the Apple Campus 2.0.

Apple Campus 2 will acquire much more talents. And those that Apple will need to do some essential and likely non innovation related work.
Somebody has to do what some consider as boring, which is the lower stack of OS, has to be performant, secure, bug free ( or try to be).

Apple is also opening office now in other areas of Silicon Valley, as well as in UK and Japan. Things like WebKit, LLVM, as well as other open sources work that Apple uses could benifits some resources and Staff does not required on campus.

I do Argee Apple has neglected much of the Pros. But I think ( hope) we see lots of changes coming in. Mac Pro, with Xeon E5 along with Likely a 16nm FireGL GPU. And Possibly a discreet GPU based MacBook Pro.

I still think the best has yet to come. Apple knows what their problems are, but true to their style, software, hardware or their internals, they want to pick the best and move forward. Not just try to move on for the sake of it.


Well stated, really tough to argue against any of your points.

The sense I have is a bit of ‘deja vu all over again’ when Apple began to drift in the early-90’s without a clear public-facing sense of direction. Apple can get away with their penchant for silence when they surprise / delight every 9 to 12 months, but these l-o-o-o-n-g stretches of muteness on plans for current and future hardware is becoming worrisome. Beginning to feel like the bad old days of missed deadlines, missed opportunities and general malaise.

As many others noted, there’s no clear reason why they’re falling behind with CPU’s (besides Intel’s glaring issues moving from 22nm to 14nm) when the Haswell, Broadwell and Skylake-based Xeon’s have come and gone without as much as popcorn fart emanating from 1 Infinite Loop. Sure, there have been some changes in socketing, but surely Apple knew about this 12-18-24 months in advance, so what gives?

Same with the lack of an updated Thunderbolt / 4K display. If you’re exiting the market, fine—say so!!!  But if not, how about offering something at least comparable to the 5K Retina 27” iMac? Say in 27”, 32” and 40” configurations with the usual Apple (ouch) margins?!

I’m not a pro user, but similarly I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for several years waiting for the consumer-focused Broadwell/Skylake CPU’s to roll in. Given the paucity of updates, I finally saw Skylake 5K SSD refurb models at the Apple Store (looks like they may be channel-clearing) at $400 off SRP discount and grabbed one. It’s everything I need for the foreseeable future, but if my livelihood depended on being able to produce content from it, I would totally be in the same camp as the other commenters here.


Another thing that should be pointed out is the deliberate crippling of newer hardware - its bad enough that the hardware hasnt been refreshed in ages, but then to do things like the 1.4ghz cpu in the mac mini, and the equally slow cpu in the low end 21” imac is only adding insult to injury. The mini is the most embarrasing product I think apple has put out in a decade - 2016, and you get a *blistering* 1.4ghz CPU AND… a 5400rpm hard drive! regardless of CPU tech advancements, this is by no means what so ever a good value for a computer.

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