Would Apple be More Competitive Without Macs? Not Really

RIP Mac?Apple should kill off the Mac so that it can focus on new things. This, according to Christopher Mims, writing for The Wall Street Journal. He's right. Or rather, he would be if we weren't talking about the Mac. As it is, he's missing the forest for the trees.

Mr. Mims's premise is that Apple is stretched thin. Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple Car, iCloud, Apple Pay, iBooks, iTunes, Apple Music, OS X, and iOS. That's just to name the company's major products.

He furthermore argues that Apple's executives are only human, and that the company would be better able to "maniacally" focus on future products if it wasn't saddled by this legacy desktop computing business that is so 20th Century.

He acknowledges that Apple makes a lot of profit on Macs. According to Horace Dediu, Apple made more money than the top five PC makers combined in 2013. The reality, however, is that the money that Apple makes on Macs is still a drop in the bucket to its iPhone business. If Apple was putting that same effort into some new disruptive market, Mr. Sims argued, the company could earn even more.

"In the quarter ending in January of this year, a funny thing happened at Apple," he wrote. "The company took in the highest revenue for its Mac line ever, yet the Mac accounted for the lowest-ever proportion of overall revenue. Apple raked in $6.9 billion on 5.5 million Macs, just 9% of overall revenue. This would be a crazy thing to say for any other company, but Apple doesn't need this revenue."

Oh So Right...

He's right about those things. All of them. But that's only if you lift the Mac business out of everything that is Apple and examine it in isolation.

Nothing at Apple should ever be looked at in isolation. Take the Mac, for instance. OS X forms the core of what became iOS. Development of one benefits the other in a virtuous circle other companies can only dream of.

More importantly, Apple's engineers, designers, and marketing people all work on Macs. These people are making the computers they want to work on.

Mr. Mims asked, "How much more competitive could Apple make its other efforts if the designers, engineers and executives behind Mac are redirected?"

If they were working on Windows or Linux boxes, not very. That's my guess.

The Right Tools

Much ado is made of the declining PC industry, and that's ignoring the fact that Apple's Mac business is growing. Mobile computing surpassed desktop computing in every measurable metric in the last few years, and there is no doubt that our smartphones, tablets, new wearables like Apple Watch, and other devices that haven't yet been invented are going to continue to become ever more important.

If you think it about it from that angle alone, however, you will miss the forest. Desktop computing is in decline, but it's hardly obsolete. There is still much work that can best be done on a desktop computer, and that's not going to change any time soon.

In particular, coders, engineers, designers, and marketing people—you know, like the ones who make Apple Apple—need computers. Those of us who love the Mac understand how much more productive we are with those devices. That surely includes most everyone who works at Apple.

While it's absolutely true that Apple would be more free to focus on other products if it jettisoned its legacy Mac business, what would it use to develop those products?

The Truth

The Mac will go away some day. Maybe even in the next few years. But it won't go away because Apple killed it to make something new. Instead, it will go away because Apple used its Macs to design the thing that's better than the Mac, and then replace it.

That's how Apple works.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.