Mac futures

So what is the future of the Mac ? A lot of discussion has resurfaced again.

Dan Benjamin tweeted recently:

John Dvorak devoted another article to the Mac being phased out.

What I’m sensing is that like the old Apple II (forever), the Mac will be phased out and the whole line will be replaced by iPads.

I would take Dan’s tweet with a hint of humour (because I know I’d lose in a fight with him) but John is serious.

The iMac Pro landed to much fanfare just before Christmas. In time for a lot of good press and general reviews. It looks like a solid workstation for users needing a machine that can multitask heavily.

Apple have struggled with the Mac line. The problem seems to be the resources needed to maintain it when they’re focused chiefly on the main money maker, iOS and its devices.

When a rumour that Apple was going to drop the Mac Pro, professional users raised a clamour. It was enough to cause a usually quiet Apple to respond by having Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller do press. They re-confirmed Apple’s commitment to the Mac.

Initial discussion was around a pro version of the Imac. However further feedback caused Apple to say that they would deliver a revised “modular” Mac Pro.

In the meantime, that pro iMac has arrived. The specifications and performance are solid. However Apple’s definition of pro is very specific. The iMac Pro is very much an iMac. It is completely non user upgradeable. Some upgrades can be done by service centres.

So far I could see this machine being one that Apple worked on all along. Based on the initial discussions and expectations that Apple were hoping to set.

My issue here is, are Apple gauging the professional market with this iMac and the proposed Mac Pro ? The iMac Pro is very much an all in one with a finite life span. The only solid evidence we have is that Apple are firmly committed to AR and VR. Developers in this area will need workstation machines capable of handling demanding tasks.

The problem will be if sales aren’t to Apple’s expectations. Is this the end of the line ? Apple themselves have said that the desktop market is a small percentage of the overall Mac market. The Mac Pro an even smaller percentage of that small desktop percentage.

It’d be understandable if the amount of work and time to deliver a pro desktop is a tough ask. Its hard not to take the current Mac Pro’s state as an indicator of what they’ve been thinking. Sure I can understand that they might have made some bad design decisions but it saw no major revisions since its release.

Granted some of the fault rests with Intel’s workstation processors lagging badly on their roadmaps.

I do hope that we’ll get workstation Macs. I look forward to seeing what the future holds. Possibly even buying one. Because my use cases better fit the Mac Pro then the iMac Pro. I’m leaning towards having a workstation again one way or the other.

At the prices Apple is asking, its an investment that needs to last more then four to five years though.

What do we do with a problem like macOS or that rumoured Apple Universal Apps plan

So Apple are rumoured to be going to a single binary in the future. This means that developers can deliver to MacOS and iOS all at once.

To quote, Mark Gurman, who broke the story:

“Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.”

I can see Apple’s direction in this.

  • It puts macOS on the same footing as iOS with users.
  • Makes iOS developers consider macOS versions. In a lot of ways, macOS is an untapped market. Mac sales have been and are strong.
  • Potential simplification of programming APIs from both the language, itself, and for developers.

Thing is this isn’t without its problems.

  • Pricing. macOS apps are traditionally pricier then iOS apps. Arguably there is more work involved on macOS. Part of this is the comprehensiveness of features and inter-operability.
  • App Store only ? With the state of the macOS App Store currently, developers have been leaving to sell their apps independently. Would the universal binaries be restricted to the App Store only ? This would come with the guidelines about sandboxing which was the reason for developers leaving to begin with.
  • Half baked macOS versions. The bulk of the App Store market is in iOS. Given customers are use to very cheap or free that puts pressure on developers to assess very carefully what platforms and features they service. The dearth of good iPad apps is a reflection of this. How will macOS fare ?

Its pretty clear that the iPhone is the champion in Apple’s stables. So it has the chief share of development resources and marketing push. Thats not to say that iPad and Macs are slouches. Any company would die to have the sort of market that the iPad or Mac has.

Its just in comparison, the iPhone is the bread winner.

My issue is that even the iPad, which directly shares a lot of the iPhone resources, comes off second best in developer eyes. Its going to be a tough ask of iOS developers to invest in macOS development. Even as a hobby developer, I weigh the time and cost of each “platform”.

For this to succeed Apple will need to provide unified tools and APIs to help with delivering these sorts of apps quicker and easier then they are today.

If theres anyone to do this, Apple are it. The sorts of technical challenges that they’ve managed in the past are proof of that. Its just the road behind is also littered with the proof where their will hasn’t been up to the task as well.

Apple seems to be taking on board a lot of discussion around their product offerings and responding more (for Apple). So I’ll take this as a good sign in that they’re looking into the Mac as a whole.

For a comprehensive discussion of this, head over to the excellent MJTsai’s blog.