The Danger Hiding Inside The New MacBook Pro’s Success – Forbes
Tucked away in last week’s quarterly results from Apple was some good news about the Mac family of computers with sales and revenue both rising (reports MacRumors and others). Given the lack of significant updates to the hardware over the last three years this should be regarded as a win for Apple, but one that will be increasingly hard to maintain unless the Mac can be reinvented for a new generation.
The assumption must be that the launch of the MacBook Pro models – primarily those with the Touch Bar replacing the physical function keys – has driven this increase in sales. Unfortunately for Apple watchers Tim Cook and his team do not break down the sales by device from the Mac division, so the conjecture that the only new model released last year drove the increase in sales is a sensible assumption, but not a definitive one.
Nevertheless the increase in revenue by fourteen percent during the quarter through an increase in sales by four percent points to the popularity of the higher value machines driving the growth.
The question now is ‘what next?’
I believe that much of Apple’s retail strength in the desk-bound computer market comes from momentum. The perceptions built up around the hard are over the last ten decades contribute more to the package than the specification bumps and almost gimmick-like additions to the hardware over the last two years. The only genuinely new Mac last year (as opposed to bump in specifications) was the aforementioned Touch Bar model. Until the Touch Bar is in place over the vast majority of machines in the wild, it can’t be relied upon by developers to provide unique functionality – any control will need to be duplicated in the menu system or on the keyboard for older machines.
What happens next? The easy answer is that people are continuing to buy new machines and that will continue to happen so there’s nothing to worry about. There’s nothing wrong with being a big box seller, but Apple wants to be seen as more than logistics company selling the expected specs and hardware.
The MacBook family has some notable updates for the chipsets on the horizon (including Apple’s move to Intel’s Kaby Lake processors, a transition many Windows 10 laptop manufacturers have already made at the high-end) and some interesting hardware patents that could influence the design (such as cellular connectivity and hinge-mounted antennas).
Apple has already given its mea culpa over the Mac Pro to a group of hand-picked reporters to really and is working on a redesign of the powerful desktop machine, but that’s not expected to arrive until 2018 at the earliest. That leaves consumers the choice of upgrading to an evolutionary dead machine, waiting for Apple to deliver on its promise of ‘something’, or switching platforms to Windows 10.
MacOS has contributed heavily to the continued growth during years of mediocre updates. Apple ties its hardware tightly to its own software and this helps keeps users in the ecosystem, especially when they need to buy a new machine. Although cloud-based services from Google and Microsoft can integrate with macOS successfully, the soft lock-in of the platform remains the trump card.
MacOS should receive the same care and attention as iOS to stay fresh and relevant. Which it doesn’t.
If you look at the progress of iOS and macOS the latter no longer has a dedicated product team, major updates or new features have relied on innovation from the iOS platform being handed down, and the first-party applications have had functionality dulled and become more iOS like. There’s a feeling that macOS has been developed as far as it will be, and the only updates in the future will be to maintain compatibility with Apple’s cloud services and drive sales of iOS powered devices to macOS owners.
What is missing to me in Apple’s Mac family is hunger. Hunger to really push the envelope of software. Hunger to explore new hardware designs and forms. Hunger to redefine what it is to be a mobile computers. Hunger to deliver a genuinely ‘Pro’ experience for the higher priced machines.
But hey, sales are up, so everything is fine.
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