Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac

Adam C. Engst:

If you’ve been feeling as though Apple’s heart isn’t in moving the Mac forward these days, you’re not alone. The new MacBook Pro models have taken widespread criticism, Apple has provided no roadmap for the future of its desktop Macs, and most recently, the company eliminated the position of Product Manager of Automation Technologies, presumably seeing it as unnecessary. High-end creatives have despaired about Apple’s lack of attention to their needs, and the mood among many of the consultants and support professionals at last week’s MacTech Conference was downbeat.


In spite the fact that it now employs 115,000 people and is the most valuable company in the world, Apple still thinks like a one-platform company. Now it’s all about iOS, and everything Apple does is designed to serve the single goal of selling more iPhones and iPads.


Now that Apple’s primary task is to sell more iPhones, the company has little incentive to improve the Mac past the point that iOS developers need to run Xcode and macOS Server’s caching server effectively. Sure, the Mac business was worth $22.8 billion in revenues in 2016, which is far from chump change, but it’s nothing compared to the $192.8 billion of revenues generated by iOS and associated services.

Two points that I would add:

Lastly, I think a lot of the frustration from Mac users is that Apple deprioritized their needs yet saw fit to dedicate huge teams and resources to making $17,000 gold watches, automobiles, and original TV shows. So the decisions about the Mac are clearly not driven by a need to focus.

Wade Cosgrove:

After how many years does secrecy become patronizing? A simple acknowledgment of the Mac Pro/Mini would go a long way.

Apple could either update or kill the Pro/Mini and both seem like equal possibilities. That’s your marketing message?

John Gordon:

I don’t think Mac users should switch, but I can’t recommend any newbies join MacShip.

Previously: Apple Abandons Development of Wireless Routers, Thank You, Sal, New MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac.

Update (2016-11-27): Matthew Yglesias (via Marco Arment):

But this all raises a more fundamental question. If GE can build jet engines, tidal energy farms, freight rail data systems, mining equipment, and medical devices, how is it that the world’s most valuable company can’t find the time to make a full line of personal computers and PC peripherals alongside its market-leading smartphones and tablets? The answer goes back to Apple’s corporate structure, which, though fairly common for a startup, is extremely unusual for an enormous company.


Of course, it might be hard to bring radical redesigns and breakthrough innovations to the Mac. But what existing Mac customers really want is something more basic: confidence that Apple will regularly update the Mac to incorporate new chips as they become standard in the rest of the computer industry.


The upshot is that even though regularly updating desktop Macs should not be that difficult, objectively speaking, it tends not to happen in part because it’s not anyone’s job to make it happen. The functional organization values collaboration on top corporate priorities above all else, and that means basically everything comes ahead of desktop Macs.

Nick Lockwood:

So if Apple cannot maintain a functional structure at scale, and cannot be divisional without losing ability to innovate, what’s plan C?

Harshil Shah:

Sadly, can’t see any significant progress coming in this respect. If anything, it’s gonna get worse.

Update (2016-12-01): Jean-Louis Gassée:

On the surface the Mac appears to be thriving. If ‘Macintosh Inc.’ were an independent company, its $22.8B in revenue for Apple’s 2016 accounting year (which ended in September) would rank 123rd on the Fortune 500 list, not far below the likes of Time Warner, Halliburton, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon[…]


Instead of racing to the bottom as the market plummets, Apple appears to be taking the “high road”, in a sense: They’re taking refuge at the high end of the market by introducing new, more expensive MacBook Pros, with a visible differentiating feature, the Touch Bar. This is known, inelegantly, as milking a declining business, although you shouldn’t expect Apple to put it that way.

John Gruber:

I think it’s almost certainly true that if there were, say, a “Macintosh” division within Apple, that we’d see more frequent updates to all Mac hardware. That doesn’t mean Apple should change its structure, though — and in the long run, I don’t even think that would be good for the Macintosh. Apple’s functional structure is absolutely central to their success over the past 20 years.


There are certainly growing pains with regard to Apple’s enormous size today. The iPhone’s extraordinary success creates a sort of gravity that has warped the company. But Apple ran into “can’t walk and chew gum” problems even when they were a much smaller company.

Update (2016-12-09): Ken Segall:

When the new Mac Pro was introduced in 2012, it felt like the type of radical departure Steve was known for. Combined with Phil Schiller’s famous “Can’t innovate, my ass” comment, it gave hope for the future.

Unfortunately, the future never came for any of the Macs. When it finally arrived for MacBook Pro, it was at least a couple of years late.


When updates between revolutions disappear, the result is bad press and restless customers — both of which are well earned.

14 Comments RSS · Twitter

They say the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy.

Either put us out of our misery or give us hope.

"In Apple’s current functional organization, there is no vice president whose job it is to advocate for the Mac and its customers"

There's no one there to advocate for the iPhone or the iPad or the Watch or any of the products. Singling out the Mac as not having anyone is misleading.

>Like others, I am continuing to see problems with software quality, more particularly on the Mac.

I've had to do some stuff in the Finder the last few days.

- Highlighting of hovered folders during drag-and-drop operation stopped working multiple times
- The Finder sometimes took minutes to update changed directories, and unlike Windows, there's no Refresh button
- At one point, sorting just stopped working; clicking on the headers changed the headers, but the sort order stayed the same
- There's the odd problem where you can't copy files in a directory, and then also copy the parent directory, as if the Finder couldn't read the same file twice in parallel
- Anything that's on networks continues to be excruciatingly slow, and any file operations on network drives often freezes the whole Finder for minutes. Never make the mistake of picking Get Info while a bunch of files on a network drive are selected
- There seem to be multiple different, seemingly randomly picked "file/folder already exists in destination" dialogs, and they rarely offer the options I need (again, unlike Windows, where this stuff works much better)
- When searching, there's no indication for whether the Finder is actually doing anything, so you never know if it's showing you all of the search results it's going to find
- Same for simply loading folders; you can't tell the difference between an empty folder, and one that is still loading
- Also, there's no way to just filter a window; all you can do is search, and that includes child folders

And that's just off the top of my head. There was plenty of other poorly designed, flawed, or just plain broken crap. This is stuff that just works on Linux, and mostly works on Windows. None of this should be rocket science.

@Total iPhone doesn’t need an advocate, since it’s obviously the main focus of the company and brings in most of the money. It would be interesting to consider whether there should be an iPad advocate…

@Lukas I run into little issues like this all through the day. I could probably have a full time volunteer job filing Radars. It didn’t use to be this way.

This all makes perfect sense, and mirrors my thinking literally since late 2010.

And one can understand why the bean-counters running Cupertino would approach things in this manner.

But I continue to think it's a very short-sighted strategy that will hurt the brand in the medium-term, especially considering how little a bit more focus on the Mac would cost Cupertino in attention. (Not to mention that I don't think it'd lose them any money.)

[…] These choices suck, and I’m mad at Apple for leaving me in the lurch like this when I’m shopping for my fourteenth goddamn Mac. Michael Tsai put it so well: […]

By far my largest gripe with Sierra are the changes to scrolling for pointing devices with traditional scroll wheels. You used to be able to scroll a Terminal window one line at a time — or a PDF one page a time — by moving a single notch on a scroll wheel, but now it's all momentum-based and imprecise. It's all but impossible to scroll up a single line in Terminal with my Logitech trackball. Something that previously 'just worked', now broken and frustrating to no end.

Another thing that's been getting on my nerves lately is Exposé. Once or twice a day, it either won't bring the window I clicked on to the front, or it will bring a random window from some other app to the front, even if that app wasn't in focus, even if I was using the 'application windows' command on a completely different app. As you say, Michael, it didn't use to be this way.

10.12.2 fixes the scroll wheel issues at last. On the one hand, thank goodness. On the other hand, welcome to macOS, where your scroll wheel doesn't work properly for ~3 months out of the year...

@remmah The scroll wheel is still completely broken in PDFViews in third-party apps.

@Michael Alas, so it is.

Also, if you have scrollbars set to Always show, Preview still opens a PDF in a window that's just too small for the size, making the scrollbars appear and defeating page-at-a-time scrolling until you resize it.

Back in the Panther days, I remember being all excited about how nice Preview was for viewing PDFs. I know it's mostly nostalgia, but at least I was able to go about 3 months between reboots back then if I needed to.

[…] Previously: New MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac, Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac. […]

[…] How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists, Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac, iOS Lacks a Document Filing […]

[…] Previously: New Mac Pro Won’t Arrive Until 2019, Mac mini Turning 3.5 Years Old, How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists, Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac. […]

[…] Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac […]

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