Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Five Years to Mac Hardware Turnaround

Joe Rossignol:

Five years ago, the Mac lineup was in a bad state. Over three years had passed since Apple redesigned the Mac Pro with a sleek but constrained “trash can” enclosure, while the iMac, MacBook Air, and Mac mini had also gone years without updates.

At the time, some users began to question whether Apple was still committed to the Mac, especially at the high end of the market.

The criticism ultimately led Apple to hold a meeting with a small group of reporters, where it apologized to pro Mac users and ensured that it remained committed to the Mac. In a rare and surprising move, Apple also pre-announced it was working on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro with a modular design, a new pro-level iMac, and a new pro display.

Mac hardware has improved a lot. Software is still not in a good place. It needs better reliability/quality and more capabilities. The quality issues seem to have started with the switch to annual releases. The limited capabilities seem to be a combination of sandboxing/security concerns being weighted too heavily and designs/code brought back from iOS unfairly limiting what the Mac versions can do.

Nick Heer:

Then, it was hard for me to recommend any Mac to a friend; now, the Mac lineup is a question of what level of performance and excellence you desire. This press meeting felt like a turning point from one extreme to the other — eventually.

High on my wish list of articles for someone with the right connections to write is a deeply reported look at the Mac’s doldrums. It cannot all be due to stagnation in Intel’s processor lineup around the same time, or any one individual. Something else happened — or, more likely, many somethings else.

Riccardo Mori:

If the sheer raw power of computers has increased orders of magnitude in the last 30 years, the range of applications (in both senses) for a computer hasn’t increased or spread in a comparable way.


Apps that were previously good-quality, powerful, and versatile have been neutered and have become ‘just okay’ or ‘good enough’. The Utilities folder in Mac OS has been slowly but surely depopulated over time. iOS apps with an ingenious premise, like Music Memos, are being left behind as flashes in the pan. The consensus with iTunes was that Apple should have split it into different apps so that these could be better at handling specific tasks than the old monolithic media manager. Apple eventually did split iTunes into different apps, but forgot the second part of the assignment.

Aperture overall was a better application than Adobe Lightroom when the two apps coexisted. Apple could have kept improving Aperture and kept making it better than Lightroom. Instead they gave up. We now have Photos as sole ‘sophisticated’ Apple photo tool. Which is neither fish (iPhoto) nor flesh (Aperture).


5 Comments RSS · Twitter

Ben Kennedy

Aperture is a case study in tragedy, and the fact that its tale continues to be discussed is a testament to Apple's ongoing foundering software strategy. It was discontinued close to eight years ago, yet was _still_ more capable then than its successors today. Breaks my heart.

Having been at Apple from 2011 to 2018, kinda the nadir of Apple putting the mac on the back burner, I feel like the "how Apple dropped the ball on the mac" article would be boring sad and predictable sad.

More a fact of social and economic realities than the result of any conscious decision by anyone.

> The quality issues seem to have started with the switch to annual releases. The limited capabilities seem to be a combination of sandboxing/security concerns being weighted too heavily and designs/code brought back from iOS unfairly limiting what the Mac versions can do.

Exactly. And the baffling thing is that all of these new security features don't solve any existing problems and creates tons of new ones. For what little mac malware is out there, it's still flourishing and doesn't seem to be particularly hindered by the new security features. Much of it just lives in user land, showing the user annoying ads or harvesting data. And there's already been high profile cases of malware developers getting their apps notarized.

At the same time, legitimate apps are struggling to survive, sometimes because their core features suddenly become verboten, and sometimes because the security features are half baked and half broken, making them extremely difficult to work with. Any mac developer that's had to deal with TCC bugs knows this pain very well.

And then you have features like signed system volume, which takes system files that are already doubly protected from being changed -- first by root permissions and then by SIP -- and makes them *triply* protected, at the cost of splitting the filesystem up between two APFS volumes that macOS pretends is one. But the seams often show, and it introduces tons of extra complexity and bugs. Was it really worth it? And now us power users can't modify our own system files.

On that note, I think that Apple's security features are less about security and more about control. Apple doesn't want people doing things it doesn't approve of on its platform, and they keep adding more restrictions to force this on mac users. Sadly this agenda is explicitly contradictory to the fundamental purpose of a computer, and the longer Apple keeps at it, the less useful the mac will become. Everything being buggy as shit doesn't help either.

@El Cruzado

How did social and economic realities lead to a completely new keyboard design, and the complete re-invention of the desktop chassis? Sounds more like someone went on a splurge fest.

Looking at a lot of Apples Mac hardware from the last gen I get a feeling that they cargo culted themselves into removing as much as possible because of the success of removing optical drives in the previous gen.

On the software side, Apple's strategy is quite clear: drive revenue by pushing the user to paid Apple services. Once you accept that, Apple's software decisions make a lot more sense. It's tragic, but at least I am no longer surprised by Apple software that fails to meet Apple's past standards.

Unless/until the services strategy changes, I will not expect any truly excellent software from Apple. Instead, I will expect Apple to to keep adding more screens/notifications to its apps pushing Apple Music subscriptions, telling me to sign up for an Apple Card, etc etc. Apple may still have an emotional claim on many of us, but it really has become just another revenue-obsessed consumer tech company.

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