Tipping Point

I’ve noticed that there’s been a curious tipping point in the tenor and timbre of the Apple press as of late. At this point, there have been many pieces lamenting Apple’s lack of attention to pros (since basically 2011, although even before that), but it seems like things are rapidly coming to a head. It’s not just Apple’s pro hardware that has suffered from a lack of upgrades—it’s Apple’s entire Mac lineup.

How bad is it? Bad enough that a well-respected and well-known Mac developer publicly complained about it:

It’s very difficult to recommend much from the current crop of Macs to customers, and that’s deeply worrisome to us, as a Mac-based software company. For our own internal needs, we’ve wound up purchasing used hardware for testing, rather than opting to compromise heavily on a new machine. That isn’t good for Apple, nor is it what we want. […] Apple could and should simply provide updates and speed bumps to the entire lineup on a much more frequent basis. The much smaller Apple of the mid-2000s managed this with ease. Their current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood.

Of course, Rogue Amoeba has a horse in this race—they produce Mac software, and a lack of new hardware hurts their business directly as they develop on those machines, and indirectly as Apple’s actions threaten the erode the Mac ecosystem. But they’re not wrong; Apple in the earlier 2000s was delivering updates to its lineup at a tremendous pace compared to now; the MacBook, for instance, historically saw closer to two updates a year rather than more than a year without one.

There’s a lot you can complain about the current Mac lineup—very slow 5400 RPM hard drives that make the entry-level models of its desktops inadvisable to purchase, for instance—but the simplest complaint is that updates are slow. Intel’s continued delays on delivering chips is part of the reason, and that’s certainly something outside Apple’s control, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. While Apple has publicly admitted they backed themselves into a “thermal corner” with the 2013 Mac Pro design especially regarding the GPUs, that doesn’t fully explain why they failed to update the processors in the machine; after the December 2013 release of the Intel Ivy-Bridge-EP Mac Pros, Intel released compatible replacement Xeons in September 2014 (Haswell-EP) and June 2016 (Broadwell-EP) that Apple failed to do anything with.

Today’s personal computers last much longer than the Macs of yesteryear; I’m still using a 2010 Mac Pro as a work machine in 2018; the idea of using a a PowerMac G4 from 2002 as a daily driver in 2010 would have been laughable. To a certain degree, especially considering how small Apple’s Mac sales are in comparison to the rest of its product lineup, it makes a certain amount of sense to slow down updates. But you can’t slow to an 18-24 month cycle that is opaque to outsiders who need to purchase machines and expect them to be happy never knowing when or even if new hardware is coming.

Thus far, Apple’s missteps in hardware haven’t critically hurt its Mac sales longterm, which have remained pretty steady over the past few years. But it certainly seems that as more and more of its product lineup falls prey to what ails the Mac mini and Mac Pro, that might change. In which case, the Mac is dying from an entirely self-inflicted wound.

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