In late April, Apple reported the company’s first negative-growth quarter since 2003. Declining iPhone and iPad sales were no doubt the major factor in this rare occurrence, but it was not just Apple’s mobile devices that saw a decline in sales. Apple laptop sales also took a tumble, dropping its market share to 7.1%, which places it sixth in the pecking order. Lenovo leads with a 22.2% market share.
Sure, larger economic factors may have contributed. There hasn’t been a major Mac hardware update in a bit, and anticipation of Thunderbolt 3 is a cluster upon itself; but is there a larger trend at play here?
As a company, Apple has long been ignoring its Pro users and disappointing a lot of more traditional users with closed systems, planned obsolescence, and just a general lack of true value over time. I say over time as they still sell a non-Retina MacBook Pro 13” that hasn’t seen an update in four years. Nor is it going to be updated because they have really only kept it around because people still are buying it. The 4-year-old MBP is the best a user can get if they need more than 1TB of internal capacity while on the road and/or – need that “old fashioned” optical drive at convenience.
Sure, the Retina MacBook Pros are nice, but neither the memory nor the SSD are intended to be upgradeable. Yes, OWC covers the SSD, but that’s still not what Apple advertises. They tell you that if you need more storage, you gotta buy a new one – just like with your iPhone. Didn’t get that 16GB of memory when you bought it? Well, you’re totally out of luck there – it’s soldered in. It’s the same story with the MacBook Air. And the MacBook 12” is nice, but with the flash storage soldered in, there’s no chance for a storage upgrade. It’s planned obsolescence.
The Mac… Pro?
The Mac Pro is now three years without an update, and all most users wanted from the last update was a Silver Tower with Thunderbolt connectivity. The Mac Pro 2013 refresh doesn’t seem to be at all what the majority wanted, and for many it offers less real world capability versus the 2009 to 2012 Mac Pro tower models it replaced. If nothing else, it has available external bandwidth via thunderbolt ports that are about 5/8ths that of a single PCIe slot in the Silver tower, which has three such slots available (with its fourth utilized by default for a GPU/Video Card).
The 2013 Mac Pro was first nicknamed “trashcan” because of the similarity it had to a New York subway receptacle… And that nickname stuck mostly because it was grudgingly that a lot of pro users were “forced” to migrate to it. And while it does do some great stuff, and its memory and SSD can be upgraded through OWC, it’s far more limited than it needed to be having zero available high-bandwidth PCIe slots.
The Pro Marketplace
And staying on the topic of the Pros… Apple has been so consumer focused over the past five years – from Final Cut Pro X to killing Aperture, ignoring Logic and ignoring higher end users’ desire for systems that have upgradability and slots that allow future relevance to be maintained.
It’s funny that other companies such as HP are directly going after Apple’s Pro audience. Apple has them beat on great form/cosmetics, but not on the guts and real, functional capability. If PCs could run Mac OS X, well… Apple could sell a boatload of OS X open licenses for $299 maybe even $499 and leave the pro hardware to the companies that care.
Is the Shine Off of Apple?
Apple still is incredibly good throughout. I’d not say the shine is necessarily off. I love Apple and have been dedicated to the company for over 30 years now. That being said, it’s not all roses.
A bigger issue with all this is the Pros have been some of Apple’s most important Mac evangelists and brand champions. We heard from neglected Pro users a bit last year at NAB/Supermeet, and we heard it much louder and clearer this year at the same events. They may not account for a large percentage of Apple’s new system sales, which is self-fulfilling in my opinion, but they historically have been a huge force of Apple evangelism and provided free marketing. I believe Apple is losing that intangible benefit that the sales numbers don’t account for.
At the same time you just can’t dismiss that self-fulfilling aspect of taking the true Pro out of the Pro hardware and software and not expect to see a decline. I am not sure if Apple is happy or not with the sales rate of the 2013 Mac Pro model that is the current revision, I’d suspect the latter and it’s their doing for not delivering what we heard every Pro calling for. It’s simple really – give the customer what the customer wants.
As for the Mac mini – 2012 Mac minis, for their easy (relative to the 2014 replacement) upgradeability and dual drive support remain in very high demand today. Our selection of Mac minis is very popular and whenever Apple has a few on the their clearance pages, they go in a blink. Another example of the new system missing something that a customer segment really appreciated that model for.
Refining OS X
Hopefully, they’ll not have a new Mac OS this year that reinvents various wheels again (in terms of high level interface as well as low level fundamental code structure changes). New OS versions every year can be an annoying hassle that can result in a lot of time, expense, and frustration for professional users that often have to buy new versions of software that they depend on that have to be updated for the changes Apple has made between OS versions. It would be good to see the current OS and hardware made bug free with a renewed focus on perfection this year – not a new OS that promises great new changes and is “the new best new thing.”
All the while, Windows has come a long way forward and is far more stable in terms of versioning but Apple still has a leg up on OS overall I believe.
Tim Cook’s Apple
I hope that Tim Cook gets this ship righted. Macs are a small part of the puzzle these days with iOS devices and the Apple Watch event getting a lot of front and center, but they’re far from insignificant and Macs lead to the sales of all those other wonderful devices. Mac users/owners are very loyal and likely buy Apple’s mobile devices at a much higher percentage than PC users. Macs historically have lasted a lot longer and made for a huge base of Mac owners out there that continually boost mobile device sales.
These same Mac owners no question upgrade to new iPhones far more often than they replace their Macs – less need to do so and honestly the hardware is less compelling with respect to why you’d want a new Mac if the one you have is good. There are some gems – the iMac 5K for sure.
But, what happens if Apple is selling fewer computers? What happens with more Macs that can’t be upgraded and reach earlier ends? It’s going to mean less “captive” growth to the rest of the ecosystem, in my opinion. Certainly that has to be contrary to the direction Apple hopes to go.