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Commentary: Apple Should Renew Focus on Mac Users, Pros

iMac_vs_MacPro[Update: Apple Updates Mac Pro, Confirms New ‘Modular’ Model In the Works]

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?

Planned Obsolescence
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.

MacPro6_1_200_MYOWCThe 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.

osXRefining 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.

UPDATE: Apple has indeed announced a new macOS for release in the fall

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.

Related: Mac Battle – Workstation Shootout Pits iMac 5K vs. Mac Pro

OWC Larry
the authorOWC Larry
OWC Founder & CEO
Larry O'Connor is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Illinois-based Other World Computing (OWC®). Starting as a one-man business in 1988, O'Connor has provided the leadership and vision to establish OWC as the leading provider of technology products and services today.
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  • I agree with the author of this article. I am a professional musician and also photographer who has used apple products for nearly thirty years. I need to update my studio but continue using a older stable system that get the job done but has limitations. I need better but have too much invested in my current third party plug in and Virtual Instruments to change.
    I have had many discussions with lay people that love by their consumer products and actually feel strongly that Apple is the holy Grail. They don’t need what we pros need. We have been left behind for Profits!!!

  • Apple is a bunch of people who have “lost it!” They hdon’t know their history. They don’t know what got them where they are now, and they might not even know what Steve Jobs did for Apple. Before Apple, there was Apple Computer, and both Apple and Apple Computer was built on the Macintosh computer. The people leading Apple have lost their way and will soon lose the company. Innovation and creativity is no longer a part of Apple’s DNA.

    Remember Apple’s first Super Bowl ad? All of Apple leadership should watch that ad, because now they are the lemmings walking off the cliff.

  • Just found your article after having Apple immediately pull my following comments from their user blog because they feel my comments are ranting and non-productive:

    Why did Apple stop selling and supporting a great image management program (Aperture) that I had been using without any problems until they decided to toss it and introduce a new “dumbed down” program targeted at “phone photographers”?   After processing thousands of digital photo files since purchasing my iMac and a higher-end digital SLR in 2007, I purchased a newer camera in 2015, and discovered that Aperture wouldn’t recognize the raw image files it produced.  My Aperture program is now as functionally useless as a roll of Kodachrome, and I am forced to go to Adobe for a new program.  That *****! …I mean, really *****!
    Adding insult to injury:   I am one of those people who doesn’t feel a need to buy the latest and greatest hardware if what I have does the job adequately.  (I didn’t retire my 1960’s Leica film cameras and my 1970’s Nikons until Nikon made a reasonably-priced digital SLR that would give high resolution and accept my old high-quality Nikkor lenses.)  My 2007 iMac has served me well, and has performed flawlessly since I bought it to replace my very expensive 2000 G3 “Pismo” that was quickly rendered “obsolete” by Apple.  Whenever I ran into problems with my “aging” iMac’s inability to support my needs, I upgraded the OS…only after waiting to confirm that the newer OS was relatively problem-free.  Last year, I started planning to upgrade from my current “Snow Leopard” to “Mavericks” to have better browser security and handle my new (non-Apple) image-processing software.  In preparation, I verified that my current system met all of Apple’s requirements for the upgrade, purchased two additional external hard drives, backed up all critical files, then cloned my entire HD as a fail-safe.  A few days ago, I went to the App Store to download Mavericks…………..Surprise! ……. No more Mavericks! 
    Apple has the best products for my needs….But I absolutely HATE the company!

    • Ken, check the Nik Collection for photography work. It’s free, but owned by Google. I use it in conjunction with Macphun’s Luminar.

    • Ken,

      Your Mid 2007 iMac supports El Capitan (10.11.6) as the latest version. You should be able to purchase that by contacting Apple for a coupon to redeem in the App Store. I suppose you have your reasons for wanting Mavericks, but it is no longer supported.

      • Thanks…Will check it out.
        My iMac only has 2GB RAM.
        Really not wanting to buy memory just to get to the next OS level, knowing that Apple will most certainly force me to retire it soon.

        • Apple can’t force you to retire the box. You’re welcome to use it for as long as it remains useful to you. El Capitan is still supported and will be until at least one more MacOS release. Your Mid 2007 iMac supports 6 GB RAM (2 – 200-pin PC2-5300 (667MHz) DDR2 SO-DIMM). Upgrading RAM and putting in an SSD will give the box so much additional performance, you will wonder why you didn’t do it years ago.

          I just retired my Early 2008 MacBook (6GB RAM + 960 GB SSD) due to a failed screen. I replaced it with a used Mid 2010 MacBook Pro with the same SSD and upgraded memory to 16 GB.

    • Snow Leopard is the last best Apple system. I have one laptop on it so I can use the software I need. Sadly Aperture is not as useful since it was discontinued. I am just now deciding to transfer all my photographs to Lightroom. A massive project.

      • I went through the same process of leaving Aperture. I am using Lightroom, but I found Luminar 2018 much, much better and easier to use. BTW, the Luminar was developed for the Mac first and then for Windows.

  • Took me too long to discover this article. It expresses EVERY POINT of my current frustration with Apple.

    I have bought hundreds of Macs for our (media/entertainment) company, and now it is painful to justify any Mac purchase when the current state is so far behind and the future is so uncertain.

    I agree that the iMac (5k) is the most viable Mac left in the product line.

    Thunderbolt 2 is useful for local client storage, but there seems to be a 1350MB/s limit that cripples it for high performance file service. I want PCIe 3.0!

    The professional mac is in the coffin, and the iPhone is hammering in the nails. The irony of this situation is really sad.

  • Sadly, I feel that this will be my last upgrade to Mac products. I will be buying a new 13″MacBook Pro, but after the way Microsoft just blasted Apple in the desk top arena, (the Surface studio pro) I feel that it is time to get familiar with windows products. My wife is a graphic artist and her employer just laid out a ton of cash for the Mac Pro towers and Thunderbolt Display for their graphics department. Now I can see them going to the Surface proStudio in a heartbeat, the power and integration of work flow, especially for creative groups in cube land as well as the individual is second to none hands down. Apple got beat and badly with practical innovation and substance. What we got as apple users, both commercial and as consumers is an insult.

  • Also as a working pro, mainly audio but some video as well, I completely agree with this article. I know a lot of pros now abandoning macs because hardware has advanced a lot, and isn’t showing on the new macs. Not being able to upgrade the machines is a real problem, and the new OS every year is just a nuisance.

  • I’m a pro audio professional using Avid and Pro Tools who previously upgraded every three years… until 2013. I opted for a 2012 silver tower due to my need for PCIe slots for propriety cards from Avid. There are thousands of people in my field who depend upon an expandable, reliable platform and unfortunately this article rings with a dissonant truth: I prefer Mac OS in so many ways over any other OS environment, but the nature of the hardware and OS releases don’t bode well for anyone using third party software. And no, Logic and FCPx are not serious alternatives.

  • Imaging professionals have been feeling neglected by Apple for some time with issues like Color Management being neglected. The desktop icons also look quite garish now with very little user control possible. Also, every time there is a major OS upgrade, many applications get left behind. We love our MacPro towers and wish there were more ways to keep them going with hardware upgrades. It was Graphics, Video, and Audio professionals that were of such great help in giving Mac such a good reputation. Apple needs to remember this and keep the loyalty of those professionals. It has a synergistic effect. Expensive professional computers need to have a 10-15 year lifetime. We have 6 Macs in our company.

  • I am a professional who is forced to use Windows due to corporate selection of enterprise applications that are Windows-centric. So, I agree with your position on the lack of upgrade paths for newer Macs, silly design of the current Mac Pro (I have a 2009 Pro with a lot of aftermarket upgrades, including a 6-core CPU). But more than the *strong* agreement with your position on flexible and upgradable hardware, I also advocate a much more aggressive approach to enterprise computing and compatibility.