A Mac lover’s lament

Getting cannibalized is no picnic.

“The writing would appear to be on the wall for the Mac,” writes veteran Apple watcher Adam C. Engst in an widely reposted essay in TidBits (now in its 25th year).

I can’t see Apple killing it off anytime soon, but benign neglect will have the same effect in professional markets, as developers weigh their options and direct more effort toward Windows. And that in turn will cause Mac sales to drop and Apple to be even less interested.

Steve Jobs said, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” That was appropriate when killing off the iPod with the iPhone, but assuming that the iPad can supplant the Mac would be a mistake, I believe. Unlike the iPod, which was a subset of the iPhone, there are many things we can accomplish on a Mac that would be difficult or completely impossible on any iOS device. Apple seems to be under the incorrect impression that, for whatever you might want to do, there’s an iOS app for that.

Judging from the volume and the passion of the comments it generated this week, Engst’s Understanding the Marginalization of the Mac hit a nerve in the professional Mac community.

Engst blames Steve Jobs, who burned focus into Apple’s DNA when he returned in 1996, slashing projects left and right to focus the entire company on the Mac. The problem now, says Engst, is that even though Apple employs 115,000 employees, it still thinks like a one-platform company. To Apple management, the Mac has become an accessory to the iPhone. The company has little incentive to improve it beyond the point where developers need Macs to write iPhone apps.

Is there hope for the pro Mac user? Engst thinks so, and he has a modest suggestion for Tim Cook: Spin off the Mac division.

Lots of corporate giants have divisions or subsidiaries that run largely independently, and I see no inherent reason why Apple couldn’t spin the Mac out just far enough that it could focus on the needs of Mac users, rather than merely trying to be supportive of iOS. That would apply to both Mac hardware and macOS, and yes, it would require significant coordination to ensure that Apple’s famed integration didn’t suffer in the process.

Hard though it might be, letting the Mac team pursue its own goals could result in a Mac that would once again indisputably be the computer of choice for creative professionals.

Feeling as if Apple’s heart isn’t in the Mac anymore? You are not alone.


  1. Richard Wanderman said:
    Thanks for posting this PED.

    I loved that piece and it stated much more clearly what I’ve been struggling to say for a while now. And, Adam has both long history with Apple and knows the nitty gritty technical details as well.

    I don’t think it’s just marginalization of the Mac that’s the problem, it’s marginalization of what we’re calling “Pro” users, users who make a living using the Mac that’s the bigger problem.

    As Adam says, when folks at Apple and elsewhere tell us that we can do everything with an iPad Pro that we can do with a MacBook Pro, we know they don’t actually use these tools to do real work.

    I’m about to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family which includes the head of technical production for the History Channel. His team is 100% high end Macintosh computers, mostly Mac Pros. I’ve not talked with him about any of this stuff but I know he follows it closely. I’m bringing along some Xanex…

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    November 24, 2016
    • Fred Stein said:
      Agree Richard, thanks Philip for the article.
      There are consumers, prosumers, and professionals. While the last category, professionals, may be small compared to the iOS IB of around 700M, they’re vital to the ecosystem, whether producing video content, or Apps. This creates a vibrant, prosperous ecosystem for the Apple and the professionals. That ecosystem includes not just the content they produce, but also the software tools they use on the Mac.

      Here in the bay area, I see a lot of developers totting MacBooks and Android Phones.
      In the early 90’s Sun Microsystems dominated the workstation business. By 2000 it went to Windows.

      November 24, 2016
  2. John Kirk said:
    How many things are wrong with Adam Engt’s article? Let me count the ways:

    “Lots of corporate giants have divisions or subsidiaries that run largely independently, and I see no inherent reason why Apple couldn’t spin the Mac out just far enough that it could focus on the needs of Mac users, rather than merely trying to be supportive of iOS.”

    If Adam is recommending a separate division for the Mac, it shows his complete ignorance of how Apple works. What makes Apple’s business model unique and uniquely successful is that they DO NOT have divisions. This one paragraph alone torpedoes the whole article.

    “Steve Jobs said, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” That was appropriate when killing off the iPod with the iPhone, but….”

    There’s always a but and there’s always a butt who says, yeah, cannabalizion is good, but not cannabalization of MY favorite product. If cannabalizaion of one’s own products is good for the goose, it’s good for the gander. And if it’s good for the iPod and the iPad it’s good for the Mac as well.

    “Here’s the problem: Despite 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. ”

    What. A. Crock. Apple hasn’t been a one OS company at least since the introduction of the iPod. And you might notice that while Microsoft insists that it’s OS runs on everything (it does, it just doesn’t run anything well), that Apple has gone the other direction and separated its OS’ into watchOS, and iPhoneOS and macOS , etc. Apple has had at least two operating systems since the introduction of the iPhone. Saying Apple is a one OS company flies in the face of reality.

    “For better and worse, Steve Jobs burned focus into Apple’s DNA.:

    For better or for worse? The fact that he thinks focus might be “for worse” shows Engle does not understand what made Apple great in the past and disqualifies him from making suggestions about Apple’s future.

    “Apple has provided no roadmap for the future of its desktop Macs”

    Yeah, because Apple always provides roadmaps. Oh wait. No, they don’t. If you think the lack of a roadmap dooms your favorite Apple product, then ALL Apple products are doomed since NONE OF THEM have roadmaps.

    Here’s my advice to Apple: “Non illegitimi carborundum.” (Don’t let the bastards grind you down.)

    November 24, 2016
  3. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    In the fiscal year ended in late September, the Mac generated $22 billion in revenue. In the same period, over 18 million Macs were sold. Although Macintosh unit sales declined last year as global PC unit sales continue to decline, revenue from Mac sales eclipsed the $20 billion in revenue generated by the iPad line.

    For those of us who use a Mac during the workday, it is a powerful productivity tool and the ongoing integration of services between Macs and iOS-based devices creates a seamless communications paradigm across Apple-branded devices.

    Apple develops its own SOCs for iOS-based devices while the company is dependent on Intel for processors for the Mac line. This dependence on Intel’s processor roadmap and production schedule impacts the pace of Macintosh upgrades.

    As an active Mac user both at home and at work I don’t view the services integration between the Mac, iPad and iPhone indicative of the Mac being positioned as some kind of iPhone accessory. Rather, the integration of services and seamless communications paradigm is evidence of the company’s ability to deftly bring the reality of our increasingly mobile society to the desktop experience.

    It’s a bit of a wonderment the new Mac Pro has not been substantially upgraded since its original release in December 2013. The recent upgrade to the MacBook Pro appears to be an awkward and underwhelming release for those not enamored with the Touch Bar technology. Apple’s migration process for ports is a bit awkward and the lack of a new class of processors has some pro users openly questioning the value for the user of the new release.

    Still, the Mac remains a very important product line for Apple and the users who have invested themselves and considerable resources in the platform. I’d like to give it another two years before drawing any conclusions about a change in the company’s commitment to the Mac.

    Meanwhile, professional Mac users and consumers purchasing pro-level Macintosh products should voice their concerns about the pace of innovation and continue to challenge the company to deliver Mac products in keeping with their needs and expectations for power, performance and array of software needed to drive productivity and creative output.

    November 24, 2016

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