Today has been a fascinating day, many many conversations about Apple and a lot of great feedback. It’s had me thinking about this more and trying to understand some of the aspects of this that I hadn’t really gotten clear in my head.
In terms of the event itself, I find I’m using this variations of this phrase in many conversations:
Apple did a great job of introducing two new trees while ignoring the forest dying of drought around us.
The more I think about it, the more I think that sums up my discomfort with the announcements this week.
This afternoon I had a nice long talk with an old friend who has a lot of experience doing marketing within the Apple ecosystem. And at one point, I said “You know what we need? We need this — and he agreed with me completely.”
It’s — The Grid. In 1997, Steve introduced his new philosophy for what products should have using this grid. 20 years later, we’re now trying to make sense of the Mac product line and we seem confused, so I decided to sit down and try to sort it out a bit. So here we are, the New Grid:
I have consciously left off some of the legacy laptops (anything without USB-C because they’re there for special purposes or are transitioning towards end of life).
I think it points out a few reasons why we’re confused at exactly what Apple is doing right now. First off, their support for pro level users is pretty limited: the new laptops don’t seem to be capable of serious 4K/5K video processing due to memory constraints, and that’s a problem. We have products that desperately need a refresh, and we don’t know when or if that’ll happen.
And I think there’s a more basic problem: Can anyone really explain to me what Apple means by a “Pro” user? Because these Macbook Pros don’t seem t be the answer for two of their key core pro demographics: high end video and high end developers. So what is a pro? Or has Apple embraced the prosumer and decided that’s — good enough? I don’t know, and they didn’t clarify this at all.
Also, what’s a creative? Microsoft knows, Microsoft thinks it can attack Apple’s market here, and from my discussions in the last day or so, there are a good number of traditional Apple users taking a look and going Hmm…. Apple is clearly vulnerable here, and I’m not convinced these laptops made them comfortable about staying loyal.
So, what to do?
First, while I know we’re all very tired of waiting, we need to relax a bit. The rumor mill seems to make it clear that a refreshed iMac is coming as soon as Apple can get enough parts from Intel (in 2017, after the holidays). Ditto something for the Mac Pro area, again when parts are avaialble from Intel — and this might take 4-5 months.
The other boxes? I’m not sure there’s a “pro” answer for laptops, given what we’ve found out about batter size limitations on airplanes. A laptop you can’t carry on a plane is dead at launch. I had some discussions today about returning to replaceable batteries, but I just can’t see Apple doing that and it has it’s own set of complications and pain points. There seem to be some possible improvements in Cady Lake or other future Intel chips, but we’re now into late 2017 at best, if then. So I expect the pro/laptop box stays empty.
For desktops — now what? I made the suggestion today that what Apple really needs is a new desktop line that leverages the design across the different models, much as they do laptops. That makes it less expensive to create a Mac Mini type machine than if it is it’s own unique design. So, two or three models based around the same design, each with 2-3 build to order options, just like the laptops.
I called this the reinvention of the Mac IIci, because I feel that’s a machine that really exemplifies the kind of device we need now. The basic unit is a lot like today’s Mini: good power, low price, limited expandability. Make the high end support 128Gb of RAM, a range of GPU options (hopefully with upgradability, evne if it requires a trip to the genius bar) and include at least one really kick butt GPU. The middle model straddles this with more memory and some good GPU options, but without replacement options.
And all use the same overall design, and take advantage of the reality that USB C and thunderbolt 3 really get us to the point that you don’t need to stuff all your disks and other gear into the chassis for performance — that was something Thunderbolt 2 promised but didn’t quite deliver. This is a paradigm shift for developers to come to grips to, but I think it’s the right time for them to get their heads around.
And if only Apple had had this slide up during the presentation, with those two boxes marked obsolete blurred out and with “coming early in 2017” instead, we probably all would have gone home happy. Okay, most of us. I know I would have.
But I really do think it’s time for Apple to think about resetting the way they view the brand and our expectations about what to expect by bringing out a new, updated grid and explaining who fits in what boxes and which machines solve their problems. Because even after sorting this out to this degree in my head so I could write about it, I’m honestly still fairly confused.
What is a pro user in Apple’s Mac ecosystem today? Because I don’t know how Apple would answer that question. Do you?