Nov 4, 2016 — by: Mark Reschke

4-macsA little over a week ago Apple took the wraps off their all-new MacBook Pro lineup. As impressive as these powerful notebooks may be, the omission of updating other Apple MacBooks spoke volumes about where Apple is headed with their macOS computers.

Upon Steve Jobs return to Apple in 1997, Apple was offering 13 lines of Macintosh computers. In typical Apple 1990's fashion, the company could not meet demand for the most popular models, while always able to have plenty of unwanted Macs on store shelves. Jobs ended the ever-expanding proliferation of undesirable Macs with a hacksaw. Apple would kill off virtually every Mac, selling only four options of Macintosh.

After Jobs unveiling of his four-quadrant Mac solution, most of Apple's upper management team believed Jobs had just signed the company's death certificate. Instead, the simplified Mac lineup was an absolutely brilliant move that proved to be Apple's re-birth as a company. Apple soon offered a pro and consumer desktop Mac, and a pro and consumer notebook. Over time Apple created new Mac technologies, which slowly expanded the lineup. 

Today Apple has 6 different Mac product lines, but by all appearances Tim Cook looks to be paring down the Mac to Jobs original 4 quadrant model in the near future. During last week's new MacBook Pro unveiling, Apple did nothing to update the MacBook Air. In fact, Apple no longer sells the 11-inch MacBook Air, leaving the legacy 13-inch MacBook Air as the lone option. The smallest, lightest, 2lb MacBook also saw no updates, nor did any of Apple's desktop Macs.

In mid-2017, around Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, the 12.1-inch MacBook will receive an update, with an additional 13.3-inch model making the lineup. The 12.1-inch MacBook is likely to start at $1,099, while the larger 13.3" MacBook will enter around $1,399. The lone MacBook Air will drop to $899, making one last run through the summer and fall educational buying season. By early 2018, Apple will have two lines of MacBooks: Three MacBook Pros and two MacBooks, with base prices ranging $1,099 – $2,199.

Apple's desktop macOS hardware is rumored to be seeing a major (and long overdue) facelift in early 2017. The iMac is likely to see dramatic repackaging and solid specifications, while the Mac Pro should see all-new Intel Xeon's and updates graphics cards, with both models gaining clusters of USB-3 ports.

The odd man out is the Mac mini. Apple's once shiny stand-alone desktop computer is likely to be removed from Apple's lineup following the 2017 iMac and Mac Pro special event. This leaves two desktop choices, iMac or Mac Pro, as the consumer and Pro desktop offerings from Apple. The entire Mac lineup will have come full circle, back to Jobs simplistic four Mac approach.

The obvious question would seem to be why? Why would Apple pare down its Mac offerings? Perhaps the correct question should be, what time is it?

Apple consolidating the Mac lineup is less about simplifying and focusing, and more about reflecting the current state of the traditional computing market and where it is going. The fact is traditional PCs are no longer a growth story. The market for traditional computers has been shrinking for years. And while Apple cleverly carved out a high-end niche for itself, managing to grow market share, even Mac sales are now in decline. Partial blame can be put upon Apple's slower Mac update cycles, but the declining PC market is the overall offender.

As Jobs talked about computers as cars and trucks, people will always need trucks, but in today's computing world we now have cars, people simply use them more than trucks. But we don't just have cars, we have a wide variety of cars, that is, mobile devices. iPads and iPhones Plus models are now serving 80% – 90% of the needs that traditional computers filled. Apple's simplified Mac lineup is simply going to reflect that change. And who knows, perhaps the simplification brings better focus and creativity to the lineup, giving it another rebirth and another growth story for Apple in a faltering PC world.

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Robinson ~ Nov. 7, 2016 @ 5:37 am

    Fine column, but you never provided a new four-quadrant grid! Please add one with photos! What was striking about the Jobs one is how *different* the devices in each quadrant looked! So, what would it be now? Desktop-- iMac and Pro Portable -- MacBook and MacBook Pro? Or Portable -- iPad and MacBook (Pro) #

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