Apple’s Mac lineup is stale, and that is putting it mildly. The Mac Pro is now a staggering 2 1/2 years into its lifecycle without a single upgrade. The MacBook Air has seen almost no changes, save for incremental processor updates since 2010. The iMac form factor has not changed since the fall of 2012. The newly minted MacBook and MacBook Pro's have seen only slight incremental upgrades this past year, and the Mac mini is a mere afterthought. What's going on?
The only significant new release to Apple’s Mac lineup has been the MacBook (of which I use and love), in April of 2015. It recently received a slight Intel processor update. Wow... In fact, all Apple has been keen to do the past few years is release Intel processor updates to products, with the MacBook Air still living in an ancient design, with what can now only be described as a horribly low-resolution display. Apple’s Mac lineup has become a cash cow with little invention, but that may be about to change.
Call it a sophisticated workstation, call it a silent powerhouse or video editing marvel, but now-a-days, do not call it relevant. Apple has again let its cutting edge flagship Mac Pro tower languish into obscurity due to a lax approach to updating, reminiscent of predecessors. How relatively lax you may ask? Since its release on December 13, 2013, the Mac Pro has had not three, not two, not one, but zero updates — as in none.
The good news, according to financial site The Motley Fool, is that the long overdue refresh may be arriving soon. Today is supposedly the day Intel will release its 14nm "Broadwell EP" lineup. As workstation class chips go, the Broadwell-E looks to be impressive as ever, sporting up to 10 cores per processor, with an overall 18% raw speed increase. But Intel has seen delays with this processor refresh, and as of yet there has been no press release for the processor. Will Intel suffer upon us yet another delay, thus delaying the Mac Pro update?
According to FutureSource Consulting, Google's Chromebooks achieved 51% share in the K-12 educational market. Historically, Apple has long been the market leader in educational sales — which may have been a key factor in surviving Apple’s 1990’s collapse as school districts were reluctant to leave the Mac platform. But today is a brave new world, full of tablets and mobile devices. Laptops and desktops are not what they were in the educational space. Say what you will about Unions and school districts spending every dime they get, budgets for technology are simply squeezed, and Apple is feeling the blow.
Google's Chromebooks offer a near 100% cloud-based experience, for dirt-cheap hardware prices. Chromebooks are not for music or video editing classes, but it would be silly to suggest Google does not have their eyes on a larger desktop prize. In the educational market, Apple has left space under their pricing umbrella, and it will eventually hurt Apple in the education market, if it hasn't already.
Apple’s all-new iPad Pro has been breaking some land-speed records. Testing has revealed the iPad Pro’s processor runs laps around Intel’s Core-M chipset (found within Apple’s MacBook), while coming perilously close to Intel’s flagship Core-i5 series of chips.
The simplified history is Apple’s ARM-based designs have been moving north faster than Intel can move south into the mobile space. The question one must ask is, how long will it be until Apple equips their Mac notebooks with their own A-series processors? There are a number of factors that go into such a massive foundational decision, but the positives — assuming the A–series chips continue their northerly trajectory — should quickly outweigh the negatives.
Yesterday we awoke to some new Mac goodies and accessories. First a new 4K iMac was introduced and a refresh to the one year old 5K iMac. Both are welcomed editions and continue to show Apple’s commitment to the desktop. Of note is that for connectivity neither included the new USB-C port, but instead the familiar USB 3 & Thunderbolt 2 ports. Apparently USB-C is only going to be something we see in notebooks going forward.
Also included in the goodie-bag were some new accessories: a new keyboard, trackpad and mouse. The Magic Keyboard leverages the scissor technology introduced this spring in the new 12" retina MacBook. This gives the keyboard a lower profile and supposedly makes typing more accurate. The other major changes was a lithium-ion battery is built within, so there is no need to change out batteries. Instead a lighting/usb cable will recharge this bad boy when it runs low on power. The new Magic Trackpad 2 adds force-touch and the new Magic Mouse 2 has fewer moving parts and supports multi-touch. Both items also include built-in lithium-ion batteries, so Apple is eliminating the need for separate rechargeable batteries or off-the shelf disposable batteries. Because all accessories have built-in lithium-ion batteries, it means their prices have jumped from previous models they replace. But when you figure the cost of disposable batteries, or Apple’s rechargeable batteries, over the life of these items, the cost difference is negligible, yet the convenience/ease-of-use vastly improved.
On September 9, during Apple's San Francisco special event, Apple’s Sr. Vice President, worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, took to the stage and introduced the iPad Pro. The latest and largest tablet of its kind from Apple delivers an incredible 12.9", 5.6 million pixel display, and weighs only 1.5 lbs. Accompanying the iPad Pro is a versatile accessory called Apple Pencil along with an optional Smart Keyboard. While the iPad Pro left the audience quite pleased, Schiller made one comment that was likely to have left Intel speechless.
What made the original iMac, iPhone, iPad — and now Apple Watch — shine is that they were game changers. An industry was going one way but then when Apple entered the market, boom! The industry shifted direction to follow what Apple was doing.
Last week I wrote about whether Tim Cook was the right guy in 2015 to lead Apple forward. I then followed with an article about the stock being in a dulldrums. While comments to both stories were not necessarily positive, both postulations may be true. Sometimes people do not like to hear the truth, especially when it goes against their preconceived ideas. Change is difficult for most, and adjusting to reality is often something people prefer to avoid.
The fact is Apple is in a funk this year. While OS X will add some nice do-dads to its plethora of features and iOS 9 looks to be a welcomed update as well, it hasn’t been since the iPad’s launch that Apple’s luster was shining bright. Sure the stock has done amazing things since the beginning of this decade as has Apple’s savings account. Tim Cook has proven to be a very good manager of what is. Incremental change over time with the direction of the company in an upward direction. But while good for the first four years of the 2010 series, year number five is proving a bit more difficult.
WWDC 2015 is just around the corner, but one of the most interesting updates to the Mac product line will not be mentioned on Monday. Over the next year we can expect all new Mac models to begin incorporating Touch ID into their designs.
All new iPhones and iPads have Touch ID, and Apple Watch leverages the technology with Apple Pay abilities. Apple intends to extend the technology to Macs, eliminating the need for laborious passwords. Consider this Apple’s secure One Password solution, only faster, easier, more secure — better. Like iOS, upon reboot, OS X will require the user to type in their password to start using Touch ID (for security) but after that passwords for access to your Mac or Keychain can all be had with your fingerprint.
If you hadn’t noticed, Apple is on what can only be described as a never-ending tear of success, and their enemies seem incapable or inept at stopping them. But this does not mean other tech players aren’t trying to wear their big-boy pants — they just continue to come up short at competing effectively. Perhaps the worst offender is Microsoft. Under former CEO Steve Ballmer, the Redmond software giant became very good at making lofty promises, delivering failures, demonstrating vaporware or throwing an occasional chair. Today’s Microsoft, run by Satya Nadella, is now a softer, gentler software vendor, but has yet to be any more effective at defeating the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and soon to arrive and dominate the wearable market, Apple Watch.
Nadella showed initial promise by downplaying the consumer electronics market, turning his focus on enterprise solutions. Old habits die hard. Microsoft is once again is pulling out their Fisher Price "My First Marketing Playbook" in another attempt at capturing the consumers eye with Surface 3. Will a cheaper Surface, whose best feature is the 5 seconds of switching between a poor tablet and so-so ultrabook, backed with a massive advertising budget, be enough to derail Apple’s best laid plans?