What's left for the Macintosh in a Post-PC iOS World?

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
Apple has sold Macintosh computers for just short of 30 years. Over just the last six, its personal computer business has been vastly overshadowed by its sales of Post-PC mobile devices. What future is left for the Mac?

Mac

2013 was a rough fiscal year for the Mac

For six and a half years (26 consecutive quarters) prior to last year?s holiday season (Q1 2013), Apple?s Mac sales had been outpacing the growth of the global PC market. In 2012, PC sales began dramatically retracting for the first time since the dotcom collapse in 2001.

Apple remained impervious to this contracting demand until it was forced to report a significant decrease in Mac sales for the December 2012 quarter

The company blamed its year-over-year Mac sales drop (from 5.2 million to 4.1 million) on the quarter?s week-shorter length and its own failure to launch its slim new iMac before the very end of the quarter. Sales of notebooks, Apple?s chief executive Tim Cook noted, were on track.

In addition to "significant constraints" on iMacs, Apple also didn?t have a new Mac Pro to sell. And the company had also reduced inventory levels significantly over the quarter, creating a sell-out vacuum or sorts. While Mac unit sales came in a whopping 22 percent below one year prior, revenue was down by just 16 percent

"If you just take these three factors, they bridge more than the difference between this year's sales and last year's sales," Cook said.

However, Macs sales continued flat year-over-year in the March quarter and again retracted (although not nearly as much) in the June quarter. So dramatically have PCs fallen that Apple?s own stagnant growth looks veritably radiant in comparison to the clammy grey death-face of the general PC business.

This begins to suggest that Apple?s Mac business is plateauing along with PCs in general. Actually, PCs plateaued much earlier; overall computer sales dropped 6.4 percent in 2012 and in 2013 began sharply retracting twice as fast: a 13.9 decrease in sales. So dramatically have PCs fallen that Apple?s own stagnant growth looks veritably radiant in comparison to the clammy grey death-face of the general PC business.

Everyone knows why: it starts with i and ends with pad, although there?s a lot of desperate attempts to euphemize this trend under the softer language of "tablets," as if $49 White Box tablets have subsumed the personal computing business just because vendors of all stripes are shipping them.

Usage data paints a different picture: iPads are simply eating up PC sales while White Box tablets are doing their best impersonation of the 2008 netbook, reclined on a retail inventory shelf whispering to as-yet unconvinced buyers how super cheap they are and how they?re ready to do anything.

Should Apple go mobile?

Is it time for Apple to give up the Macintosh and plant both feet into the Post-PC future, as pundits have been recommending since way back into the pre-iPad, pre-iPhone, iPod era? Well, the fact that they were, in retrospect, obviously wrong back then suggests that maybe the way they are looking at things is still wrong today.

This summer, at Apple?s Worldwide Developer Conference, the company emphasized that its Mac installed base has grown to 72 million, a 100 percent increase from five years ago. The PC market has only grown 18 percent over that same period; it stopped growing entirely a couple years ago.

One year after releasing OS X Mountain Lion, the company said it had sold 29 million copies. Compared to the 400 million copies of iOS 7 that it delivered within its launch week, that?s small potatoes. But iOS 7 was free, whereas OS X has a nominal price, allowing it to generate somewhere in the ballpark of $840 million. Apple is earning nearly as much from its Mac platform as Microsoft is from Windows.

Microsoft earned nearly $6 billion from Windows just in the December quarter, but Apple earns the bulk of its income from hardware sales ($5.5 billion from Macs in the same "rough" quarter), which are enhanced by new OS releases. So Apple is earning nearly as much from its Mac platform as Microsoft is from Windows. The difference is that Apple?s Mac platform isn?t the only platform Apple has, nor is it even the largest or most profitable anymore.

Note too: the only other companies with PC operating systems are giving them away. No doubt all of them would like to be in Apple?s position of taking in nearly a billion every year on OS upgrades on top of the company?s industry leading hardware profits. Google is so enamored with being Apple that it duplicated Apple?s entire Mac product line under its Chrome OS brand, with help from Samsung.

Google Chrome OS devices


The part they haven?t been able to clone is the part where people buy that hardware, or develop unique and exclusive software for that platform, making the products anything other than a poor quality photocopy or an undifferentiated commodity. Google loses money on hardware, and Samsung?s computing profits outside of smartphones are a tenth the size of Apple?s

Should Apple "converge"?

The people who are consistently wrong about Apple and do not understand its strategy are also recommending other arbitrary changes based on their limited grasp of facts. One popular meme is the idea that iOS and OS X are destined to "converge," as if there is already some major technical disparity between them that needs to be aligned, or as if their differences in implementation are not intentional.

It?s interesting to note that nobody really felt compelled to similarly recommend that Microsoft "converge" Windows XP and Windows Mobile, which actually were completely unrelated platforms in everything but branding, or suggest that Windows 7 or 8 needed convergence with Windows Phone 7 or 8, despite that both continued to pursue wildly different strategies related to app development.

Also, thinking back to the 1980s, I don?t recall anyone ever insisting that Atari needed to "converge" Missile Command and Pac-Man so that users could play a video game featuring both aliens and ghosts, using a hybrid joystick-trackball controller. Atari gobbled up more quarters having two separate video games.

But doesn?t it make so much sense to mix together your most successful products into frankenstein hybrids? It?s working so well for padfones, Android-Windows tablet-notebooks, Zune PCs and refrigerator-toasters.

And what?s not to like about a mobile operating system loaded with desktop trappings, like the franken-Android distros appearing in Asia that have multiple apps running in desktop-style windows? Finally resurrecting some of the core innovation of Windows Mobile, where moving to a new form factor simply retains everything in a no-compromise package like land mammals with gills and fins.



Now, that?s not to say that there isn?t lots of cross-pollination between iOS and OS X. So much so, in fact, that it?s easier to detail what?s different on each than what?s shared, both on a development level and in user facing features. That list is getting shorter with OS X Mavericks, which adds support for iOS-style Maps and iBooks.

But it?s pretty clear that the overall differences in design and use between iOS devices and Macs are not headed for a Grand Confluence where in a couple years we will have windowing mobile devices and push button desktops like those monstrous creatures that escaped from Microsoft?s drawing boards in Redmond and are scaring the public into Apple?s stores.

Apple?s investments in the Mac

Rather than "converging," Apple has been developing technologies specific to the Mac. The primary new hardware features of the last years? Macs are support for Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, Fusion Drive and the new 802.11ac wireless standard. None of those are immediately relevant to mobile devices.

It appears Thunderbolt (it?s tied to the Intel x64 architecture, and doesn?t really make any sense for a mobile device) and Fusion Drive (no iOS devices use mechanical hard drives) will never be. And while Apple?s new Lightning connector looks like it was designed with the foresight to support USB 3.0, nobody has yet discovered support for the faster bus within the new A7.

Being able to take advantage of USB 3.0 in a mobile device would require very fast RAM, as the existing USB 2.0 is still very fast, faster than virtually any hard drive. Some iOS users even opt for WiFi-sync of their devices, which is much slower than USB 2.0.

Similarly, 802.11ac is insanely fast, and Apple has other intermediate options available for speeding up iOS? WiFi beyond the current peak of 150 Mbps; no need to jump to the "ac" 1.3 Gbps solution, given the current use scenarios of iPhones and iPads.

Mac tech


Apple certainly isn?t just rewarming the Mac platform as sales nosedive, while eyeing the mobile market and making convergent, hybrid compromise plans as Microsoft has been over the last decade. It has rethought the very core of its products.

Back to the Mac Pro

Back in April, "What will Apple do with the Macintosh?" outlined the new Mac Pro as likely adopting a new form factor that dropped its optical drive and large outline to focus on high performance, leveraging Thunderbolt (and specifically the faster new 20 Gbps Thunderbolt), "rather than large open slots in a big enclosure, to retain the Mac Pro's expansion potential."

At WWDC, Apple debuted the new Mac Pro that did exactly that.



Going forward, Apple isn?t under the gun to replace every Windows PC with a Mac Pro. The iPad is already doing that. The Mac Pro, along with the iMac, has the opportunity to "eat up multiple segments of the valuable remains of the vast PC market," just as Windows 8.1 and RT savagely ravage PC makers with an acute infection of unsellable operating system-osis.

With an installed base north of 72 million, the Mac platform is not only bigger than ever, but it's also more comfortable than ever sitting in its historical role as a media and content production platform. Apple held its ground against Windows in the 1990s because artists, producers and designers relied upon it while users with simpler needs (limited to web browsing, terminal emulation and word processing) flocked to Windows.

Today, users with basic needs are better satisfied by iOS than Windows. That?s had a massively erosive effect upon the hegemony of Windows as an everywhere platform. New consumer software is now arriving in the form of iOS apps, not Windows programs.

More serious users (web and app developers, artists, musicians and video editors) have already been drawn to the Mac for years. More powerful, easier to use and more iOS-familiar facets of new OS X versions are enhancing the Mac?s role in creating content, and blazing fast new hardware will enhance that trend even further.

The remaining question is: how prepared is Apple to outmaneuver Microsoft?s Windows and Google?s Android at the same time, investing in two categories of computing at a faster pace and delivering more innovative work that either of its giant rivals, while also producing hardware that outclasses not just the collective sum of world?s PC makers, but also the global mobile industry.

So far, so good.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 255
    Dooomed

    Just kidding, I won't be getting rid of my mac for at least another 5 years of iOS evolution.
    I see a likely merge in the future.
  • Reply 2 of 255
    Quote:


     the existing USB 2.0 is still very fast, faster than virtually any hard drive


     

    That's not really true. USB 2.0 maxes out at 480Mbps, which is 60 MB/s. Real-world throughput is considerably less. Any hard drive made in the last 5 years can transfer faster than 60 MB/s sequentially.

  • Reply 3 of 255
    Have you seen the Mac Pro "theatrical trailer" actually play before a movie?
  • Reply 4 of 255
    DED, I love what you did by making the next Mac Pro the period on the question mark but I think you missed an opportunity to really tie it together.


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  • Reply 5 of 255
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,735member
    Another excellent article for the weekend.

    I'd add, I hope the Fusion Drive is a clever, but temporary beast, bridging the gap until SSD capacity and price fall to acceptable levels.
  • Reply 6 of 255
    To me the future is convergence done well. A desktop OS requires a different GUI metaphor than a mobile one. Apple is doing this right (exceptions like the dreadful scrollbar inversion and stupid Launchpad left aside).

    What I see is that the iPhone 7 or so will be able to transform into a desktop OS by hooking it up to your monitor. You essentially get an evolved version of OSX. When you disconnect, it just uses the iOS portion.

    Content and settings are shared through the local and remote filesystem. Let's hope iCloud makes sense by then.
  • Reply 7 of 255

    The Macintosh line is discontinued. A new cultivar of apple is chosen for the third revolution in computing, and Apple makes multitouch desktop computers.

     

    Simple.

  • Reply 8 of 255
    gwmacgwmac Posts: 1,795member

    The one thing that worries me about the new Mac Pro is I haven't heard even one word about price. I understand the maxed out one costing a pretty penny but I wonder if Apple will make one also affordable at the entry level as they used to do so often in the past. If they make an entry level model around $2,100 +/- a few hundred I could really see them selling well. If the low end basic model is over $2,500 then it will simply be  overpriced for many people. I expect the fastest one with maxed Ram, HD, and top of the line GPU card to cost well over $5,000 but interested to see how many price points/configurations will be available. 

  • Reply 9 of 255

    You can't create an iOS app on an iOS device. You need a Mac to do that. Artists, videographers, designers all need large screens and Macs.

     

    Apple will simply scale-down the Mac business accordingly.

  • Reply 10 of 255
    To beat Microsoft on the desktop, you go after Office. Beating Microsoft is a much easier proposition than beating Google.
  • Reply 11 of 255
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by gwmac View Post

     

    The one thing that worries me about the new Mac Pro is I haven't heard even one word about price. I understand the maxed out one costing a pretty penny but I wonder if Apple will make one also affordable at the entry level as they used to do so often in the past. If they make an entry level model around $2,100 +/- a few hundred I could really see them selling well. If the low end basic model is over $2,500 then it will simply be  overpriced for many people. I expect the fastest one with maxed Ram, HD, and top of the line GPU card to cost well over $5,000 but interested to see how many price points/configurations will be available. 


     

    Makes sense that as a BTO-oriented model, there could be more RAM and HD options than make sense in, say, a mini. Lots of RAM slots. On the other hand, the "standard" dual GPU design does not appear to be aimed at delivering a low priced entry level model.

     

    Will be interesting to see if the new Mac Pro gets used in server and/or signage applications, similar to the old G5 design. Apple used to install Pro towers powering HDTV displays at every opportunity in its retail stores. The ability to set up a relatively cheap, turn key video wall of several HDTVs would be an interesting market opportunity.  

  • Reply 12 of 255
    The iPad is a consumption device from the beginning. The entire embedded space is a consumption solution with mobile needs.

    To think it's replacing the desktop/laptop instead of providing a natural extension is ludicrous.
  • Reply 13 of 255
    Of course,at the moment, a Macintosh is required to write iOS apps ...
  • Reply 14 of 255
    pokepoke Posts: 506member

    This article is incredibly short on reasoning. I don't remember anyone saying Apple should dumped PCs and focus on "the post-PC era" before the iPhone, but even if they did, that in no way invalidates suggesting that they should do it now that mobile is a growing industry and PCs are a declining one. The two things would be completely different scenarios. "People have said this before" is not an argument.

     

    At the very least, they need an exit strategy. It would be profoundly stupid not to be looking into expanding the role of devices and assuaging the decline of PCs. There will come a time when maintaining separate hardware architectures and operating systems will not make financial sense just to support so-called "power users." The PC is not something that exists merely because some people like windowing environments, mouse/trackpad input and hardware keyboards, it exists because there's enough demand to support an industry to provide such goods. That will change, and it won't take long. At some point, Apple will have to decide between either offering what is essentially an iPad in a PC form factor or expanding devices to cover the last remaining PC-only functionality.

     

    Anybody who has been observing the mobile industry should know it doesn't take long for things to fall apart. If the rest of the x86-based PC market collapses and Intel becomes a technological laggard because it hasn't managed to successfully diversify - something that could easily happen in the next 5 years - is Apple going to keep supporting x86 or will it move to ARM? Will it released Macs with ARM processors running OS X for ARM or will it scale-up iOS hardware to meet the demands of people who need bigger screens and better processors? No doubt they're exploring both options but my bet is on the latter winning out.

  • Reply 15 of 255
    gwmac wrote: »
    The one thing that worries me about the new Mac Pro is I haven't heard even one word about price. I understand the maxed out one costing a pretty penny but I wonder if Apple will make one also affordable at the entry level as they used to do so often in the past. If they make an entry level model around $2,100 +/- a few hundred I could really see them selling well. If the low end basic model is over $2,500 then it will simply be  overpriced for many people. I expect the fastest one with maxed Ram, HD, and top of the line GPU card to cost well over $5,000 but interested to see how many price points/configurations will be available. 

    1) So you think it should be less than the previous Mac Pro despite the cost for components in the new Mac Pro being very high? You really shouldn't base your what-I-think-it-should-be price on the fact that it's now smaller.

    2) What kind of pointless comment is "it will simply be  overpriced for many people." You can say that about any price at all. Even with all iOS-based devices sold to date and assuming that there was only ever one device sold to a person on Earth about about 12% of the population has owned one. You do this with Macs and you're at very small single digit and those start under $600.

    The iPad is a consumption device from the beginning. The entire embedded space is a consumption solution with mobile needs.

    To think it's replacing the desktop/laptop instead of providing a natural extension is ludicrous.

    It is replacing the desktop/laptop for the majority just as the laptop replaced the desktop for the majority of consumers. Steve Jobs said it best when he said, "PCs are going to be like trucks. They are still going to be around but one out of x people will need them."

    Most users simply never needed all that other crap that comes with a desktop OS for their typical usage needs and the proof is the success of the iPad.
  • Reply 16 of 255
    poke wrote: »
    This article is incredibly short on reasoning. I don't remember anyone saying Apple should dumped PCs and focus on "the post-PC era" before the iPhone, but even if they did, that in no way invalidates suggesting that they should do it now that mobile is a growing industry and PCs are a declining one. The two things would be completely different scenarios. "People have said this before" is not an argument.

    It's been said many times. Perhaps the most famous are the suggestions that Apple should dump everything to work solely on their iPod business right before the "MP3" market started to start its slow descend.
  • Reply 17 of 255
    I'm really not enamored of Apple's latest designs - I think the MacPro should feature external PCIe, as Thunderbolt controllers are expensive and even 2.0 limited to 20gbps - but then again, I'm not a MacPro customer so what do I know?

    OTOH, I AM a MacBook Pro customer and am going to sorely miss having a 17" MacBook Pro.

    I've been buying Powerbook 17s ... oops, excuse me MacBook Pros for a while now, I bought a 2008 and then they came out with unibody. I bought a 2010 core-i7 and thought I was set for a few years, then they came out with the retina in 2012 and failed to come up with a 17", so I had to buy a late 2011 17" just to get a quad core before they all vanished.

    Now I'm a long ways from the twenty-something crowd, and while high pixel densities are nice for those with 20/20 or better, they just don't take the place of wide vistas of screen real estate. External monitors are okay, but you have to have 'em everywhere you work.

    I suppose that if spend your day in Word or Excel, a 15" will do fine but if you're using Xcode or FCP or Aperture, you really need all the screen you can carry.

    And I'm not a happy camper, and don't really want to get pushed out to some Alienware variant.
  • Reply 18 of 255
    I'm really not enamored of Apple's latest designs - I think the MacPro should feature external PCIe...

    Thunderbolt is PCIe when it comes to data. Are there any External PCIe that can achieve greater than 20GB/s?
    I've been buying Powerbook 17s ... oops, excuse me MacBook Pros for a while now...

    This kind of deliberate snark sends up a red flag that you don't like change regardless of any objectivity into whether it benefits you or not.
  • Reply 18 of 255

    Augmented reality technology will most likely be the 'convergence' of desktop/mobile.

    AR is just now budding out of it's infancy - but I imagine we are still 5 years or more away from having it replace conventional 'displays'.

     

    The 'cloud' will do a lot more then just act as a storage bin in the future. It will serve computation from supercomputers to mobile or AR devices.

    The horrible remake of Total Recall had an interesting take on it where all you needed was a glass surface/window to project AR from a wearable mobile device. I kind of see the future looking a bit like that.

     

    The Mac will be with us for a long while yet.

  • Reply 20 of 255
    The only way the Mac product line can continue to sell is if it evolves.

    There needs to be 2 types of Mac. One needs to become more like the new Mac Pro, a stand-out product that kicks a$$ and sells accessories. I like to think of it as the "Home Mac".
    The other needs to be a laptop that is a hybrid device. A powerful laptop that can run both Mac and iOS, seamlessly.

    The Home Mac needs to become the home hub of everything electronically stored and everything electrical. Content management and sharing, managing electrical devices at home and so on...
    Everything that iCloud provides, I should be able to do from my home Mac. Content sharing, software/OS Management, TV recording, TV guide and the whole suite of things that happen in modern lives.

    I still struggle sharing content between multiple devices and they are mostly ALL Apple products. When I take photos on one device, they should go onto my central Home Mac to share with others on my network, not to iCloud. Then there is the 'other' content issue... I record TV using EyeTV, but play back on multiple devices is a little tricky. Apple should not only provide an Apple TV that actually displays and records live TV, but also makes sharing that content easy, to local networks and (if copyright allows) to wider social networks. Think about it, people are doing it now... why not make this process work for everyone and provide tools that make it easy and productive?

    If the new Mac Pro and Mavericks start closing these gaps, we may see a whole new suite of Macs selling like hot cakes. As for the Pro market, video production, photo manipulation, 3D rendering etc... a Mac Pro can still take care of these requirements and if they release a version of the new Mac Pro with an Optical connect card, make it easy for anyone to build clusters of Macs so they can share processors etc, the pro market will have a very impressive workgroup of super-computing power that will crunch through these tasks like there's no tomorrow!
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