The Problem With the Mac Is Apple →

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Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

Mac upgrades, once a frequent ritual, are few and far between. The Mac Pro, Apple’s marquee computer, hasn’t been refreshed since 2013. The affordable and flexible Mac mini was last upgraded in 2014. And when a new machine does roll out, the results are sometimes underwhelming, if not infuriating, to devotees.

I decided to switch to the new MacBook Pro 13″ with Touch Bar because of the new P3 display. I also needed a larger SSD. I chose the base model (Core i5 2,9 GHz, 8 GB RAM), because it is more than fast enough for my needs. Like I often mentioned, I expected at least 8 hours of battery life under my light workload, but I am constantly getting around 6 for these past two weeks (Safari with a few tabs, Tweetbot, Ulysses, perhaps 10 minutes of Photoshop). I have had days where I topped out at 8, but those were due to having just one app open.

After two weeks, I am extremely disappointed that I don’t get a minimum of 8-9 hours when using the computer lightly. I have also yet to find a use for the Touch Bar — I am quite adept at using keyboard shortcuts and I find them to be much faster.

Interviews with people familiar with Apple’s inner workings reveal that the Mac is getting far less attention than it once did. They say the Mac team has lost clout with the famed industrial design group led by Jony Ive and the company’s software team. They also describe a lack of clear direction from senior management, departures of key people working on Mac hardware and technical challenges that have delayed the roll-out of new computers.

I love the Mac, which is perhaps why I get so frustrated that it doesn’t perform as well as my expectations expect it to. If the above is true, then this is a dark day for the whole platform — I actually want more work put into the Mac than into iPhones. I would also like the company to focus more on iPads too.

If more Mac users switch, the Apple ecosystem will become less sticky—opening the door to people abandoning higher-value products like the iPhone and iPad.

I have been looking around for alternatives already, but luckily for Apple, have not found anything really worth considering. However, I have seen people switch to Windows after the latest MacBook Pros rolled out. I am pretty sure some of them will probably also get rid of their iOS devices too, in favour of cheaper alternatives. Others are building their own hackintoshes in the meantime, because Apple’s current desktop line-up does not satisfy their needs. It doesn’t satisfy mine either.

Four years ago at Apple’s annual developer conference, marketing chief Phil Schiller pledged to keep the computer front and center in the company’s product arsenal. “Nobody turns over their entire line as quickly and completely as we do at Apple,” Schiller said. “We’re really proud of the engineering team and the work they do to do this quick so you can get the exact product you need.”

I almost got a Mac Pro in 2013, but I held off, waiting for the next generation. Meanwhile, 1098 days and two Xeon updates have passed us by without a new model appearing. The iMac, however beautiful, is not enough for my needs — I need a full GPU.

To be fair, Apple depends on Intel Corp., which still makes key chips for Macs. Like the rest of the PC industry, Apple’s innovation and product cycles are sometimes constrained by when Intel produces new chips—a process that’s getting more difficult.

Apple has been skipping generations. I don’t know the reasons behind this decision, but this is not acceptable for so many reasons.

Making a laptop stand out is also harder these days. But when Apple has tried to leapfrog the competition, it has fallen short. Take the company’s attempt to create a longer-lasting battery for the MacBook Pro. Apple engineers wanted to use higher capacity battery packs shaped to the insides of the laptop versus the standard square cells found in most machines. The design would have boosted battery life.

In the run-up to the MacBook Pro’s planned debut this year, the new battery failed a key test, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rather than delay the launch and risk missing the crucial holiday shopping season, Apple decided to revert to an older design. The change required roping in engineers from other teams to finish the job, meaning work on other Macs languished, the person said. The new laptop didn’t represent a game-changing leap in battery performance, and a software bug misrepresented hours of power remaining. Apple has since removed the meter from the top right-hand corner of the screen.

Since Apple planned a larger capacity battery, but reverted to an older design (which is a good decision — safety is paramount), then they should have forsaken the thinness, which would in turn have granted more space for the older generation battery. This would have perhaps allowed my machine to actually get the claimed 10 hours, instead of 6.

In the Mac’s heyday, people working on new models could expect a lot of attention from Ive’s team. Once a week his people would meet with Mac engineers to discuss ongoing projects. Mac engineers brought prototypes to Ive’s studio for review, while his lieutenants would visit the Mac labs to look at early concepts. Those visits have become less frequent since the company began focusing more on more-valuable products like the iPhone and iPad, and the change became even more obvious after the design team’s leadership was shuffled last year, according to a person familiar with the situation.

In another sign that the company has prioritized the iPhone, Apple re-organized its software engineering department so there’s no longer a dedicated Mac operating system team. There is now just one team, and most of the engineers are iOS first, giving the people working on the iPhone and iPad more power.

Apple is currently losing the market and users which got them where they are — the creatives to whom they catered to. Microsoft is now actively trying to get them on their side (and succeeding!) with products such as the Surface Studio.

That’s part of a broader shift toward making Macs more like iPhones. Apple prioritizes features, like thinness and minimal ports, that sell its iPhones and iPads, which generated about 75 percent of revenue this year. Those are contrary to professional needs, like maximum computing power.

This does make sense on a MacBook, but not on the MacBook Pro. While footprint and weight are important factors for my travels, the previous generation MacBook Pro was easily small enough. There is so much Apple could be doing in this space, to cater to consumers and pros. They could make the MacBook Pro thicker, with faster components, while reintroducing a Retina MacBook Air (perhaps based on the non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro) with ULV CPUs and lower weight. This is just but one quick example — I’m sure Apple could have made more people happy instead of constantly reducing their target audience by making the Mac more and more of a niche machine.

In recent years, Apple managers have also become more likely to float two or more competing ideas, meaning designers and engineers must work on more than one concept at a time. In the past, managers pushed a more singular vision. Engineers are now “asked to develop multiple options in hopes that one of them will be shippable,” a person familiar with the matter said.

This sounds like another change in Apple’s traditions, which probably results from the fact that the Mac department doesn’t have a visionary to lead it.

For a 2016 MacBook update, some Apple engineers wanted to add a Touch ID fingerprint scanner and a second USB-C port (which would have made some power users happy). The update instead included a new rose gold color option alongside a standard speed increase.

The first option would have made for a much more compelling machine for many. I would love to know how it went down though.

Still, Apple hasn’t given up on Macs. In a recent company Q&A session, employees asked whether Mac desktop computers remain strategically important. “We have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that,” Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said, according to a transcript of the discussion obtained by Bloomberg News.

Tim Cook’s words were carefully worded. I’m pretty sure that the Mac Pro is dead, which will most probably leave many pros abandoning the platform altogether. The iMac has its own issues, but while it can be (and is) used for professional work, it is not a pro machine. It never was. Having said that, I hope and expect Apple to return to regular updates of the Mac Pro and Mini.

Apple designers are already exploring standalone keyboards with the touch strip and a fingerprint reader for desktops. Apple will decide whether to release these based on how well the features do on the MacBook Pro.

I feel like the old Apple would have been certain enough of their technology and its future, that it would have gone ahead and released the keyboards along with the MacBook Pros. In the meantime, I find the Touch Bar useless. Touch ID is a nice touch though.

Mac fans shouldn’t hold their breath for radical new designs in 2017 though. Instead, the company is preparing modest updates: USB-C ports and a new Advanced Micro Devices Inc. graphics processor for the iMac, and minor bumps in processing power for the 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro. Cue the outrage.

Since my 2016 MacBook Pros battery performance is so bad, I’m getting a replacement unit in the next week or so. If the new one does not behave any better, then I will most probably replace it with a non-Touch Bar model. I will miss Touch ID, but realistic battery life is one of my priorities.

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