The Core Dump

Lower your shields and surrender your ships

[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 03 March 2017]

The pro market, the nerds, and the vision

Apple’s neglect of the pro market is causing a lot of gnashing of teeth in Apple-nerd circles, but it’s true to Apple’s vision.

Apple used to be all about the Mac and now it is not. Apple is now mostly about iPhone, the product that made the company the most profitable in the world.

Speaking as a graybeard Apple person, that Apple is now mostly a mobile device company and one of the most profitable companies in the world is plain insane. Apple has always been the underdog, the company that really got human-computer interaction and then was crushed in the marketplace by Microsoft and its strippers and steak sales techniques.

And now in 2017 Apple mostly sells iPhones and has lost interest in the Mac.

Or has it?

Apple is clearly not run by dummies. Tim Cook and his staff know what they’re doing. (They are fallible humans, but when it comes to running a very large consumer products company, evidence shows they are clearly world class.)

So why are they letting the Mac languish? Languish in this case personified by the sad, sad case of the Mac Pro, which hasn’t been updated for 1,171 days as I type this. In an industry where yearly updates are expected, 1,171 days is an eternity. To add insult to injury, the price hasn’t dropped a cent. If you go out and purchase one of these rigs, you are paying top dollar for equipment that’s more than three years old.

Which is nuts.

But the Mac Pro isn’t just a machine, it’s a bellwether, it’s the indicator of how seriously Apple takes the pro market, the people who need the absolute fastest hardware, the people who edit 4K video, who master music with an ungodly amount of tracks, the researchers who build neural nets, the special effects wizards.

The people who need the fastest computer hardware money can buy. Not want. Need.

And Apple is clearly shrugging, saying “Hope you can find something.”

Add to this that progress on Mac OS is mostly focused on integrating better with iOS instead of adding more power, and power users are getting antsy.

Anecdotal tales across the Internet have video editors buying fire-breathing PCs and switching to Windows 10. Because why wouldn’t you? If you’re spending your days in a cross-platform app like Adobe Premiere and you have a tame sys admin around to deal with the quirkiness of Windows, why wouldn’t you switch to a platform that works the same as it did on the Mac and lets you buy wicked fast commodity hardware?

By the same token, some programmers are switching over to some form of Linux and getting their work done. And why not? If you do web programming and you’re by definition tech savvy, why not pick your favorite flavor of Linux and your favorite hardware and go to town?

For me personally desktop Linux is a complete non-starter since I need a variety of tools and apps that only exist on Windows and Macs, but if you don’t, hey, knock yourself out!

So why is Apple ignoring these people? After all, these are the fabled power users, the influencers, the ones whose purchasing recommendations affect many people.

If you grant that Apple is run by competent people who know what they’re doing, the only reasonable answer is that Apple doesn’t care about that particular market and that the influencers are less, well, influential these days.

As more and more people use iPhones and iPads and more and more people are discovering they really don’t need computers for their personal lives, the power users become less of a financial force and thus less of a focus for the company.

Apple makes the MacBook/MacBook Pro for mobile users and the iMac for the desktop—a machine that’s powerful enough for all but the most demanding users.

Moore’s law, baby. It got us here.

What Apple is focusing on now with the Mac line seems to be:

  • Optimize battery life for laptops. The work Apple has done on increasing battery life for its laptops is no joke, even though they get much too little credit for it.
  • Make the Mac work better for non-power-users.
  • Enable normal humans to accomplish things, like regular backups, that used to require nerd skills or a nerd mindset to accomplish.

Let’s look at the non-power-user market. These are normal humans who need to use a computer for their work, or who prefer to use a computer instead of an iPad for their computering needs—send and receive email, check Facebook, edit photos, edit a vacation video, crunch numbers, whatever it may be. These are not nerds who give a crap about computers, they are normal humans who need to accomplish something that happens to require a computer.

And which now requires much less computer power, proportionally speaking, or sometimes not even a computer-computer at all.

The fact nerds go to extraordinary lengths to not understand is that this is most humans. Nerds—certainly including nerds who spend a good chunk of their Friday evening writing a blog post about how nerds don’t get it—are a fractional minority. Dollar-wise we don’t matter in the arena Apple is operating in now.

Our wants are not their wants.

For myself, I’m very happy about the path Apple is taking. They are making it easier to do things that used to require nerd skills. Making it so that a person can have their phone or computer automatically backed up is a massive win for everybody.

Way back when I suffered as a Mac Genius in the early aughts, the most painful conversation you could possibly have with a customer involved data loss. I had people come in with a dead Mac and, after running diagnostics, had to tell them the drive was dead and their data was lost forever.

Yes, that includes the last year of pictures you had of your dad who just passed away. Those pictures are gone.

It truly sucked to not be able to do anything but say “sorry” to that.

(Yes, we recommended customers contact professional data restore companies.)

Because most people don’t back up their machines. Most normal people don’t even think about that. Most normal people don’t care about computers. Computers, phones and tablets are only there to help them accomplish a task they want to do. Computers are not interesting in and of themselves.

For people like me—and probably you, if you’ve read this far—computers in their various forms are interesting in and of themselves and you want to know as much as you can about them.

You and I, dear reader, are in the .01% of humanity.

Apple is optimizing its products to better serve the other 99.99% of humanity and to enable them to not have to worry about setting up a backup scheme to keep the pictures they took of their dad in the hospital safe from data rot.

It’s both good and smart. Us nerds can get our kicks other ways. Let’s help normal humans not lose their data and not get hacked, like Apple is doing.

If you look back on Apple from its founding, Apple has wanted to create a “bicycle for the mind,” not an enthusiast machine, not something that is an object of fascination in itself. Look at the very first Mac: A sealed, self-contained device you are supposed to use for other purposes, not to find interesting by itself. But the technology was too primitive to allow the device to become reality and the reality of computing at the time was too messy, but now we are at a point where Steve Jobs’s vision has a chance at becoming a reality—a device that lets people accomplish their visions without worrying about the machine.

Nerditry not needed.

All that being said, I wish Apple would stop the charade and either update the Mac Pro or kill the line. Having a more than three-year-old machine in the lineup and publicly not caring is not good optics, and is a tinder for the fires of nerd rage.

« Never retreat. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl

 »


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