On the future of Apple’s Macintosh

“At one time, it as felt that personal computers, in the twilight of the PC era, would serve the job as pickup trucks. Regular people would rely on “sedans,” tablets, to perform most computing functions. At least that’s what Steve Jobs told us,” Gene Steinberg writes for The Tech Night Owl. “I won’t compare this to the American auto industry, where people have begun to choose trucks, SUVs and crossovers over sedans.”

“The PC may be nearing the end of its days, but it’s not coming as fast as some might expect,” Steinberg writes. “Although Apple continues to reaffirm its commitment to the Mac, some wonder if those words mean anything anymore. After all, 2016 passed without much in the way of upgrades until the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar came along.”

“The actual future of the Mac may have been revealed in the Touch Bar. Apple devised a setup that uses an ARM system-on-a-chip and a derivative of watchOS to run the Touch Bar in an otherwise Intel environment… It may be the harbinger of a future where twin or ‘Fusion’ processor systems may be used to pass off more and more functions to ARM,” Steinberg writes. “Right now the road beyond the Touch Bar is speculative, but I have little doubt that Apple can accomplish some fascinating things. It also represents a big investment in the future of the Mac, and a sure way to differentiate the platform even further from the Windows competition.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote earlier this month, Apple brass seem to have convinced themselves that the iPad is the PC/Mac replacement for 95% of personal computer users today and, by Jobs, they’re sticking to it regardless of flashing neon signs to the contrary – even as they inexplicably fail to update iPads for Christmas and in the face of ever-declining iPad sales. We’ll be very interested to see what Cook & Co.’s plans are for iPad and, of course, for the Mac in this coming year.

Here’s an idea: Apple could sell iPad Pros as they do now, and for those wanting a “Mac,” Apple could sell them the macOS-powered display-less keyboard/trackpad/cpu/RAM/SSD/battery base unit. Attach your iPad for the display and off you go, you Mac-headed truck driver! Plus, you get to use the iPad’s battery, too, extending battery life to provide a truly all-day battery for portable Mac users. Detach the display and you get your iOS-powered iPad back, same as always.

Too outside the box? We’d love to be able to take our 12-inch iPad Pro, mate it with this theoretical Mac base unit, and turn it into a portable Mac. Right now, we carry 12-inch iPad Pros and MacBooks in our backpacks. Guess what’s redundant? Right, the displays. We don’t need to carry two screens on the road. The iPad Pro’s screen would do just fine, thanks.

Buy the Mac base on its own (for those who already have 12-inch iPad Pros) or buy it as part of a package (get a new 12-inch iPad Pro at a nice discount when you buy it with the Mac base). Imagine if Apple had unveiled this headless MacBook that you use with your iPad at their iPad event this past fall. What would the narrative about Apple be like versus what it is today? With such a product, would Apple have missed its revenue and profit goals for the year, causing Tim Cook and other high-level Apple executives to have their compensation cut? How many more 12-inch iPad Pro sales would such a product have generated? Enough to return iPad to unit sales growth, we bet. And, how many more Macs would have been sold, too?

As for the idea of touch screen Macs:

To us longtime Apple watchers, Cupertino seems to be saying, “Multi-Touch on the screen only when trackpads are not part of the device.”MacDailyNews, November 19, 2008

Does it make more sense to be smearing your fingers around on your notebook’s screen or on a spacious trackpad (built-in or on your desk) that’s designed specifically and solely to be touched? Apple thinks things through much more than do other companies. The iPhone’s and iPad’s screens have to be touched; that’s all they has available. A MacBook’s screen doesn’t not have to be touched in order to offer Multi-Touch. There is a better way: Apple’s way. And, no Gorilla Arm, either.

The only computers using Multi-Touch properly, using device-appropriate Multi-Touch input areas are Macintosh personal computers from Apple that run OS X (and Linux and can even slum it with Windows, if need be) and iOS even more personal computers (EMPCs), namely: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and iPad mini.

Note that none of this bars a “MacPad” from production. Any iOS-based iPad would become a high quality display (possibly still “touchable,” but likely not due to the reasoning stated above) when docked into a “MacBook” (running OS X, and providing keyboard, trackpad, processor, etcetera). Such a convertible device would negate having to carry both an iPad (car) and a MacBook (truck) around. They’d be one thing, but able to be separated into two, each providing the best capabilities of their respective form factors.MacDailyNews, May 4, 2013

Think code convergence (more so than today) with UI modifications per device. A unified underlying codebase for Intel, Apple A-series, and, in Apple’s labs, likely other chips, too (just in case). This would allow for a single App Store for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users that features a mix of apps: Some that are touch-only, some that are Mac-only, and some that are universal (can run on both traditional notebooks and desktops as well as on multi-touch computers like iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and – pretty please, Apple – Apple TV). Don’t be surprised to see Apple A-series-powered Macs, either.MacDailyNews Take, January 9, 2014

Anyone in the market for a 12.9-inch device that’s an OS X-powered MacBook when docked with its keyboard base and an iOS-powered iPad when undocked? — MacDailyNews, October 7, 2014

Illustration from Apple's hybrid Mac-iPad patent application
Illustration from Apple’s hybrid Mac-iPad patent application

25 Comments

  1. I still don’t understand why apple doesn’t purchase a x86 license and make its own x86 chips…. they have the talent that already makes amazing arm processors. Why not x86 as well?

      1. I basically agree with you. I don’t believe they give a rat’s ass about the Mac. It’s last century’s technology as far as Apple is concerned. I believe they intend to concentrate on the MacBook Pro for a while, but the iPad is where they see the future.

        Obviously it’s all conjecture but…

        I beleave they see themselves as owning the entire business as Steve dreamed of. From Conventional computer (MacBook / MacBook Pro) to iOS Mobile to iOS wearable to iOS to services to content creation and back.

        They see the MacBook Pro as the new so called Pro machine. The Mac and iOS devices are information appliances, not conventional desktop computers, designed to be sealed, never opened by consumers.

        So called Pros need not apply. Go to Windows.

      2. The cheapest ready-to-go Mac is $999 (13″ MacBook Air), and it is an antique in computer terms. The Mac Mini is the cheapest overall at $499, but you need monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. It is also an antique. Apple hasn’t updated them in so long, it’s an embarrassment. If you get a used or refurb unit, you’re just that much closer to end of support.

        By contrast, iPads and iPhones cost a couple hundred dollars down max and a Jackson a month with your cellular carrier financing. New models come out every year or two tops so last year’s design is depreciated in price. If you’re really cheap, refurbished units and used stuff are on eBay and practically everywhere else.

        So availability and financing of iOS devices makes it the better seller. Whoopie. That doesn’t make iOS the better value for people who make their living creating stuff on full fledged Macs. Apple would be wise to remember that.

        1. According to Apple’s 4Q statement, the average selling price of the iPhone bumped up to $695 driven by strong demand for plus sized models (and by Apple’s sheer greedy pricing for flash memory).

          Your point is true though. People think they are getting a good value with iOS stuff because out of pocket expense is cheap and recent models are available. As Apple lets the Mac models rot on the vine without update or price adjustment, people know they are getting a bad deal. Shame on Apple!!!!!

      1. I’m not sure if you’re slamming the Surface or not? If you are, you would be surprised how fast the Surface is being picked up by high schools and colleges as a replacement for the MB’s. Apple used to have the education market, but not any longer. Between the Surface for high schools and colleges and HP running hot deals on their laptops ($200-300 in most cases) college kids have finally kicked the Apple habit. I see at some point the the iPad will be long gone in grade schools and high schools losing to Samsung’s products.

        1. The reason schools have been forced to suffer with Windows machines is because Apple is too lazy to offer affordable kid-friendly MacBooks.

          Touchscreens are not the answer. They just happen to be what Microsoft is pushing at serious discounts to schools. iPads have been tried and they are just not versatile enough for education. Can you imagine typing a term paper on an iPad? No way. And no magnetically attached keyboard lasts more than a year or two of kid abuse.

  2. Apple will eliminate the Mac to further streamline it.

    They now realize that by eliminating the Mac, they will have fixed the problem that made them get rid of the floppy drive and the CD/DVD drive and the old USB port and that troublesome ethernet connection and the Magsafe connector.

    Apple is going total minimal with the Mac.

    Hope not.

  3. I have available credit on the Apple card just waiting for a product to wow me. Hasn’t happened in a couple of years except for the AirPods. Let’s see if they have a rabbit in the hat in 2017.

  4. As one who has been using Apple since 1979, I have seen great and poor choices as to the “box” that is offered by Apple, from the Newton to the iPad, from the Apple II to the Macbook. I for one do not see an advantage for anyone who use a Mac to be ABLE to depend on the iOS to be anywhere near to magnificent that the OS X system can offer. If Apple goes entirely to IOS, you can count me out for the first time in nearly 45 years.

  5. The Touch Bar seems more like a proof-of-concept/Beta product right now. I don’t see this current gen evolving into something much more useful with new functionality. Once it gets updated with haptic feedback and perhaps a larger touch surface we may be getting somewhere. I don’t see why Apple can’t build more functionality right into the trackpad, even simple things like brightness and volume adjustment with specific motions. Reaching away from the trackpad/keyboard, even if it is a touchscreen instead of buttons, doesn’t seem like a step forward.

  6. Dual chip Macs, dual OS, and convertible touchscreen Surface hardware all sound like claptrap that the vast majority Mac user is not asking for. Even the touch bar is a gimmick to many/most users. A lot of us are still waiting for Apple to demonstrate that they care about the long term viability of the Mac with a full range of user-configrable hardware and best in class power. The 2016 MacBook Pro did little to impress us. It represents Apple’s continued confusion of what Pro users actually do.

  7. The A11 and A11X, in particular, will mark the transition of Macs from Intel CPUs to Apple’s custom A-series SoCs which have already proven themselves in iOS devices. That does not mean that the MacOS will disappear…it will simply run on ARM as iOS currently does. And iOS apps will, in turn, be able to run on Macs.

    Apple’s A-series SoCs already provide strong performance pushing a lot of pixels on the iPad Pro, and each generation of A-series SoCs has significantly raised the performance bar. As a result, the A11X is expected to be quite powerful and Apple will likely leverage multiple chips in parallel on higher end machines. Apple needs hundreds of millions of A-series SoCs every year for iOS devices – primarily the iPhone – so the economy of scale will be tremendous in support of the Mac. And the A-series SoCs are power-efficient which means that it may be possible to construct a Mac Pro with dozens of A-series SoCs working in parallel. The MacOS, being a FreeBSD-based UNIX OS, should be able to efficiently utilize lots of processors. The only question is if The A-series architecture is designed to communicate with other SoCs as part of a parallel array.

    The pace of Intel CPU advancement began slowing down substantially in the mid- to late-2000s. A switch to A-series SOCs could once again provide Apple with a serious competitive edge right when Windos PCs are stagnating. It is getting difficult t wait for that transition, though.

  8. Remember Minority Report and we all will desire to have that system. Why have only one for factor for everybody?

    100% of dedicated iPad users are those who need no workstation power. Some workstation users could include iPads and laptops on their workflow. But there is virtually no real workstation user migrating to an iPad only solution. So these two markets remain separated today.

    There has to be another breakthrough in technology to have the equivalent of a full desktop tower inside a laptop or a tablet. In theory it will never happen because when one side gets small enough the other side will always have more room to include more powerful components.

    So the point is, when a mobile personal computer system will be powerful enough to satisfy 99% of user needs at home or at the office now and in the future, including demanding industrial design, engineering, science and top content creation.

  9. My ideal future of the Mac:

    MacBook Air: dead or education only, given away at cost

    MacBook in 12″ and 13″ sizes (take the Pro label off the 2016 non touchpad MBP!)

    MacBook Pro in 13, 15, and 17″ sizes. Redesign asap to use the latest Intel chips.

    Mac Mini – update, change back to 2-drive design

    Mac Desktop — rebrand and update the current Mac Pro cylinder with Core processors, supporting user replaceable drives, RAM, and GPUs.

    Mac Pro — new workstation with 4 internal drive bays and PCI card slots

    All New Apple displays in 24, 27, and 32″ sizes

    All New Airport with latest tech

    All New Time Capsule easy-to-manage local NAS

    No touchscreens or convertibles at all.

  10. I’m giving Apple until WWDC this year to convince me I should continue with the Mac platform that I’ve been loyal to for more than 30 years. One the other hand, I am still using a 6-year old 27″ IMac as my primary desktop. It’s been aided by the addition of a big SSD and 32GB of RAM. It’s amazingly still quite effective for 90% of my needs. There is something to be said for that. Okay, maybe I’ll wait until this machine dies before deciding on another Mac replacement. PS- got my admin a new 21″ i5 iMac. It’s beautiful to look at, but what a slowpoke.

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