The Mac is the Apple ][ of our times, which is to say, it's dead

6 October 2016, 13:18

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The Apple ][ was, of course, Apple’s first big success. However, it became clear even before the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 that the Apple ][ was dead, even if its death was dramatically protracted – Apple would go on to launch the Apple ][ GS, for example, which competed against the Macintosh and gave hope to hard-core fans.

But everybody knew in their hearts that the Mac was the future, even if millions did argue otherwise.

I’d like to suggest the Mac lineup as we know it today is the Apple ][ of our times. It’s already dead, and has been for several years. Apple might invest in it heavily even today but its pulsating heart has only a finite number of beats left.

Taking the place of the early Macintosh in our modern day scenario is iOS. That’s all Apple really cares about right now.

You want evidence, you say?

  • Apple partnered with IBM recently. They’re flogging iOS, not macOS. It’s about mobile and nothing else. (Edit: Somebody’s pointed out that IBM have invested heavily in Macs for their own desktops but to the best of my knowledge IBM are not promoting the Mac desktop in the same way they’re promoting iOS and iPad; that’s a world of difference.)
  • iOS is maturing into a desktop-class OS with the iPad Pro (note my choice of language there – desktop-class, not necessarily desktop-style or desktop clone). It’s nowhere near there yet but unless you’re myopic you can’t fail to spot the clear trajectory. Notably, this is where Apple’s hottest software engineers are working.
  • Most but not all key new features added to macOS/OS X in recent years have been there to prop-up iOS devices/mobile. Continuity. Copy and paste between mobile/desktop. Apple Pay in desktop Safari. Desktop/Docs in iCloud. Messages “improvements” (a poor shadow of the same app within iOS). What’s happened to introducing features like Spotlight, or Smart Search, or Folder Actions? Things that actually HELP desktop users – and that don’t require partnering to a mobile device?
  • The new features added to macOS this time around are incompetent and unfinished. Nearly everybody agrees. The new PDFKit is driving people crazy, with people saying it was seemingly created by an intern. Some of the GUI design is straight from Windows 98 (the new file management system to free-up space). Many features are undocumented and lead to unexpected outcomes (iCloud Docs/Desktop integration). Siri on Mac is just a single window with limited system integration in terms of carrying out tasks other than searching (ask it some questions and it answers with iPhone answers – say “Silence” to it and see what happens).
  • Apple is allegedly having trouble getting the best engineers because its corporate culture is considered toxic. Those employees with the best skills and talents want to work on mobile, because that’s what’s hot. Aside from a group of old hands who enjoy it, I imagine there’s a real trouble getting anybody with real talent to work on macOS, and that’s what it really really needs right now. And it shows clearly.
  • No new Macs! It’s actually humorous to look at the “buy/don’t buy” list. 3-4 years since updates! OK, so this is set to change over the coming weeks but Apple’s tardiness until this point is like having somebody scream into your ear from an inch away. Update 17Nov2016: Let’s just say the new MacBook Pros haven’t gone down terribly well within a large chunk of the Apple community.
  • Apple’s working hard on new ARM chips that are smashing people’s expectations. But where’s the investment in x86? Oh, there isn’t any. Yes, x86 has many issues but there’s an arbitrary discrimination happening here. Apple could invest in x86 chip design. They always could’ve done so, since the first Intel Macs. Was using Intel’s chips ultimately a stopgap measure until ARM matured? Are there abandoned blueprints for an Apple x86 chip somewhere in Apple’s labs?
  • Update 17Nov2016: Apple has not only fired the legendary Sal Soghoian, formerly one of the biggest advocates for OS X/macOS automation within Apple, but also removed his position. Many people in the Apple community are now waking up to the facts raised above. Says John Gruber of Daring Fireball: “This is shitty news. I find this to be a profoundly worrisome turn of events for the future of the Mac.” Says renown developer Michael Tsai: “Is this another sign of Apple neglecting pros? At best, the company has lost a key advocate for users and link to the Mac community.”

The future is this: macOS will still have a place, but it’ll probably be as a server release largely to prop-up iOS devices (that is, enterprise provisioning for iOS devices), or for high-end video/photo editing on the desktop, which Apple will support via occasional Mac Pro releases (or maybe some future remix of the Mac mini) as it always has. macOS will be like Windows 2000/NT – capable, and reliable, but no frills. To be honest, I’d like this better than the recent releases of macOS/OS X, which have been a little tone deaf to the needs of actual users, and have come with a feeling that new features are bolted-on.

If there’s to be a modern day Apple ][ GS-like moment, it may already have passed with the “trashcan” Mac Pro – a promising effort that’s fallen flat and left a lot of people very bitter.

You might say to me that sales of Apple’s Mac range have increased in recent years, and that Apple’s bucking the downward trend of the entire PC industry. Much the same kind of arguments could’ve been made about the Apple ][ back in the day. They mean nothing, because the here-and-now means little in the world of computing.

So long Mac. You were beautiful. Now it’s time to see how Apple overcomes some monstrous usability and user-interface design issues with iOS and, particularly, the iPad Pro. If anybody can, Apple can.

Image of Apple ][ by Marcin Wichary (cropped slightly from original), cc-by-2.0

Postscript update 17Nov2016: As the Apple ][ was dying Apple had the chutzpah to create the “Apple II Forever!“ marketing campaign, even commissioning a rock tune for the purpose. I’m waiting for Tim Cook to appear on stage and announce “Mac Forever!” (maybe he can get U2 to do a tune?) His and the senior Apple management team’s recent comments have certainly had a similar ring to them.

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Good article and I agree, the Mac is toast. It’s a $20+ billion a year business that Apple can’t be bothered to maintain because they spend all of their time on the iPhone, yet the iPhone 7 is the most uninspired iPhone ever to be released. Hmm, what’s really cooking over at Apple? Something other than what we see. Oh boy, a car? Why? Because everyone is building a car? Argh… Maybe they should spin the Mac off as a different company? If only, then maybe it’d have a longer lifespan as an actual computer.

>>>> “The future is this: macOS will still have a place, but it’ll probably be as a server release largely to prop-up iOS devices (enterprise provisioning), or for high-end video/photo editing on the desktop, which Apple will support like it always has. macOS will be like 2000/NT – capable, but no frills.”

I agree and disagree with this. The Mac will stick around for a while as a place to prop up iOS devices and to develop for iOS devices, yes but Apple is clearly going to kill off the Mac and Mac OS as we know it. Eventually the Mac will likely run a super locked down OS more similar to iOS than Mac OS that we know today. Maybe even iOS. The brand is too well known to totally kill off I think (hope?), so I could actually see them truly merging it with the iPad at some point. Knowing Apple today, they’ll call it “macPad Pro” or “macBook Plus” or something equally cringeworthy. I would also suggest that Apple long ago abandoned the “high end video/photo editing” user groups, most of which still use the ancient cheesegrater Mac Pro because all semi-modern Apple hardware is ill equipped for any pro functionality. Fun fact: many, MANY, Apple employees in Cupertino still use the cheesegrater Mac Pro! What’s that tell you? When the employees can’t be dogfooded into using the current less powerful products… there’s trouble in paradise!

If the future is the iPad Pro and iOS, I am not looking forward to it. iOS on the iPad Pro is just as half-baked as macOS Sierra is on a Mac. The software for iPad is poorly done. Just open Control Center on iPad Pro with iOS 10, LOL! The iPad line is also struggling and sales have been declining because, frankly, the iPad is not a computer, it is not a productive device, it’s a compromised consumer device for browsing the web and slowly writing 100 word emails, it’s just a bigger iPhone. No amount of attaching “Pro” to the name is going to make the iPad a Pro device until it gets an advanced OS that Apple actually invests time into, a real ergonomic precision tracking device like a cursor and shock a mouse or trackpad, real multitasking, a real keyboard, a Terminal for actual pro users and developers, and larger screens. Maybe that will be what the Mac becomes, that’s my best guess anyway. The Mac and the iPad are two product lines Apple doesn’t seem to know what to do with, after all.

The good news is that Windows based PC hardware is getting pretty good, the bad news is it runs Windows. But I know many pro users who are getting Thinkpads and running Windows 10, Linux, or even Hackintosh. What’s the alternative? Waiting for the refreshed MacBook “Pro” which is set to become even more consumer grade? A “Pro” device that has no USB, no Thunderbolt, or HDMI ports? No more MagSafe, which has saved my own laptop from damage on multiple occasions? Is anyone excited to have four USB-C dongles on their desk just to use accessories? Give me a break.

Yea, I’m frustrated with Apple and their total and complete disregard for the best computing platform in existence. I think all longtime Mac users are. The truth is they have become bad caretakers of the brand at this point.

— Annoyed Mac Fan · Oct 6, 01:51 PM · #

Come along with us on the dance of false equivelency. Yay!

Apple’s OSes have the same foundational structure derived from Next/OpenStep and the original Mac and AppleII were completely different animals.

From what I have seen the tiny minority of MacMacs that have been really throwing a fit lately are the kind of user that hold Macs back in the past and hold Linux back today.

Yeah, its annoying that they haven’t been updating enough and not putting enough graphics power into their systems but my 2012 iMac still works great, the latest OS update actually made my computer feel snappier and I remember my decade and a half of pain and frustration using PCs.

I have been following the Mac since before the days of MacAddict magazine and have lost count of how many times Chicken Littles have gone off yet today Apple is doing great and I see Macs everywhere. I remember when Apple almost went bankrupt well and the company has endured a lot more with far less.

— BodhiBong · Oct 6, 05:27 PM · #

Please keep comments and feedback here on topic, and refrain from abuse.

In other words, try to explain why you disagree, providing evidence if you can, rather than just getting shouty.

Keir Thomas · Oct 7, 03:38 AM · #

Apple design an x86 chip? No, they cannot.

Remember that Intel and AMD have cross-licensing patent deals. That’s why Intel builds AMD64 chips and AMD builds x86 compatible chips.

No one else has been able to get a decent licensing agreement out of Chipzilla. For example Nvidia really, really wanted to build their own x86 compatible CPU/GPU fusion chips, but they can’t get a decent deal. So they went with ARM.

— Zan Lynx · Oct 7, 03:00 PM · #

Zan, why don’t you think Apple – one of the biggest companies in the world, and the biggest tech company – couldn’t arrange a cross-licensing deal with Intel?

Also, “no one else has been able to get a decent licensing agreement” is outright wrong. Here’s a quick copy and paste from Wikipedia:



In the past:

Transmeta (discontinued its x86 line)
Rise Technology (acquired by SiS, that sold its x86 (embedded) line to DM&P)
IDT (Centaur Technology x86 division acquired by VIA)
Cyrix (acquired by National Semiconductor)
National Semiconductor (sold the x86 PC designs to VIA and later the x86 embedded designs to AMD)
NexGen (acquired by AMD)
Chips and Technologies (acquired by Intel)
IBM (discontinued its own x86 line)
UMC (discontinued its x86 line)
NEC (discontinued its x86 line)
x86-processors for embedded designs only[edit]
DM&P Electronics (continues SiS’ Vortex86 line)
ZF Micro (ZFx86 – Cx486DX SoC)
Zet GPL open source FPGA implementation targeting the Xilinx ML403 and Altera DE11
RDC Semiconductors (R8610 and R8620)
Nvidia (M6117C – 386SX – discontinued)
ALi (x86 products went to Nvidia through the ULi sale)
SiS (sold its x86 line to DM&P)

Keir Thomas · Oct 8, 03:57 AM · #

A slick brochure for the Apple ][ started with the headline, “Simplicity Is the Ultimate Sophistication.” Clarity and user interface were still Apple’s hallmark in the early Mac days. But where exactly is the clarity and superior user experience in today’s Mac versus Windows? So, yes, the Mac has been allowed to languish.

But you near the end of your long argument that iOS will supplant Mac with this:

“… monstrous usability and user-interface design issues with iOS …”

YES, absolutely correct!!!!! Jumping ship from one mess to another is not a path to saving Apple.

— Kevin Killion · Oct 8, 07:54 AM · #

iOS is what’s dead. It’s become a bloated monstrosity that’s increasingly riddled with security holes. (Which Apple is horribly irresponsible about reporting).

The iPad Pro was a dog. It’s sales are terrible.

OSX is Apple’s most underrated asset.

They need to start making MacBook Pro’s every year, and making them as thin as the iPad Pro.

— Just no · Oct 11, 06:51 PM · #

“Apple partnered with IBM recently. They’re flogging iOS, not macOS. It’s about mobile and nothing else.”

Not true.

IBM now has 130,000 Mac and iOS devices deployed and is adding an additional 1,900 Macs each week, using Apple’s Device Enrolment Program to facilitate the process.”

“Just 5 percent of IBM’s Mac using employees need to call the help desk; In contrast an astonishing 40 percent of PC using staff call the help desk.”

not bad for a platform that’s dead.

— Shameer Mulji · Oct 12, 01:58 PM · #

IBM isn’t partnering to sell the Mac with Apple. They’re just using them in a small percentage of their offices.

IBM is huge. Really huge. Unimaginably huge. 130,000 Macs is nothing to them.

Keir Thomas · Oct 13, 01:45 AM · #

Update! IBM at the JAMF Nation User Conference said it expects that 100,000 of its 600,000 laptops will be Macs by the end of the year. They expect that number to grow (currently growing at about 1300 Macs a week). 130,000 Macs is 22% of their laptop fleet, pretty far from “nothing to them.”

— gus · Oct 20, 10:34 AM · #

An article that blows my mind. It’s going to take a while to digest and watch, thus saved it to Pocket for future re-read, maybe in five years, lol. I remember Steve Jobs defined Macs as digital hubs. Hard to imagine that Apple is shifting focus to mobile.

JP · Oct 24, 04:27 PM · #

Interesting article. The only problem with the comparison is that Mac is essentially iOS or a more complex version of it (both OS X), whereas the Apple II was orphaned by the Mac’s gui and was self-evidently about the past. When the first iPhone came out, it seemed like something from the future. It was science fiction come true. But iOS these days is a good phone OS, but it too is old. Sure, it’s steadily improved, but a Mac replacement it is not. In terms of efficiency and productivity a split-screen tablet isn’t even close. The decline in the tablet sales already tells you people are hanging onto their iPads because there’s nothing compelling enough in the software or hardware to warrant an upgrade. The lack of true innovation on the Mac has frustrated users as it is prevented from going beyond its tablets (Apple Pages being a great example).

I have another idea: Apple doesn’t know how this is going to land. It’s making its own great chips, but it has a mobile OS that’s limited and not great for all use cases. Basically, they haven’t cracked it. Out of the two, the Mac is best placed to be adapted, tinkered or re-skinned. iOS is locked to its user interface. The pencil at least tells you what it has to offer isn’t enough. Despite their best efforts, it offers an area for growth and has always been the anchor for technical innovation. Really, they should go back to the user experience and start getting all these parts of the OS working together. Personally I’d like a finder that slides open from the side so I could drag and drop into full screen apps.

— PK · Oct 25, 06:21 PM · #

Well My MacBookPro is turning into a hacked nightmare due to this sick infected ruby~command! home-brew and whatever. I was duped because I’m not a Dev like most on here. But I trusted them. Hackers are nothing but children throwing a temper tantrum. Any help before all my and my families personal info is splattered about the web, thus coming off my my dads passing in 2016 so Yay I’m in a real good damn mood, would be appreciated.

ColeMac · Oct 26, 09:27 PM · #

My personal opinion is that macOS will only stay around long enough until Apple ports Xcode and all of the dependencies for iOS development to iOS itself — at this point, it doesn’t look like it’ll be long until this happens.

Maybe Xcode will just be another app on iOS. Who knows.

— greatface10101 · Jan 21, 05:42 AM · #