Last week on my Mac: It all rests on October now

Apple’s iPhone and Watch product launches last week were long enough as it was, and clearly aimed at a different audience. You would have thought, though, that someone might have mentioned the release date for macOS Sierra, as it was less than two weeks away. As it was, that news was casually broken in its website update afterwards.

The future of the Mac now rests on the next Apple product launches, probably sometime around 5 October. That may sound melodramatic, but it has really become that bad.

The current Mac mini has been shipping since October 2014, iMacs since October 2015, MacBook Air since March 2015, MacBook Pro since March and May 2015, and Mac Pro since December 2013. The only model of Mac which is even vaguely current is now the MacBook, which has been shipping since April 2016. Although existing models are still very pleasant to use, they have fallen far behind their competition. Apple is in danger of dropping not just one ball, but the whole basketful.

It is all very well proclaiming that iPad Pro models (the larger of which is now in need of a major refresh too) make computers obsolete, but we all know that they don’t. They have their uses, but if you’re a motion graphics pro, a heavy user of Adobe CC apps, a FileMaker Pro fan, an iBook developer, someone who has graduated from Swift Playgrounds to app development, or indeed almost every other Mac user, you need a Mac.

As one of the largest corporate users of Macs, so does Apple. The software engineers who work on Apple products, from the Watch to Sierra, do so using Apple’s Mac-only development environment, Xcode. Its graphic designers who put together all the visual makins that we see on our iPhones, iPads, and Macs do so using Macs. Those who create and maintain its app and content stores, and website, do so using Macs.

Macs are the core of the iCloud system. It’s fine and dandy sharing content across your iPhone and iPad, but without the Mac(s) to keep your master documents, you may as well buy Android devices – well, almost, when they have stopped spontaneously exploding, perhaps. I wouldn’t dream of trying to keep my many thousands of ‘current’ email messages and their sometime huge enclosures on my iPad, nor my accounts, or even the complete archive of this blog, nearly 1800 pages and thousands of images for it.

After several years of faltering attempts to make their own all-in-one desktops, ultra-thin laptops, and small modular computers, PC manufacturers are now making some very attractive models. HP’s recent modular competitor to the Mac mini, its Elite Slice, steals a march on Apple’s design, which has changed little over the last eleven years. And they are offering the latest chipsets and graphics cards too. Admittedly you would then become a slave to Windows 10, but for many that is quickly become an acceptable cost.

The Mac Pro, which should have been Apple’s flagship, looks great, but has a fraction of the functionality and flexibility of an eight year-old Mac Pro, with its internal drive and expansion slots. The dream that Thunderbolt could make the future externally modular has, sadly, failed. The reality is that you could hook up almost every different type of Thunderbolt device to a single new Mac Pro and still have room on the bus for more.

Many former Mac Pro users – myself included – downsized to iMacs, and are going to take some persuading to pay any more for their next desktop system. The current Mac Pro is utterly unpersuasive.

The good news for those who still have eight year-old Mac Pros in good shape is that some at least can run Sierra. Thanks to macOS Sierra Patcher Tool, but no thanks to Apple.

It was exciting to see bold developments in the iPhone and Watch, Apple having clearly invested heavily in their custom chipsets, the dual cameras of the iPhone 7 Plus, even the engineering fluff of the water-expelling speaker in the Watch 2. Apple needs to demonstrate the same commitment and investment in its new range of Macs before its core users migrate in droves.