Some weeks during this year have left me reeling; with the US Presidential Election still to complete, I’m sure that last week will not be the last in which I feel punch-drunk most of the time.
It started with great expectations: an Apple event featuring Macs, at last. Here was Apple’s opportunity to show a succession of new hardware products, replacing or updating every model in its current line-up.
This was marred by Microsoft’s continuing campaign to defy human anatomy with touchscreens, which is in danger of succeeding because too few of the press consider human factors or ergonomics to be of any importance. So instead of reacting with insight and pointing out the flaws in the Microsoft Surface Studio, most reactions were near-orgasmic. We’ll see how many pro users are still as enthusiastic about those very expensive new toys in a year or two.
More worrying then was the possibility that Apple might have lost all its human factors experts and its good sense, and was about to release its own touchscreen computers. I have been concerned enough about the larger iPad Pro, which must have caused some fraught arguments within Apple, but the possibility that a MacBook Pro or iMac might come with a touchscreen caused a nagging anxiety.
Then came the Apple event itself, and Apple’s continuing failure to deliver modern chipsets in most of its Macs. When it was clear that all we were going to be offered was the much-needed replacement for the ageing MacBook Pro, I felt personally let down. Knowing so many Mac users who really needed a modern desktop system, to see Apple glibly continuing to offer its 2-year-old mini, 1-year-old iMac, and 3-year-old Mac Pro was deeply worrying. Could anyone seriously advise a prospective purchaser that they remain a wise buy?
At first, it looked like a signal that Apple is pulling out of the desktop computer market altogether. Would we see Apple’s software engineering tools – still essential for iOS and other development – ported to Windows? That made me appreciate that my perception could be nothing compared to that of Apple’s own engineers. Imagine trying to develop macOS and iOS software on any of the current range of desktop Macs. Surely such internal pressure must be driving Apple to offering something more suitable.
I’m still not sure what Apple intends to do about this, and I wish that, just for once, Tim Cook would be a little explicit about where Mac hardware is going. However positive the Touch Bar might be, however confident I am that it is heading in a much better if not revolutionary direction, this is the one time that Apple needs to be a little open.
For a friend, with a four-year-old iMac, who desperately needs something better very soon: should they hang on, or give up and go Windows? For businesses, who have seen entry-priced models of the MacBook Air snatched away from them, should they give up and go Windows? For a serious home user who simply cannot afford to buy the only 2016 model of Mac (the new MacBook Pro), should they give up and go Windows?
Apple has won over an awful lot of PC users over the last few years. Many of them may now be regretting making that change.
So Apple has left all of us in a lot of uncertainty. The sort of uncertainty that its event should surely have dispelled. Instead of coming away thinking how exciting the Mac’s future is, most people that I know are reliving the experience of the morning of 24 June 2016, when what they thought was going to be a steady, stable future was swept from under them, and the UK voted to leave the EU.
And that, in the UK, was the twist of the knife: Apple finally bowed to the inevitable and adjusted its prices to reflect the collapsed pound sterling. Not only was Apple only going to offer us one of the several new Macs that we needed, but after the price adjustments hardly anyone in the UK can afford to buy Apple any more.
It was like being propelled suddenly back to 1990, when my special developer-discount Mac IIfx cost me around £6000. With a top-spec new MacBook Pro now running at £4049 – and still with only 16 GB of memory – I wonder how many will be sold in the UK this side of Christmas.
As I was slowly absorbing all of this, and trying to work out what Apple is up to, my still-top-of-the-range year-old iMac had a hissy fit, and the Console app is still so impotent that I had to use my own home-grown AppleScript hack to try to discover what went wrong. So much for Sierra as a working platform.