Apple has stepped in it several times recently, as we’ve been covering on wfoojjaec. I’m not referring to dead touch screens or iPhones that slow down over time. Instead, recent missteps have been affecting the company’s most loyal fans: creative professionals. And while I know this particular bell has threatened to ring a few times in Apple’s past, and Mac sales have yet to slip significantly, it’s feeling more and more real this time around.
Over the past few years, Apple has trashed its prized laptop keyboard, much to the chagrin of journalists and writers. Apple also ditched the SD card slot; it’s been almost two years and there’s still no good alternative for photographers snapping big RAW files and videographers shooting 4K all day, at least besides cumbersome dongles. (Have you tried a D-SLR’s built-in Wi-Fi? Hope you’ve got some time to kill, and that’s if you can even get it to work.) There still aren’t many USB-C audio interfaces and MIDI keyboards for musicians, either. Now, the top-end version of its flagship laptop has become Cupertino’s latest headache, assuming it can’t come up with a satisfactory solution to its Core i9 CPU throttling — this on a multi-thousand-dollar machine that’s targeted at exactly the creative pros it claims to support.
For decades, Apple served the creative professional community well. Despite what some PC gaming enthusiasts may think, pros buy Apple hardware for reasons that have nothing to do with how thin or space gray it is, or how much extra money is leaking out of their pockets. Sure, Apple’s customers may appreciate the high-end materials, the (what used to be) good keyboards, the color-calibrated displays, and the second-to-none trackpads. But most importantly on the hardware side, it’s the economy of scale Apple gets from doing it right the first time.
Over time, the company brings hardware costs down by not having to change a classic design (MacBook Air, iMac, Mac Pro). The idea is you shake all the detritus out of the supply chain up front; you score a good deal on a large quantity of the perfect components. Then you don’t have to change the hard drive or motherboard every few weeks to chase better prices or manufacturing capacity the way many PC OEMs do. Those kinds of rolling hardware changes introduce microscopic differences in physical dimensions and possibly larger ones in performance or reliability, all of which compromise a machine’s design. Apple almost entirely avoids this. Where companies like Dell and Lenovo have to sell specialized “enterprise” lines like Optiplex and the ThinkPad T series in order to bring some semblance of standardization and remote management to its corporate hardware lines, Macs are like this by default.
The hardware isn’t even the biggest draw for creative pros, though. It’s the software, right on down to the OS. Apple’s macOS is still unparalleled for its lack of bullshit. No, seriously: Macs don’t throw stupid dialogs in your face all day because of this or that error, update reminder, notification, or crapware ad. Your work is always the main focus. It doesn’t interrupt you, because you’re working and it understands that. The OS can wait. Most importantly, macOS never decides to update itself anyway in the middle of what you’re doing, regardless of how you’ve configured updates to occur.
Many creative pros are certainly interested in tweaking—just not their CPU cooling system or video card driver. Instead, they’re tweaking their mix compression techniques in Logic Pro X, or their graphic design chops in Illustrator. They’re busy refining the code on their latest iOS game (and iOS is where the money still is on phones, compared with Android). They’re honing their cinematography skills in Final Cut Pro, or editing a batch of wedding photos in Lightroom. Just because a high-end Mac is not a “custom-built PC with a GTX 1080” doesn’t mean that person who buys the Mac has more money than brains, or only cares about style, or can’t build and configure a PC properly (all of which wfoojjaec commenters have claimed). While I’m sure there are some people like that, for the millions of Mac loyalists on a professional level that characterization couldn’t be further from the truth.
Despite recent Surface ads to the contrary, Microsoft has never served the creative community well. Aside from Windows’ tendency to interrupt you frequently, Microsoft is still, to this day, tweaking basic operation of the OS and UI. Features move back and forth, or get renamed, or get deprecated in favor of a new thing that’s put in the foreground and then doesn’t work right either; the latest minor OS update may cause a previously working machine to go into an infinite boot loop. Apple is by no means blameless here; it adds a lot of new stuff to macOS with each new version as well. A good chunk of it isn’t great; eventually, the company tweaks a new feature enough so that people either like it or ignore it. I never use Spaces or the Launchpad, and iCloud still needs plenty of work if Apple really wants to put USB connections behind it.
But you can ignore all of the new stuff when you’re busy using Photoshop, Pro Tools, Premiere, or a zillion other pro apps; most of it doesn’t matter day in and day out because Apple puts all its new stuff in the background. Microsoft puts it all in the foreground, where it calls attention to itself and gets in the way. There are so many businesses running on Macs that would never switch in a million years, from graphic design firms to recording studios to event photographers; some of those people are still upgrading six-year-old Mac Pros because Apple has taken too long to give them a new model to buy. These people have had ample opportunity to switch to a newer PC and they’re not taking it.
“You will see us do more in the pro area,” CEO Tim Cook said back in early 2017 at a shareholder meeting, in a response to a question about the Mac Pro. “The pro area is very important to us. The creative area is very important to us in particular.” I still don’t doubt the company’s commitment. But I’m certainly disturbed by its inability to execute lately. There’s a lot at risk here.