What the hell, Apple?

Above: In June 1997, Wired called on Apple’s fans to pray. In 2017, the company’s professional users won’t resort to prayer, they will simply switch.

BitDepth#1084 for March 13, 2017

In the midst of Apple’s darkest days, Wired magazine ran an only slightly tongue-in-cheek cover with the multicoloured company logo covered with a crown of thorns.

The company’s share price was below US$4, and the single bold headline word read, “Pray.”

It might be time to get down on bent knee again, this time to call not for divine intervention, but for spiritual guidance to get the company’s mojo with creative professionals back.

It’s no secret that Apple has largely abandoned the creative workforce that once comprised the backbone of its market strength.

A stunning number of modern digital tools were created first for the Macintosh before they made their way to the new PCs that IBM was making.

The Macintosh IIci was the first serious workstation for graphics professionals from Apple. It proved upgradeable beyond Apple’s own specifications and even accepted an early PowerPC chip. A simple beige box, for almost a decade it represented the power that the Mac was capable of.

These include the best version of Microsoft Word (v5.1, if you were wondering), Microsoft Excel, which eventually crushed the hot new number cruncher, Visicalc, Adobe’s Photoshop, which emerged first as a scanning host for the early Barneyscan, then everything related to desktop publishing, including Illustrator, Pagemaker, Freehand and a host of other products long since consigned to the dusty shelves of early computing history.

That, unfortunately, was then. This is now.

In the now, Apple is a phenomenally successful company and very little of that great fame and fortune comes from its traditional computing line. They are the company of the iPad and iPhone, but can those devices thrive at the same level bereft of a “home” computing platform that plays to their software driven strengths?

A personal note. I use Macs for my professional work. They have formed the core of my working existence for more than two decades now. I am not a fanboy. My phone runs Android. I use a tablet/laptop convertible that runs Windows 10. My websites run on Unix.

I use Macs because I am comfortable with its quirks and own a collection of micro-apps that perform singular, timesaving and irreplaceable tasks that significantly amplify my capacity to deliver my work.

Very few of these tools are created by Apple itself, they emerge from a large community of developers who profit by meeting user needs left unfulfilled by the Cupertino based company.

What they cannot do, because Apple doesn’t allow other manufacturers to create computers that run the MacOS, is build systems that compete with Apple’s offerings. And serious competition in that space is allowing the creator of the Macintosh to stagnate comfortably.

One might build a Hackintosh, an assembly of state-of-the-art PC components, then lobotomise Apple’s security measures for its OS, allowing it to run on unsanctioned equipment.

I’ve investigated exactly that. There are several websites offering software cracking tools, modified drivers and recommended parts for doing that if you want to, but really, it’s all so complicated and ultimately fragile that it’s just easier to switch to a PC and be done with it.

Increasingly, that’s exactly what professional creators are doing. Tired of waiting for a proper desktop workstation, they are ditching their Macs for PCs. Annoyed with the underwhelming specifications of the company’s latest round of upgraded portables, they are pushing aside MacBook Pros for a wide choice of powerful PC laptops, including Microsoft’s own shiny Surface. Apple has essentially abdicated the desktop workstation space.

For a while, soon after Apple had switched to Intel processors and the pace of hardware upgrades was dizzyingly fast, I would simply buy a new MacBook every year and sell off the old one for a satisfying return.

When Intel began to slow down its rate of chip iteration, I shifted to a four-year roll-over for my portable system (I use a heavily upgraded 2009 MacPro that outperforms all except top of the line professional Macs).

This is the year that I should be upgrading my MacBookPro, probably the most expensive single computer I’ve ever bought, and one that came with everything that Apple had to offer in December 2012.

I bought their overpriced 16GB RAM upgrade and i7 processor boost because it’s part of the logic board, and I coughed up for the startlingly expensive 750GB SSD option, because third party upgrades were still a year or more in the future.

I’ve been very happy with the system, which was two pounds lighter than the 2008 model it replaced and proved brisk and snappy.

On a recent visit to Boston, I picked up its logical replacement, a snazzy looking, thinner version of the system I was using. I fondled the TouchBar for a bit, then I looked up the specifications for the system, which were dated, to say the least.

I cannot understand this. Nor can any working creative professional I’ve met or read on the subject.

Trey Ratcliff, a popular photographer and collaborator on the Mac-only photo tool Aurora HDR, recently announced that he had switched to Windows , which basically means that making a decent chunk of change from the Mac platform wasn’t enough to keep him supporting 2010 hardware and equally uninteresting hardware “upgrades.”

The operating system wars are over and ultimately, nobody won. The focus is on software and once you’re working in an app, the underlying OS becomes far less of a consideration in day to day use.

If hardware and OS become completely irrelevant and app developers take Facebook’s cue and work harder at integration between complementary software, then to be competitive, Apple’s going to need more in its arsenal than the “thin and light” love letter it’s been offering for most of this decade.

It’s going to have to be muscular again, even if it must give up some of its winsome delicacy.