There’s little question that Apple has a broad product base. The maker of all things “i” manufactures computers of all shapes and sizes, smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, smart watches, portable media players, and even wireless routers. With the breadth of products developed in Cupertino, is it possible that Apple has overstretched itself? The frustration of many professional consumers in recent years certainly seems to point to Cupertino being very slow to update some of its products, especially desktop computers.
Apparently Rapid Innovation in Smartphones
Cupertino is admittedly quick to update and refresh the iPhone. A new Apple-flavored smartphone is released roughly every year, even if it’s just a minor upgrade over the previous generation. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing a new iPhone every September, but reports have hinted that the next generation of Apple’s smartphone might not be launched until later in 2017.
The Upgrade Cycle of Apple's Tablets Isn’t Bad
Apple’s iPad doesn’t get ignored, either. Cupertino has established a pattern of releasing at least one refreshed or new model of the tablet every year. Occasionally, we even see two new tablets in the same year. For example, in 2015, the tech giant released a refreshed iPad Mini as well as the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The lineup now includes the iPad Mini, iPad Air 2, as well as two sizes of the iPad Pro, and a new iPad that isn’t much to write home about.
Some Products Languish in Abandonment, Though
Other Apple offerings haven’t fared so well in recent years. The iPod Touch, for example, has not been updated since July 2015. As for the iPod Nano, the last time that device was seriously updated was five years ago. Since September 2012, all Cupertino has done is add new color options to the iPod Nano lineup. The iPod Shuffle is even worse off, not seeing any updates (other than new colors) since September 2010.
What About Cupertino’s Desktop Computers?
This category is where Cupertino is seriously missing golden opportunities. Granted, Apple is pretty good at updating its laptops, but the company’s meat and potatoes has rested in the wallets of those who use professional-desktop computers for years, and it’s seemingly ignored that market for nearly half a decade. From 1994 when the first Power Macintosh was introduced until 2006, new models of Cupertino’s professional-level desktop computers were released every year. After that, there were new Mac Pro models almost every year until 2013.
Since then, Cupertino ignored the Mac Pro until April 2017. The radically redesigned professional Mac was abandoned for four years, and the latest update (if you can call it that) to the powerful desktop is absolutely, positively underwhelming. The CPU used in the 2013 Mac Pro desktop computers, Intel’s Xeon-class Ivy Bridge E processor, remains unchanged except for the availability of an eight-core processor instead of the previous maximum of six cores. The graphics card has seen a minor update. There aren’t any other major updates to the computer. That “next-generation” Mac Pro won’t even ship in 2017, according to Apple.
On the other side of the desktop spectrum is the Mac Mini. The last time those desktop computers saw an upgrade was in 2014. Since then, nothing. There wasn’t even a hint that Apple still cared about the Mac Mini until April 4, 2017, when the upcoming updates to the Mac Pro and the professional-level iMac were unveiled to a handful of tech journalists. Near the end of the presentation, according to Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, John Paczkowski of BuzzFeed asked about the Mac Mini, and Phil Schiller acknowledged the small form-factor computer as “an important product in our lineup.” That’s it.
No New Computers, but No Way to Upgrade Them
This leads me to what really gets me steamed these days. Apple keeps building desktop computers and laptops that are more and more difficult to upgrade. I can’t think of a single current-generation Macbook or Macbook Pro that is user-upgradeable, and only on the 27-inch iMac can you increase the system memory. You can upgrade the storage drive on other models of iMac, but that’s it. As for the 2014 Mac Mini, it suffers the same fate as the 21-inch iMac–you can upgrade your hard drive, but not the memory.
One of my colleagues told me that Apple’s idea of a user upgrading their computer was to buy a new one. That’s a poor philosophy to take, and even if it were reasonable–how can you buy a “new” computer when the models are consistently ignored for years?
Falling Behind the Windows Competition
Let’s face it, Cupertino is lagging well behind its Windows-based competitors when it comes to releasing new desktop computers. Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, et al. release updated models every year, sometimes multiple times in a year. Meanwhile, back at the Apple orchard, we’re stuck with desktop computers that are two to three generations of chipsets behind. Granted, we don’t see much of a slowdown in most cases. Heck, I’m running macOS Sierra 10.12.4 on a mid–2010 Mac Mini and, other than the lack of Night Shift support, I’m able to take advantage of all of the most modern features.
Still, a refreshed Mac Pro that doesn’t integrate USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 support? It’s totally unacceptable. If Cupertino wants to convince us that it still cares about the computing market, especially its professional-level desktop users, the next Mac Pro that will hopefully be announced in 2018 should be nothing short of astounding. The same goes for the “great” new iMacs in the pipeline for release in 2017.