(Image by Rob Pegoraro/Yahoo Tech)
As I was fussing over yet another glitch on my aging iMac the other night and, while doing so, relying on my slightly less senior MacBook Air, two thoughts ran through my head:
1) I’ve probably waited long enough to replace a 2009-vintage desktop on which the optical drive and SD card slot no longer work reliably and a 2012-vintage laptop that’s seen so much use the N key’s black coating is starting to wear off.
2) If I wanted to replace either computer with a Mac that itself qualifies as “new,” I might have to wait even longer.
An aging lineup
A glance at MacRumors’ helpful Buyer’s Guide, which aims to ward off buyers’ remorse by telling you which Apple products have gone the longest without an update and are therefore theoretically due for one, told me everything I needed to know.
For six of seven Mac product lines — the MacBook, the MacBook Air, the Retina MacBook Pro, the (older) non-Retina MacBook Pro, the Mac mini, and the Mac Pro — the Buyer’s Guide advice was a succinct “Don’t Buy” because of how stale they are. Only the iMac rated a “Neutral” assessment, courtesy of a minor update announced in October that made it the youngest of Mac models.
I’ll allow that a few of these older computers merely qualify as seasoned — but that’s only compared to their older relatives. As of Friday morning, the MacBook Air had gone 403 days since its last update, while the Mac mini had seen 547 days elapse since its most recent refresh, and the Mac Pro had scratched out 848 days on a jail-cell wall since its December 2013 debut.
(Another way to put this: The advice we ran a year ago yesterday on choosing among Mac laptops does not need an update, but my colleague David Pogue’s year-old forecast that “the 12-inch MacBooks of 2016 and 2017 will lose their flaws” may now require a rewrite. Pogue’s understandable response: “I expected Apple to update that model far more quickly!”)
Look, there’s no disgrace in running older hardware. If there were, I wouldn’t be testifying about owning computers that date to President Obama’s first term.
But days, months, and years don’t tell the whole story. Many of these computers run Intel processors a full generation behind those available in competing hardware. Contrary to Apple’s sales pitch for the current MacBook Air, the fifth-generation Intel Core i5 is not “new”: Intel began shipping the sixth generation last summer.
Those Macs are also missing such newer technologies as USB-C connectors. Having paid more than $80 to replace my Air’s power adapter last year, I’m not superenthusiastic about buying another laptop with a proprietary charger.
It’s enough to make a Mac user wish that the company formerly known as Apple Computer, Inc., would restore its attention to computers first, spaceship-shaped corporate campuses and electric cars second.
Why, Apple, why?
Apple, as usual, declined to comment on the matter. But Stephen Baker, lead consumer-electronics analyst at the market-research firm NPD, made a couple of points.
One is that, while Intel shouldn’t have issues supplying current processors in sufficient quantity for Apple (especially for desktops, which now constitute a small segment of the overall market), Apple has historically taken its time to adopt new chips.
The other, as Baker put it in an email: “What is their hurry?”
NPD’s figures for the three months ending in February show Apple laptop sales were up 1 percent in that period while Windows laptops were down 4 percent. And they show an average sale price for Apple laptops over those three months of $1,308, versus $421 for Windows hardware.
A competing research firm, IDC, reported a similar story. In the first quarter of 2016 Apple’s share of the U.S. computer market rose to 13 percent from 11.6 percent a year earlier. It did, however, fall to fourth place in market share, thanks to a 21 percent jump in Lenovo’s computer shipments.
“Maybe that says something about the absolute necessity for current specs among consumers,” Baker mused. He added that, with Macs in particular, the overall value proposition has always been not just the hardware but Apple’s integration of it with its own software and services. (I know, “iCloud” is not the greatest sales pitch ever.)
We all know what will happen next
At some level, Apple does lose by taking its time with new machines — it’s certainly not getting my money this way. Vendors of Mac accessories and peripherals may also lose out on new business. But neither my writing this little rant nor complaints from other companies in the Mac ecosystem are likely to goad Apple into action.
The company will follow its own counsel and operate on its own schedule. And then it will announce a new batch of laptops and maybe even desktops that check off most of the right boxes on people’s feature lists — while requiring at least one annoying compromise.
And when these overdue new Macs go on sale, many of us will have the same reaction we always do: Shut up and take our money, Apple.