On Chuq Von Rospach’s ‘Apple’s 2016 in Review’, and the AirPort and Mac Pro Lineups in Particular

Chuq Von Rospach has a thoughtful look at the state of Apple. The whole piece is worth reading, but his comments on two particular products stood out to me. First, the AirPort lineup:

Apple has products it has let languish without any significant update for long periods of time. If you look at how Apple’s treated their AirPort line, you’d think Wi-Fi was a mature technology where nothing was really changing. In fact, a lot is happening including a big shift to mesh networks, and Apple has seemingly ignored all of that. It used to be you bought Airports because they were some of the best Wi-FI devices out there. Today, the only reason to buy them is you want easy, and because it has the Apple brand. They’re woefully out of date (and in fact, I just replaced mine with a set of Eero devices, which are Apple easy to use, and blow Apple’s products away in terms of performance). Rumors have come out that Apple has cancelled future development of these, but they’re still for sale. Why?

Something is clearly wrong with the AirPort line. Either it should have been updated long ago to remain state-of-the-art, or it should have been discontinued. Whether or not Apple should still be in the Wi-Fi router game is a reasonable argument. I think they should, but I can see the other side of the argument (that other companies do it well, and Apple should focus on areas where they stand alone). But there’s no reasonable argument for the current AirPort state of affairs.

And on the Mac Pro:

To put the Mac pro in context: This was the “Can’t Innovate my Ass” product that Apple produced to counter criticism that it wasn’t innovative any more and that it was letting the Mac product line languish (hey, this isn’t a new complaint…). They came out with something that was visually distinctive and they build a really interesting set of guts inside the trash can.

But here’s the problem: in retrospect, what they built was a device based around their own ego needs of proving their critics wrong, not a device that served the purposes of their power users. It’s not configurable, it’s not upgradeable, it’s not expandable: It’s pretty, and full of (for 2013) innovative hardware design, but is that really what Apple’s power users needed?

“What the hell happened with the Mac Pro?” is the most interesting question about Apple today. Because something clearly went way wrong with this product. I’m not convinced the basic idea for the design is unsound — the idea is that expansion would come in the form of external peripherals, rather than things you install inside the box. I still think that’s probably the future of “expandable” computing.

If Apple had updated the Mac Pro on a roughly annual basis, we wouldn’t be calling this a disaster. I’m sure there would still be people who would wish that Apple had stuck with the traditional tower form factor, but we wouldn’t all be saying “What the fuck?”

If Apple were going to update this Mac Pro, we should have seen it two years ago. If Apple were going to scrap this design and replace it with something else (like they did with the short-lived “sunflower” iMac G4 design in 2002), we should have seen the replacement a year ago. And if they were planning to abolish the Mac Pro, that should have happened this past year — or at least we should have seen prices drop significantly on these three-year-old workstations.1

Updates to the same basic design would make sense. An all-new design would make sense. Getting out of the Mac Pro game would make sense. Selling 1000-day-old pro workstations at the same prices as in 2013 makes no sense. Whatever the explanation is, this situation is an unmitigated disaster.

  1. Other computer makers raise and lower prices as component prices change. Apple comes out with a price and sticks with it. One reason for that is branding. Stable prices at “round” numbers — $1499 instead of $1427 or whatever — are a sign of a premium quality brand. And they don’t lower prices on older products unless they keep them in the product lineup after their replacements have been introduced. What they almost never do is lower the price of a product just because it’s old, without a replacement. Thus, if Apple were to announce price drops on the Mac Pro lineup, without releasing updated models, I would take that as a very strong sign that they’re getting out of the standalone pro desktop market. But they haven’t done that — they’re still selling these Mac Pros at the same prices as when they were announced over three years ago. I take that as a sign that they plan to replace them, or at least hope to replace them, but have failed for whatever reason(s). ↩︎

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