Column calling on Apple to kill the Mac sparks derision, debate

Should Apple kill the Mac?

Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mims thinks the answer to that question is yes, although he doesn’t think Apple should get out of the business of making computers. Many Mac lovers, users and pundits, meanwhile, think Mims is nuts and the answer to the question he posed is an emphatic, “NO!”

My take: I don’t think Apple is going to kill the Mac line anytime soon. But I think Mims is right that we are moving away from the PC era, and Apple would be wise to start heading in that direction.

Mims got the debate on the future of the Mac started in his column on Monday. In it he argued that Apple is suffering from a lack of focus.

The company is still struggling to refine its cloud services. Its just-announced streaming music service isn’t ready for prime time. It’s still trying to improve its Maps app. And at the same time, it’s trying to build world-class smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes and computers and reportedly even has a car in the works.

“Something’s got to give,” Mims wrote.

He argues that the Mac ought to be what Apple gives up. Despite having posting its best-ever quarterly revenue, the Mac division accounted for its lowest proportion ever of Apple’s sales, he notes. And with the center of computing shifting away from PCs to mobile devices, Apple’s continued investment in the Mac is a distraction from the other things on which it could focus.

“In a world in which the cloud is increasingly the hub of everything individuals and businesses do, and our mobile devices its primary avatar, what on Earth is Apple doing running victory laps around a dying PC industry?” Mims said. “Personally, I’d rather see Apple push the envelope on what’s next.”

The response from Mac fans — both regular users and media pundits — was that Mims’ arguments were rubbish. By Tuesday morning, his column had drawn 530 comments, many of them vociferously disagreeing with his premise.

“With all due respect, this analysis is dumb,” wrote a reader identified as “Barry Miller” in one of the more succinct responses to the column.

Commentators similarly tore into Mims’ arguments. John Gruber, a developer and Apple fan who writes the Daring Fireball blog, dubbed Mims his “Jackass of the Week” for the column. Motley Fool columnist Jamal Carnette told readers to “ignore” Mims, as did Computerworld’s Jonny Evans. Fortune’s  Philip Elmer-DeWitt dubbed the column “clickbait.”

Vox’s Timothy B. Lee and Macworld’s Glenn Fleishman had perhaps the most well-reasoned arguments against Mims. Lee took issue with Mims’ contention that Apple needs to focus on a fewer products. Many companies, including Google, which Mims points to favorably in his piece, make more than three great products, Lee noted. And keeping the Mac up-to-take likely doesn’t take all that much focus at Apple, since Apple simply has to keep it up-to-date.

Fleishman argued that the Mac is crucial for the success of the iPad and iPhone, two of the devices on which Mims would have Apple focus, because app development for those devices occurs almost exclusively on the Mac. Taking Lee’s line a step further, he argued that hardware development at Apple isn’t suffering from a lack of focus; in fact, improvements that Apple makes on any particular device inform the designs of other devices, whether they be phones, tablets or computers. The software and services problems Apple has faced need not focus but better management and quality assurance process and more time — both of which Apple seems to be allocating to the upcoming versions of the software underlying its computers and handheld devices, Fleishman said.

In a follow-up column on Tuesday, Mims tried to explain what he meant on Monday. He doesn’t think Apple should get out of computing per se. It should  kill the Mac brand and line of products, but but it should allow users to be able to do desktop computing with other devices, such as the iPad. Mims thinks the indications are that Apple is moving in that direction.

The new version of the iPad operating system will allow owners to use an area of their keyboard as a virtual trackpad, he noted. Apple has been long rumored to be working on a jumbo-sized “iPad Pro” that sounds like a laptop replacement, he added. Recent reports indicate that Apple is working on the ability to run apps designed for the Mac on the chips its created for the iPhone and iPad.

What’s more, new technology from Intel will allow users to connect devices like iPads to monitors, keyboards and other accessories and peripherals wirelessly without the need for physical ports, Mims pointed out. And Apple itself has claimed that the latest A-series chips, which it has designed and which underly its latest iPhones and iPads, are “desktop class.”

“It’s easy to forget that the iPad is simply another computer,” Mims said. “An iPad that can animate all the trappings of a ‘full PC’ — 30-inch monitor, keyboard, peripherals — without plugging anything into even a single one of its ports isn’t just a hypothetical, it’s just a couple of generations of technology Intel is already demonstrating.”

I agree with Mims that we are moving into a new, post-PC era. I’ve been arguing for years that the “PC” of the future will likely be a smartphone (or other handheld devices) that we use for all our computing needs. On the road, it will function like a smartphone does today. When we are at the office, we’ll be able to connect it to a larger monitor and keyboard, and it will instantly offer us a desktop-like computing experience. If we need to, we’ll be able to plug it into a laptop-like dock that will allow us to have a notebook computer-type experience.

That vision has been around for a while now. Palm pioneered it with the Foleo product, which it killed prior to launch. Motorola explored similar ideas with the laptop and desktop docks for its Atrix smartphones. Windows 8 combined a traditional desktop interface with an interface designed for a handheld touch-screen, spurring manufacturers to create a wide-range of hybrid tablet-laptop devices.

The Foleo and the Atrix were ahead of their time, the technology and consumer demand. And Windows 8 was a poorly stitched together mess. But the idea of having one device that can serve all your computing needs isn’t going away and technology and demand are starting to catch up.

Mims mentions new connection technologies and the ability to run and interact with desktop apps on mobile devices. Add to that the fact that the latest mobile chips have multiple processors that can be turned on or off depending on computing needs or available power; it’s not hard to think that they could be engineered to deliver more power — desktop-comparable computing — when they are plugged in to a wall socket, say when you are sitting at your desk.

So I don’t find it terribly hard to believe that in a few years, as Mims envisions, you may use instead of a traditional PC or Mac a smartphone or tablet connected to an external monitor and keyboard. I just don’t think that Apple’s going to kill off the Mac to focus on that vision — and I don’t think it should.

Apple’s treatment of the iPod is likely instructive. It was clear when Apple announced the iPhone that it was going to replace the iPod. As Steve Jobs put it, the iPhone was designed to be the best iPod ever.

But it took several years for the iPhone to replace the iPod in sales. And for years after the iPhone’s launch, the iPod contributed meaningful revenue and profits to Apple.

Apple didn’t kill the iPod line. It just stopped putting as much effort into it. Updates became less frequent. Eventually, the company ceased updating the line and stopped breaking out sales of the devices. Just recently, it removed the iPod from the top categories of products it lists on its homepage.

But you know what? Despite all that, Apple will still sell you an iPod if you want one.

Why wouldn’t it treat the Mac the same? Sales are still growing. It reportedly makes huge profits on the device. And the Mac is growing market share. It may not be the future, but it’s still important in the present and will likely bring in considerable sales and profits for years to come. It wouldn’t make sense for Apple to kill it — and I don’t think it will.

Photo of Apple’s iMac with Retina 5K display courtesy of the company.


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  • Nosmo King

    Anyone that would take the advice of the Wall Street Urinal, owned by Pukert Merdork is a complete and utter fool.

  • Rbo

    Completely agreed 100% that headline was nothing more than clickbait.

  • Dang

    All the iPods and iPhones are the gateway drug to Macs. Some day the youngsters will be in charge of replacing all the PCs in their company’s international offices with Macs. The ratio of IT guys needed for PCs vs IT guys needed for Macs is simple math.

    • Myron Marvin

      “The ratio of IT guys needed for PCs vs IT guys needed for Macs is simple math.” Which is why IT guys love PCs – they almost guarantee a job and an empire for life.

  • if it was legal in california i’d marry sweetums Mac.

  • BingeWatcher

    Couldn’t they just focus less resources to the MAC. Spin it off… Who needs a new OS every year anyway? I haven’t upgraded to the latest OS for a year or so.. mainly cause my home computer collects dust. My work computer is still running on OS 10.8.3 because IT is notoriously slow to upgrade an OS that is working just fine. I’m sure only coming out with a new OS every 2-3 years would do wonders for shoring up bugs and other problems. And free up resources as well.

  • jeff200

    I think it is important for successful people and companies to blindly follow the advice of unsuccessful people.

  • Adult Supervisor

    Apple’s real business now days is it’s ecosystem. The ecosystem is the heart of the business. The Mac, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple Watch, etc. are the arms and legs. They’re all interconnected and work together. Apple needs to control all the ecosystem participants. Replacing Macs with Winows PCs would be a fail, big one.

    • rulegal

      No one advocated replacing a Mac with a Windows PC! The point is the Mac is not needed if Apple enhances it’s phones and iPads. If Apple does not, perhaps some will switch to Windows 10 and MS Devices, or Android instead. Much less expensive devices than Apple.

  • kevinish

    Well, if you needed reminding that the WSJ has no clue whatsoever about technology -still- this ought to do it. No doubt, Mr. Mims is still trying to figure out why people at winter resorts have two snowboards on their feet, since his predecessors already declared skiis obsolete with the introduction of the snowboard. While the numbers are seductive, Apple losing focus on the high end would be on par with Ferrari deciding to cut back on performance. Simply put, Apple’s ability to charge premiums in a commodity market rests on two facets:
    1. Quality of experience
    2. Cachet

    Item #1 has been covered to no small degree, so let’s move on to #2. While it’s easy to be distracted by the massive numbers of iPhones out there, it’s also worth noting that the laptop and desktop market Segments have been quite successful – for Apple. Even Mr. Mims managed to notice this. What he missed was the resurgence of Apple computers in the Tech space; any marketing or sales rep carries a MacBook Air if they have the choice, and any developer carries an MBP or uses a Mac with the same option. This, coupled with the fact that nobody can do serious work with a phone or tablet (unless you think “50 Shades of Gray” is a notable achievement), and you have the foundations of a significant differentiator. Thought leadership trickles down through the market, and this accounts for the peculiar phenomonon of people paying a premium for reasons they aren’t able (or willing) to articulate. Quality of experience is very powerful stuff, but it doesn’t account for the devotion (or thoughtless willingness) of a public that doesn’t have the slightest clue with regards to the relative merits of Android vs. IOS. They just see Apple as “kewl”; and a significant reason is the people that they consider tech gurus prosetlyze Apple’s ecosystem. If Apple was to abandon the relatively small but persuasive segment that is serviced by the Mac and MBP, the results would be extremely negative in the long run.

  • rulegal

    The Mac could soon be an unnecessary device, if a larger iPad and a new OS are deployed with a docking device. Currently the Windows Phone and Windows 10 OS might be the closest to reducing the need for consumer PC’s. Business needs will require a robust PC or Workstation for certain applications and processes, but not for Internet services or word processing. I use an Android tablet now for most of my personal needs, along with a Windows Phone, using the same apps. Could not do that a couple of years ago. I doubt I will buy another laptop or desktop for home use again, and not likely that any Apple devices will be in my inventory.

  • demodave

    “The Foleo and the Atrix were ahead of their time, the technology and consumer demand.”

    So was the Treo 650. That came from the Palm Pilot. That came from the Newton.

    So was the Newton. Guess what that came from: the Knowledge Navigator. Look it up.

    The One Device has been in Apple’s imagination for 30 years. The technology is only just catching up. (This includes the internet/cloud, the touch screen technology/quality, the chipsets that drive the device, etc.) It will be great for typical, lightweight consumers.

    But at the same time, desktops aren’t going away. Neither are laptops. And the Mac is too integral to Apple’s overall brand. And Mims’ repeated attempts to defend that position are what earns him derision.

    “If you find yourself at the bottom of a hole, stop digging.”