Has Apple Lost Interest in the Mac?

It’s been a long time since Apple upgraded many of their Macs. MacRumors’ Mac Buyer’s Guide lays out the numbers. The last update for the following Macs was:

  • MacBook: 145 days ago; relatively recently.
  • iMac: 335 days ago; nearly a year, but still in line with previous upgrades. Timespans between upgrades have ranged from 147 days to 577 days.
  • Retina MacBook Pro: 481 days ago. The MacBook Pro used to be updated, on average, every 8-9 months.
  • MacBook Air: 552 days. These, too, used to be upgraded roughly every year.
  • Mac mini: 696 days. Upgrades to the Mac mini have ranged from 231 to 723 days. The last update was in October 2014, and before that, October 2012.
  • Mac Pro: This top-of-the-line Mac was last upgraded a laughable 997 days ago. Prior to that, upgrades came every year and a half or so, at least since 2009.
  • Non-retina MacBook Pro: 1,552 days. It’s clear that this model won’t be upgraded, but Apple is holding onto it as a low-priced model for education.

So the MacBook and the iMac were upgraded most recently. With the iMac’s last upgrade a year ago, it’s possible that we’ll see something soon, in time for the Christmas season. Or will we? I have a 2014 27″ 5K iMac. I used to renew my hardware every 18-24 months so I could have the newest features, and because it did make a difference in terms of speed and other hardware elements. I can’t imagine needing to upgrade my current iMac, and I can’t imagine what Apple could add to this computer to make it tempting, even for me, a tech journalist who tends to like to have the newest features in my computers. Once they added the retina display, they provided everything that I needed in my work. I owned a Mac Pro, but in the absence of a retina display, ditched it to buy the 5K iMac. I should note that the Mac Pro was the most difficult Mac to sell; if I hadn’t gotten a discount on the computer, thanks to a friend in an Apple Store, I would have lost a lot of money.

I also have a 12″ MacBook, purchased just over a year ago. It’s a very good computer, but the USB-C port makes it annoying. I have several dongles that I need to use a USB peripheral, as well as to charge it while using a USB peripheral. Since Apple isn’t committed to using USB-C on its other Macs, it’s simply a headache to have to deal with all these extra wires.

And I have a Mac mini, from 2011, that I use as a server. I would like to buy a new Mac mini, especially one with USB3, but I’ve been hesitating since it’s been so long since the last upgrade. I know that they’ll release a new model a month after I buy one, so I keep putting it off. Interestingly, my Mac mini is nearly as fast as the fastest current model. When I bought it in late 2011, I maxed it out, with a 2.7 GHz core i7 processor (the current fastest option is a 3 GHz core i7), a 256 GB SSD, and a 750 GB internal hard drive. I added aftermarket RAM for a total of 16 GB, and, now that RAM is no longer user-accessible, that’s the most you can put in the Mac mini.

So my two-year old iMac is more than sufficient for what I do. My year-old MacBook is okay, but I would prefer a MacBook Air with a retina display, and standard USB ports. And the Mac mini, at five years old, is good enough.

I’m not the target audience for new Macs. That demographic has changed a lot, as families now use iPads and iPhones, instead of iMacs and laptops. The Mac mini has always been a niche computer, though one with a strong following among people wanting a simple home server or a device to serve media.

In a way, it’s not surprising that Apple hasn’t updated Macs for a while. I don’t think the company has lost interest in the Mac, but they’ve simply made it less of a priority, as its sales recoil. In Q2 2016, Mac sales dropped 12%, and in Q3 of this year, they dropped another 11%. (These figures are year over year.) Yet they’re still better than previous years; they only fell because of a bump in 2014, and a bigger bump in 2015.

Apple obviously needs to update Macs, and even if they’re not making a lot of money from them, I think they need to keep the product lines refreshed, if only for appearances. (And it’s not like they’re losing money on Macs anyway.) Soon, perhaps? When macOS Sierra is released on September 20? Or sometime in October, which is often when they introduce new Macs and iPads?

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18 thoughts on “Has Apple Lost Interest in the Mac?

  1. Great post, also what about the Airport Express? – last updated in June 2012 and the Airport Extreme in 2013! Before this they were updated every couple of years. I know wifi standards don’t change every year but range and speed can be improved.

  2. Apple’s new business seems to be one of landlord, i.e., renting iCloud space to Apple ID tenants, that would explain the lack of new hardware. The latest OS’ default to iCloud storage, Photos, backups, music, etc. Apple combines security updates with OS updates, forcing the user to the latest OS or running the risk of security breeches, with each OS update moving the user closer and closer to cloud based use. If Apple can get every Apple ID user to rent iCloud space at Apple’s price, that would be their new profit base, a closed system dictated by Apple software, with fewer hardware updates and associated R&D needed.

  3. Apple is certainly waiting to implement TB 3 and USB Type C 3.1 (10mbit). That’s not practical with Skylake without a lot of inefficient chipsets added, but it’s straightforward with Kabylake., Please note that MS had lots of issues with Skylake and the Surface Book, all corrected in Kabylake.

    There are rumors that Kabylake processors suitable for the Mac Book Pro are already in manufacturers hands. Now, I don’t know that these are all facts, but they certainly fit in that Intel has been late with deliveries, has moved from Tick Tock, to the current 14nm, three phase delivery ending with Kabylake, and 10nm Cannonlake is too far out to consider.

    I agree with Gene that the Mac Pro is unknown, perhaps a victim of the wait for TB 3, low sales, and of the Xeon’s high cost. Perhaps a reimagining with a core i7 and a lower overall cost would be a solution, or at least an entry level Mac Pro for those that are more price conscious.

    • I think the Mac Pro is in limbo until Apple releases a 4K or 5K display. I would love to see a lower priced Mac Pro, to compete with the Mac mini, but it may not be possible with that design.

  4. After a couple of decades with used Macs and clones my G5 died before I’d saved up for its replacement. The only Mac I could afford was a Mac mini. Upgrading the RAM was a chore, but I was impressed with the performance. That little box saved me from becoming a Windows user. In 2011 I was able to afford an iMac and the mini went to the kids. Later I bought a second identical one from Apple Refurbished so they wouldn’t fight over who had the better computer. The HD in my 2011 iMac died out of warranty, but is otherwise going strong today (although I wish I had USB 3). The minis have been retired because both OS X and the kids became too demanding.

    I suppose today parents buy iPads for their kids instead of desktops, but my wife and I wanted the kids at desks where their screen time could be easily monitored. Another advantage of Macs over iOS devices is compatibility with the old Windows 7 PCs at their school. They write using Word 2010 and must save their work on USB thumb drives. With those restrictions an iPad simply isn’t a practical option.

    Despite my family’s affection for the mini I’m not sure Apple sees compatibility with old school PCs as a valuable selling point and would rather trap users in the iOS walled garden. The mini may remain neglected or even discontinued.

    I think we’ll see USB-C spread rapidly across the Mac ecosystem this fall on new MBP and iMac models. I’m not convinced the Air will be updated. I think they’ll keep the old ones around as entry level models and introduce a 14″ retina MacBook. Eventually the MacBook will be able to be priced competitively just as the retina MBP eventually took over the old MBP price points.

    I have no idea what Apple thinks about the Mac Pro or it’s potential customers. The new form factor suits some, but chased away many others. The abandonment of pro software and ongoing neglect of the hardware may mean there is no market left for an updated Mac Pro of any size or shape. I don’t think Apple should have let that happen, regardless of the small size of that market, but I don’t run the company.

    • I agree we probably will see more USB-C under the guise of Thunderbolt 3 in newer models. “This fall” we could see new 13″ MacBook Pro or MacBook Air models. The 15″ rMBP uses quad core CPU and the new Kaby Lake versions are not ready yet. Same goes for the desktop model Kaby Lake processors which will hopefully see their way into future iMac models. I hope by that time, Apple will adopt the other Intel technology of Optane memory and flash storage.

  5. Dude, how often do you want to upgrade your Mac? My late-2013 MacBook Pro is still killing it, quite happy to not be tempted to upgrade just yet. These timeframes are fine, I’d rather them take their time and make a huge upgrade very several years rather than smaller annual increments.

    • As I explain in the article, I used to upgrade every 18-24 months. And I’m not alone among professionals. Anyone who uses a Mac for high-demand work, such as photos or video, is feeling left behind lately. That Mac Pro hasn’t even had a bump in nearly three years.

      Also, your case is not the same as everyone else’s. So you have a 2013 MBP, and you’re happing if they only upgrade every few years, which just happen to be the years you want to buy a Mac. What about someone who has a 2012 MBP; or a 2011 model?

  6. …more like an obligation, with limited updates. I was all Macs until a few years ago when their thinness obsession replaced usability, being unable to cool cutting edge chips. We miss you Steve.

  7. When Tim Cook says the iPad Pro is the future of personal computing it scares me. I remain a Mac user first with iOS a distant second. I love and use an iPhone and iPad but my MacBook Pro remains the center of my digital life.

    Apple used to pride itself on the fact that creative professionals were loyal Macintosh users and early adopters of new Apple technologies but somehow “Pro” users have gotten lost in whatever adjustments are being made inside Apple corporate culture.

    I would think that with all the money Apple has now that they could walk and chew gum at the same time (support all of their products with the same attention to detail) but it really does seem that the Macintosh is at the back of the line.

  8. Imagine how much lighter the mac range will be minus the headphone jack! (Plus another kind of jack/port, plus the growing bunch of adapters in your “accessories to use my mac in the real world” bag).

  9. Also using a 2011 Mini as a server. If you want USB 3, I would just buy a used 2012 Mini. This also updates the bluetooth to gain compatibility with certain newer OS features (which probably don’t matter on a server). No compelling features on the current Mini compared to 2012 in my opinion. Also, the current Mini lacks Firewire, and you may, like me, have Firewire enclosures. You might even be able to move over your 16 GB of RAM (2012 takes faster than 2011 but you might have faster than required RAM in your 2011). And you can certainly just move over your internal drives.
    Although I would guess that the next Mini is more likely than most other Macs to retain at least one “legacy” USB port, it will probably be mostly USB C ( = dongles).
    In addition to the mini, I’m getting by just fine with my 2009 MacBook Pro. It won’t run Sierra without hacks, but I’ve reached the point where I don’t upgrade until Apple is done with updates (I’m on Mavericks now, moving to El Cap shortly). My next laptop is likely to be a used 2012 MacBook Pro. I used to buy new and install the latest OS, but I just don’t feel the need to buy new anymore – and therein lies Apple’s problem: computers are fairly mature tech and its hard to entice buyers to replace, so why should they update their line every year? I think one way Apple is addressing this is that new OS’s will no longer support Macs more than 7 years old (Sierra only supports late 2009 and later Macs) regardless of hardware specs (some 2008-2009 unsupported Macs run Sierra just fine as long as you bypass the “checks”).

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