Apple's desperate Mac damage limitation message hints at a divided company
Earlier this week Apple held what can only be described as an emergency damage control press conference meant to reassure customers that the company hasn't forgotten about the desktop Mac. But instead of feeling reassured, I feel the meeting highlighted divisions within Apple.
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For some background, you can find details about the upshot of the meeting here, and my ZDNet colleague David Gewirtz has spun out some thoughts about what it means for high-end Mac users here. What I want to do now is some reading between the lines. I wasn't at the meeting but have read everything that the five journalists who were invited to the meeting -- Ina Fried, John Gruber, John Paczkowski, Matthew Panzarino, and Lance Ulanoff -- wrote about it.
The first thing that struck me was the Apple executives who were and weren't present at the meeting. Present were Phil Schiller (SVP worldwide marketing), Craig Federighi (SVP software engineering), John Ternus (VP hardware engineering), and Bill Evans (Sr. Director Corporate Communications). Not present were CEO Tim Cook and Chief Design Officer Jony Ive.
Ive's absence is interesting given Federighi's claim that Apple "designed ourselves into a bit of a corner" with the Mac Pro, and suggests that Ive had nothing to do with the Mac Pro and didn't want to be caught up in any toxic fallout from that blunder.
It also raises an eyebrow when the CEO decides to avoid a press conference of this magnitude. Again, it suggests that he wants to distance himself from the debacle.
Another thing that struck me was how unusual it was for Apple to hold a press conference where executives fell on their sword over past mistakes, promised to do better, and made assurances that new, better stuff is coming at some point in the future.
The apology is a new direction for Apple (remember how, back in July 2010, then CEO Steve Jobs dealt with the "Antennagate" crisis by claiming it wasn't a problem?) and the promises that new stuff is coming in the future sound lame. I mean, this is what Apple does, so it's really weird that the company feels the need to hold a press conference to tell people that it's going to be making more new stuff in the future.
There was also something else that you don't normally see from Apple -- desperation. It was so palpable that Mashable's Ulanoff even commented on it: "Part of the reason Schiller and company are talking to us in between product cycles is an almost desperate need to communicate to Mac Pro users Apple's continuing commitment to the market."
But the oddities don't end there.
If Apple now realizes that it made a mistake with the Mac Pro, and is also now recommitted with professional Macs, this suggests that the company took its eye off the ball for a few years and only just realized that things had gone bad. That, or that Apple had secretly decided that it was getting out of the high-end Mac business during 2015/16 but decided to backtrack on that decision as a result of the backlash following last year's MacBook Pro keynote where professionals despaired about the lack of a 32-gigabyte RAM option.
It's also worth noting that last year Apple discontinued its Thunderbolt display, instead pointing users to a buggy LG 5K display, but is now once again talking about a new display.
Sure looks like Apple changed its mind about a lot of things.
It was also very odd to hear Apple executives talking about things that are going to happen at some point in the future. A new iMac is coming sometime this year. A new Mac Pro sometime next year.
Despite this emergency damage control press conference, I still think that pro-grade Macs are on the way out. Apple didn't just forget that it had an old Mac Pro festering in its lineup, and Apple didn't just forget to offer a MacBook Pro with 32-gigabytes of RAM. The truth is that high-end stuff just isn't bringing in the dollars. And with iPad sales nose-diving and iPhone sales showing signs of going soggy, I'm guessing that at some point in 2015/16 Apple decided to focus on the stuff bringing in the bulk of the revenue (iPhones, mainstream Macs, cheap iPads), and deprioritize the high-end Macs.
While the backlash from the pros (not to mention the Surface Studio from Microsoft, which was clearly aimed at high-end designers and such) may have prompted Apple to hold a rushed conferences and promise to do better in the future, it doesn't change the realities of the situation -- Apple is a mainstream tech company, and high-end niche stuff just isn't a priority compared to the iPhone and cheap Macs.
I'd also wager that there's a split at Apple as to its future, with Cook and Ive, along with Eddy Cue (SVP internet software and services) and Jeff Williams (COO) seeing the future belonging to the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, while Schiller, Federighi, and Ternus still seeing a future -- and profits -- in high-end Macs.