The Mac's mobile-only future

Forget airy marketing talk: a company's priorities are written in money. What do Apple's investments tell us about the Mac's direction? Mobile only. For Pro users especially.

Let's look at what's happened to the Mac platform over the last several years.

  • A modern file system - ZFS - promised and then killed.
  • A doubling-down on 1980's HFS+ that locks it in.
  • A storage black box - Core Storage - that outside developers can access only through limited APIs, unlike earlier options.
  • 2 OS versions - Lion and Mountain Lion - with NO kernel investment. The aging Mach kernel was never designed for multi-processor systems and doesn't scale well beyond 4 cores.
  • Focus on Macbook hardware, not desktops.
  • Cancelling almost every "enterprise" product, including servers and storage arrays.

The Mac is now Apple's poor relation: a few billion in revenue and margin; but not strategic in an Apple world dominated by iPhones and iPads. That's why Mac investment has gone to mobile devices that don't scale. They don't need to: the money is in mobile, not desktops. Which is fine if Macbooks do everything you need.

Implications

  • Forget about a new Mac Pro. Grand Central Dispatch - which was supposed to make the Mac's Mach kernel work with manycore systems - hasn't seen wide enough adoption to warrant more work.
  • Forget about significant enhancements to the OS X kernel. What you see is what you'll be getting for years to come.
  • Apple's Mac application ambitions will scale down too. You can always get more jelly beans in a big box than a little one, so the days of using Final Cut Pro to produce Hollywood movies are coming to a close. If you can't do it on a top of the line MacBook Pro, you can't do it on a Mac.

The Storage Bits take

All this is bad news for people, like FCP editors, who've invested years in learning the Mac and their key apps. But you aren't the future of the Mac, so get over it.

From a financial perspective this all makes perfect sense. Which is why finance people seem to be such jerks: they don't count the human cost of their "rational" decisions.

People who supported the Mac platform over the last decade will feel burned by the Mac's shrinking role. Apple could afford to invest in the Mac, and they do, but in shiny hardware rather than state-of-the-art software that consumers don't understand.

I've worked in corporate engineering groups for a couple of decades, through many product and budget cycles. And following the money tells you what's really going on.

Apple has given up competing with Windows. Will that damage their mobile aspirations? Probably not, but the Mac is becoming an appliance, not a general purpose personal computer.

Comments welcome, of course. Can you do everything you need to on a notebook?

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