Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

Summary: With Apple this week announcing its best quarter ever for Mac sales (5.2 million units) and tens of thousands of Apple fans gathering for the weekend's annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco, surely this moment must be one of the greatest for Mac users in the platform's 28 year history. But many longtime professional users of the Mac are worried — very worried — by the smoke signals coming out of Cupertino. They wonder whether Apple will make a computing solution for the rest of us or for all of us.

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With Apple this week announcing its best quarter ever for Mac sales (5.2 million units) and tens of thousands of Apple fans gathering for the weekend's annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco, surely this moment must be one of the greatest for Mac users in the platform's 28 year history. But many longtime professional users of the Mac are worried — very worried — by the smoke signals coming out of Cupertino. They wonder whether Apple will make a computing solution for the rest of us or for all of us.

I've spoken to a number of Mac developers and longtime professional Mac users in the past half a year that see continuing signs of a Mac apocalypse, just as sales of Macs keep climbing. It's not about the platform, after all, there were more Macs sold in this quarter that once were sold in a year. What worries them is Apple's commitment to the technology that supports its creative professional market.

Here are a few of the worrying signs:

App Sandbox. As of this March, all apps submitted for the popular Mac App Store must support Apple's Sandboxing requirements. This access control technology is designed to improve security and enforced at the kernel level: apps are limited in their access to outside system resources and user data.

Now, this only applies to software that comes from the Mac App Store and everyone can just load a plug-in or whatever software they want, right? Well, that is exactly the worry. What if Apple tells developers that all apps must go through the store and users can't load software they want onto their Macs. Or perhaps Apple won't support systems with non-approved software. We don't know, it's a worry. Support for AppleScript Scripting. One of the technologies often used in professional content workflows is scripting, which lets customers pass data between applications from various vendors and the Finder. Most applications and certainly applications aimed at pro content creation workflows, have long supported these AppleScript additions. This events technology lets customers of Mac applications leverage products from other, small developers that may provide a unique tool to accomplish a specific job.

But will Apple continue to support AppleScript? We don't know. The Sandboxing requirement appears to be in conflict with it.

Andy Ihnatko at Macworld wrote about this:

Do I fret needlessly? You tell me. Recently I had an idea for a tool that would make my life much easier and it required some scripting of the Preview app. In all my years of avid scripting, I’ve never done anything with that app before and so it came as a surprise when I tried to open its dictionary with the AppleScript editor and I discovered that it had none.

Horrors! Apple touted Preview as a shining example of a super-sandboxed Lion app. Was this a sign that sandboxed apps can’t and shouldn’t be scripted?

Nope. I searched the boards of various scripting sites and was reminded why I’d never tried to script Preview before: because it’s unscriptable. It doesn’t support even the AppleScript equivalent of tourist-level French, and it never has.

Preview is one of OS X’s core utilities! It’s well-represented in Automator, but why on Earth wouldn’t Apple’s own utility for viewing, modifying, and converting images and PDFs be a superstar of scriptable apps?!?

Another worry for professional content workflows.

The Final Cut Pro X experience. Apple last spring said it would totally revamp its Final Cut Pro post production editing software and this summer released a totally rewritten product, Final Cut Pro X.  The new software is amazing and comes with an amazing new, lower price: $299.99. So, it's the professional video editing software for the rest of us.

However, the new version doesn't do things in the same way as Final Cut Pro 7. People have workflows with the older software and the new version doesn't support those workflows.  And some video editors say that the update leaves out a number of important features.

I'm not saying who's right or wrong here, but Apple appears comfortable supporting more customers and abandoning customers with existing workflows.

It's a worry.

The Mac/iOS Merger. Some worry over the changes made in Mac OS X Lion that resemble iOS. I'm not talking about the addition of multi-finger gestures for input, which is useful for everyone that can use 1, 2 and 3 fingers reliably. Rather, I'm talking about the iOSification of the Mac OS.

Take for example, the window styles of Lion's Address Book and iCal applications. The window elements are similar to an iPad's apps, the buttons aren't standard Mac buttons and the interface can't be customized. I don't see that there's much usability gained with this interface change, such as a stitched leather emulation. Mac window elements used to be standardized and that standardization meant something to users, folks who supported Mac users, and developers.

The Ars Techica review of Lion discusses these apps in detail and deconstructs many of their problems.

The trouble is, the new iCal looks so much like a familiar physical object that it's easy to start expecting it to behave like one as well. For example, iCal tries very hard to sell the tear-off paper calendar illusion, with the stitched binding, the tiny remains of already-removed sheets, and even a page curl animation when advancing through the months. But can you grab the corner of a page with your mouse and tear it off? Nope, you have to use the arrow buttons or a keyboard command, just like in the previous version of iCal. Can you scribble in the margins? Can you cross off days with a pen? Can you riffle through the pages? No, no, and no.

Not to sugarcoat the experience, I find these apps useless, they've been dumbed-down way too far. I use FileMaker's Bento as a front end to Address Book and a similar way, I use BusyMac's BusyCal as a front end to iCal. Okay, some readers might say that Apple is providing a third-party opportunity to its developers. But it's a worrisome trend.

There is a rumor floating around the developer community that Apple wanted more iOS integration in Lion. The thinking in Cupertino they say is to have one single OS that will run on handheld, tablet and portable/desktop. One IDE and one OS. This would be a disaster.

What users want are OSes and applications that can express the best performance on their respective hardware. What works on one computing platform may not work as well on another larger or smaller one, or one with more expansion or network connections or power. Users also want flexibility in the OS and apps to have different ways to do things, something that the Mac user interface has previously prided itself on.

But there is little flexibility in iOS than there is on a Mac.

It is natural for a small tablet like the iPad to have a modal interface with everything packed into the app and screen rather than a layered multi-windowed environment like the Mac OS. Power users can take advantage of multiple screens, or just one big screen, to place various pieces of content, files and other resources. It lets users eyeball the elements.

However, the iPad's single screen interface is finding its way into Lion and Mac apps. Now, the app is supposed to keep everything in its modal window, which wants to encompass the entire screen. Items on the desktop, the windows of other apps, moveable palettes with tools are seen as distractions.

This change is not an advance. Having the Lord of the Rings approach — OS to bind them all — would be a wrong path for developers and Mac users.

There are more worries, such as support for Mac OS X Server, Xgrid and more. We will see what holds in the year ahead for them.

Apple's success is thrilling to a longtime Mac user. We can only hope that the company will remember it was the loyal base of Mac customers, many in professional content creation fields, who sustained the Mac during the darker, leaner days in the 1990s and early part of this decade. Not everyone is a consumer market or enterprise customer.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems

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91 comments
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  • I thought Apple was a business?

    Why would Apple give up profits to satisfy its small loyal base of Mac users? You guys barely made Apple any profit. Most of Apples profits come from Windows users buying iPods, iPhones, and iPads. We keep hearing that Apple is in business to make money and that this excuses many of the things that they do. I agree. Sorry David but you loyal Apple fans simply aren't where Apples profits lie. You simply aren't important to Apples bottom line.
    toddybottom_z
    • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

      @toddybottom_z
      I don't know about profits, but I'm pretty sure Apple's Mac division brings in more revenue than Microsoft's Windows division. Of course, Apple is a much more profitable company so that percentage of total revenue would be smaller, but it's still a sizable portion.
      anono
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono

        Quite easily the most retarded statement on this retarded site!
        omdguy
      • Sorry anono

        @anono
        Macs don not bring nearly the same revenue to Apple as Windows does to MS.
        Why you would make such an obviously incorrect statement is perplexing, to say the least.
        John Zern
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono
        Don't confuse revenue with profits, they're vastly different concepts which you don't seem to grasp.
        BrewmanNH
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono Revenue? Perhaps since Macs are horribly expensive. Profit? I doubt it. How much does it cost in material for MS to download a copy of Windows to you?
        boomchuck1
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono <br>Since everyone seems to be misinformed and bias towards MS. I'll prove my statement.<br><br> <a href="http://www.crn.in/Software-025Jan012-Slowdown-In-Consumer-PC-Market-Hits-Microsofts-Windows-Sales.aspx" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.crn.in/Software-025Jan012-Slowdown-In-Consumer-PC-Market-Hits-Microsofts-Windows-Sales.aspx</a> <br><br>From the article "Microsofts Windows and Windows Live Division posted revenue of $4.74 billion, a 6 percent drop from $5.06 billion in the same quarter one year ago"<br><br> <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/hardware/mac/232500414" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.informationweek.com/news/hardware/mac/232500414</a><br><br>From the article "5.2 million<br>The number of Macs sold during the quarter was up 26% from the year-ago quarter."<br><br>Now if everyone of those Macs were a $1k Macbook Air; even then Apple Macs would bring in more revenue than Microsoft Windows Division. Realistically, the average Mac is probably sold for at least $1300 so that brings revenue up to $6.76 billion for the quarter.<br><br>@BrewmanNH<br>When I said Apple is more profitable; I meant they bring in a lot more revenue, but didn't find the words for it. I was talking about revenue in my post.<br><br>@boomchuck1<br>The relation between revenue and price is negative for pretty much all businesses (due to increased sales with lower prices) so if Apple lowered their price then their revenue would go up even more.<br><br>As I've said before, I don't know about profits. But my guess is that it still equals 50 to 75 percent of Microsoft's profits from its Windows division and that is quite sizable and growing. A few years ago, it wouldn't even be close.
        anono
      • anono: perhaps the reason people are being mean to you

        @anono
        "As I've said before, I don't know about profits."

        Thanks. Then your "input" is not needed when I was clearly talking about profits. I mentioned the word "profit" 4 times in my post. I didn't mention revenue once. Since you yourself admit you know absolutely nothing about profit, you added absolutely nothing to the discussion. That's why people are being mean to you.
        toddybottom_z
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @toddybottom_z
        As you appear very business illiterate, I'll inform you that there is a linear relationship between profits and revenue given constant margins so revenue is very relevant. Also you mentioned profit many times in your post, but didn't actually show a figure. You just said it was barely any. As you also appear not to know anything about profits based only your baseless estimate of "barely any", you should also excuse yourself from the discussion.
        anono
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono
        "there is a linear relationship between profits and revenue given constant margins"

        You think the margins on a 3 year old OS are the same as the margins on a new computer? Are you high?
        toddybottom_z
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono <br>""there is a linear relationship between profits and revenue given constant margins"<br><br>You think the margins on a 3 year old OS are the same as the margins on a new computer? Are you high?"<br><br>How exactly did you conclude that I think the margins on a 3 year old OS are the same as the margins a computer from that post? I even said in a previous post that my estimate is that Apple makes about 50% to 75% of the profit from it's Mac division than Ms does from it's Windows division despite having about 40% higher revenue. If you do the math, I'm clearly implying their margins are lower.
        anono
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono
        "How exactly did you conclude that I think the margins on a 3 year old OS are the same as the margins a computer from that post?"

        This makes you look even worse.

        My first post was about profit of new computer hardware. You then reply with a post about revenue on a 3 year old OS. When challenged, you reply that you can compare revenue between 2 products and determine which was more profitable as long as margin was the same.

        When we pointed out to you that margin was not the same, you come back with "I know." which means you admit that you cannot compare revenues between Windows and Macs to determine which is more profitable. Which is exactly what you tried to do in post #2. You debated yourself right out of your original point. Good job.

        You are high. Debating with you isn't even fun. Good day. (Todd leaves, shaking his head in disbelief)
        toddybottom_z
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @toddybottom_z
        Again, in your initial post the only estimate of profit you gave was "barely any" and that was completely baseless. Also saying "there is a linear relationship between profits and revenue given constant margins" is not saying Apple and MS has the same margins. Rather, I'm saying as Apple's revenue grows so does it's profits if I assume they maintain the same margins (only talking about Apple here) so that's why revenues are related to profits.
        anono
      • Keep changing the argument

        @anono
        Your argument boils down to this:
        "Most of Apple's profits don't come from Windows users buying iPods, iPhones, and iPads because Apple's Macintosh revenue is bigger than Microsoft's Windows revenue."

        Tune in tomorrow when anon tries to convince us that elephants weigh less than mice because Disneyland has bigger revenues than Mike's Cheese and Raincoat Store.
        toddybottom_z
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @toddybottom_z
        No that's not my argument and you should really learn what quotation marks are for.
        anono
      • That is exactly your argument

        @anono
        My post, and I quote:
        "Most of Apples profits come from Windows users buying iPods, iPhones, and iPads."

        Your post, and I quote:
        "I don't know about profits, but I'm pretty sure Apple's Mac division brings in more revenue than Microsoft's Windows division."

        Leading us to your argument:
        "Most of Apple's profits don't come from Windows users buying iPods, iPhones, and iPads because Apple's Macintosh revenue is bigger than Microsoft's Windows revenue."

        Wiggle all you want, your posts are all the evidence we need against you. (Todd continues to shake his head in disbelief at anono's unique thought process)
        toddybottom_z
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono Ha that's a joke. Mac revenue doesn't even touch Windows. I'm not particularly fond of Windows, I'm a Linux user, but I don't ignore the facts. The fact is, Mac revenue is a fraction of Windows.
        xamountofwords
      • RE: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

        @anono Wow
        anono Zip
        Toddy and team - 10+
        ItsTheBottomLine
    • The only way MS makes more profit

      on Windows is if their margin is higher than 40%. But that couldn't possibly be, since that would make Windows horribly overpriced according to the standard argument offered on Apple product prices.
      baggins_z
      • Which argument are you going to stick with?

        @baggins_z <br>Is high margin a sign of overcharging or isn't it?<br><br>I don't believe MS or Apple overcharge for their products. In fact, I think that higher margins deserve more praise than lower margins so MS actually deserves more praise for having higher profit margins on Windows than Apple does on Macs. What do you think?
        toddybottom_z