Ramblings of General Geekery

The iOS-ification of hardware

It’s been an interesting week. Apple announced some new Macbook Pros and everybody’s unhappy in the Apple blogosphere – something I wasn’t sure could happen anymore. Just look at Michael Tsai’ roundup and be amazed. All those people unhappy because they finally realized Apple doesn’t care about “pro” users. Apple effectively made a new version of the MacBook Air, but called it “Pro” and that’s obviously not a great move.

It’s not a great move because it means a lot of compromises. A shitty keyboard. Mediocre specs. No useful ports. Some people are getting into the wrong debate, discussing how Apple designs for the future, but the reality is different. Will DSLRs use USB-C keys to store photos? Will network switches use USB-C for connections? What kind of future has Apple in mind where you won’t need adapters and dongles to efficiently transfer gigantic RAW pictures onto your NAS or other safe storage?

The truth is that this has been coming for a long time. This is a company that killed their pro-sumer photo editing software Aperture and replaced it with the family-friendly Photos. The company that crushed their pro video editing software into Final Cut Pro X and only looked back when petitions grew big. The company that is, slowly, inexorably, removing or hiding pieces of macOS’s underlying Unix system. The company that, over the years, removed the ability of customers to hack their own machines, whether it’s just replacing the battery or RAM or hard-drive in a notebook, or more important upgrades like replacing the CPU or GPU in a desktop machines.

At first this was all dismissed as “reasonable” compromises because hey, look how sleek those Macs look and work compared to the competition… but more and more people started getting annoyed. And now maybe we’ve hit some kind of point of no return? I does look like the majority (or a much more vocal than previously minority) is saying “that’s enough”.

I wonder if it’s too late. Apple has made 1/6th of the keyboard into a touch screen, while the remaining keys are slowly disappearing into the frame – it’s a matter of time until that keyboard is so flat that they have no problem replacing it with a giant touch screen. Actually, hardware is becoming so integrated that I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they were announcing a yearly subscription for MacBooks, similar to the one for iPhones. You were licensing your media, and then you were licensing your software – soon you’ll be licensing your hardware. And all the while they’ll continue their (timid, for now) attempts at hiding the file-system from users. Phil Schiller may say now that they will never merge macOS and iOS together but that doesn’t mean they can’t replicate the iPhone’s success formula with Macs… and it wouldn’t be the first time an Apple exec (or any exec for that matter) flat out lied about something they were doing.

I wonder if it’s too late. Even Microsoft is doing Apple-ish stuff. Their new Surface Studio looks amazing, but instead of being a monitor you plug into a computer you can replace or upgrade, it’s an all-in-one, tightly integrated system. Either you’re rich, or you learn to live with the same specs for 6 years.

I wonder if it’s too late. Tim Cook thinks you can replace PCs with iOS devices, and that the iPad Pro is the “future of personal computing”. Sure, he’s probably talking about the average, mass-market customer here, but that tells you all you need to know about where Apple’s focus is. Apple’s focus is not on the million-dollar markets anymore. It’s on the billion-dollar ones. They’ve tasted absolute power and boy how did it absolutely taste neat.

I wonder what Apple programmers will have on their desk in 5 years… Maybe that’s what will keep Apple in check eventually – can they build software and cloud services on average consumer hardware?