Apple needs to get back into the truck business

The future of mass computing may be mobile, but why leave the pro markets behind?

I’ll make no secret that I believe mobile devices are the future of mass market computing, but even though PC’s are becoming trucks, I see no reason to leave those who need such heavy haulage behind.

Top gear

Apple once stood near the very top of the PC-as-a-truck industry. The move to Intel meant its newly christened Mac Pro range introduced in 2006 competed with solutions at the high-end of the then PC market, while the move to 64-bit and annual hardware refreshes put those Macs at the top of the PC game.

Competing high-end PC manufacturers fell by the wayside as Apple lapped up the top of the line video, imaging and Web design markets. Power, capability and Apple’s popularity gave the company a big growth story in the sector, up until 2012.

When things slowed down.


Sure, Apple tried to revive interest at WWDC 2013 when SVP Marketing, Phil Schiller introduced a radically redesigned Mac Pro, spitting out the now immortal phrase, “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass.”

These new Macs won critical acclaim, but the lack of internal drive expansion turned off some pro users who may have needed to upgrade additional equipment in order to upgrade. It certainly impacted interest among those whose workflow depended on regularly using and swapping across affordable storage units like 3.5-inch HD drives.

It is of course a peculiarity of the SME pro user market that they like to run older kit for as long as they can in order to maximize the value of their business investments and minimize the time they must spend learning how to use new equipment. Time is money for a pro user.

Need to be heard

Since 2013, however, we’ve seen no action at this end of the market. (Even while the company grabs a larger slice of the overall PC market every year). That’s three years of inactivity from a company that at one point boasted complete domination of the very markets that find it most challenging to migrate to mobile computing solutions. You can certainly make music, video and images on an iPad Pro, but high end users want industrial grade solutions. They will use iOS devices, but also need to drive trucks. Why wouldn’t they want to drive an Apple truck?

Yesterday I wrote ‘iPad Pro will be the only Mac you ever need’. This generated strong reaction in some places, and while I don’t believe every critic was sincere, I do think there’s a point being made that should be heard. At its very simplest this point is that even if the future of computing is mobile there’s still going to be people who need top-of-the range kit to handle the tough tasks.

This is a market Apple once owned – its advanced OS X, its move to Intel processors and tight integration between software and hardware gave the company huge advantages for pro users. The company can still grab this market back, it can still deliver the world’s most powerful trucks.

Big mind bikes

What I’m trying to say: I believe the future of computing isn’t just mobile, but pervasive within every object and every device, intelligence in everything, everywhere. A position I tried to explain in ‘iPhones don’t matter anymore’. But even these mobile manifestations benefit from good fleets of heavy haulage, really sophisticated “bicycles for the mind”.

The reaction I received to yesterday’s piece was fierce. To me it suggests that if Apple does decide to put some love into its pro PC business it will find receptive – if cynical -- customers willing to think about purchasing its solutions. The problem it will have is that those customers – just like the enterprise customers it is now wooing through its alliance with IBM – will want to be certain of its commitment to their market. They will want to see a road map for future evolutions of that market. And they’re going to want user serviceable upgrades.

I don’t see why this can’t happen. I can’t see why Apple can’t make the segment profitable – it’s not so long ago the company made money selling just three million Macs each year.

So come on Apple, it’s all very well to stick your brand on every mobile device and every car, but even Steve Jobs knew we’d always need trucks, too. Are you perhaps starving the market in preparation for another Mac transition? I do hope you have something to tell pro users at WWDC 2016.

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