To Move Forward, Apple Should Embrace Its Past

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People love Apple.

That's a strong statement, and I mean it in a very real sense. I don't mean to say that ALL people actually love Apple - but many do.

And that is unique. 

The relationship between Apple and its devotees inspires a range of emotions that  you don't typically see between a consumer electronics company and its customers. 

We want Apple to succeed

And even more than that, we want Apple to excite us. To surprise us. To inspire us. 

That expectation may not be fair, but Apple would happily bear that burden. They want to innovate - to fundamentally change the way that people interact with technology for the better. To inspire. 

For the last couple of years, that inspiration has been parceled out less often, and in smaller portions. 

To be clear - Apple continues to produce the greatest tech products on the planet.

And yet, many devotees feel that there was something fundamentally missing with Apple over the last year. 

What Makes Apple Different?

For many devotees, Apple was the company that introduced us to computing. 

We grew up with an Apple ][e in the classroom. 

We read MicroZine and wrote programs in BASIC, which usually amounted to 20 GOTO 10. Apple ENCOURAGED that sort of tinkering. 

As we grew up, we moved on to the Macintosh. 

Sure, we had a dalliance with Windows during the Nineties.  

But in the new millennium, Apple won us back. 

They reminded us why we loved them in the first place, with iMacs and iPods and iPads. 

Apple has had a run of success unlike anything the world has ever seen. 

Millions dropped everything to watch Steve Jobs' keynote presentations - or, more accurately for the mid-2000s, to follow along with real-time bloggers.   

A company that tottered on the brink of bankruptcy and dissolution in the 1990s became the largest company on Earth, and the greatest money-making machine ever conceived. 

And we, their customers, were proud of that success.  

So Why All The Gloom?

I'm writing this post in January 2017. 

Apple is a $630B company, and its stock is within shouting distance of its all-time high. 

And Apple Pessimism is also at an all-time high. 

In the past, I've laughed at that pessimism, arguing that AAPL was undervalued*, and that what Apple really needed was to hold more keynotes (check!) and re-engage with its customers. 

Even if that meant holding keynotes for relatively minor accessories like the "Fun Products" Apple Hi-Fi / iPod Cases keynote Apple held back in Feb 2006. 

Direct engagement with customers was a part of what made Apple unique, and it was absolutely ignored throughout 2012-14

There were no keynotes at all from October 2012 through September 2013 - and then no more until August 2014!

That has changed - Apple has more or less stuck to a March-August-October keynote schedule since then. 

The problem today isn't disengagement. It is the feeling that Apple is intentionally walking away from what made the company special

If we lose the Apple ecosystem, we've pretty much lost the entire ballgame. 

We haven't seen a new Mac Pro since 2013. We haven't seen a new Mac Mini since 2014 - and that was a ridiculous, non-upgradeable computer with its RAM soldered in place for no reason. 

The new iPhone looked exactly like the old iPhone. 

And while it's not official, we're hearing that Apple may be exiting the networking and monitor markets.

Apple is still producing great products. but they tend to be glued and soldered closed.  

And you'll access those devices through a panoply of third-party routers and monitors, because those markets don't push profit margins the way mobile phones do, so why bother? 

*As an aside.... I'm not always right. But it SHOULD BE NOTED that I published that "AAPL is undervalued" post on April 20, 2013, the day AAPL hit a multi-year low at $55.79. AAPL has more than doubled since then. Come on, give me this victory lap.


So What Now?

Apple doesn't need a huge shake-up. 

They simply need to tell us that they're still in the game

I'll wait a while before buying a Google Wi-Fi or Eero Mesh router system... because I'd prefer an Airport Extreme version. 

But I won't wait forever. 

I desperately need to buy a Mac Mini to work as our home server.... but I refuse on principle to buy a 2014 Mini, and I don't want to buy a 2012 Mini if a replacement will ever be released.  

Sure, it might spoil the surprise, Apple, but we need to know - are you in, or are you out?

Tim Cook recently made a statement that Apple was NOT leaving the desktop computer market. 

(The fact that such a statement was required is, admittedly, remarkable.)

He should go a bit further, and stress that Apple will continue to produce desktops other than the iMac. 

Sure, it will kill some drama, but it will engage with Apple's devotees, and allow them to keep the faith after all of these years.   

Back to The Beginning

But what kind of computers should Apple be developing?

When Steve Jobs passed, it felt like Apple lost a fundamental link to its own past. 

Sure, Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. But he gets Apple, and he's taken the company to financial heights that have never been equalled. 

And that link to the past isn't gone

After all, Steve Jobs wasn't the only Steve who founded Apple. Steve Wozniak is still associated with the company. What would the Steves do?

Apple's new desktop computer should be called..... the Macintosh

The Macintosh (2017)  could replace BOTH the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro. 

It should be available in 4 configurations, which range from "entry-level 2014 Mini" (still for $500, but with a spec bump), all the way to "hypothetical 2017 Mac Pro".

And - here's the real hook - this Macintosh should be completely upgradeable. 

Meaning that a customer who bought the entry level could, hypothetically, upgrade the CPU, GPU, the memory, the SSD... all the way to the stock "Mac Pro" configuration, and beyond. 

That kind of Macintosh would encourage the sort of tinkering that led to the creation of Apple, instead of prohibiting it. 

That kind of tinkering creates a sense of ownership -- the bond between the user and the device, and between the customer and Apple. 

And heck - etch Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak's signatures on it, like we did with U2 a decade ago. 

Meet the Mac App Store!

This upgradable Macintosh could be profitable

Apple could sell hardware upgrades to Mac users well after their initial purchase.

Trying to run a program that pushes your system's limits? 

Your Macintosh provides a notification with available memory upgrades, guaranteed to fit your specific computer - and then explain the cost of each upgrade, with a graph showing how each would speed up your system. 

Click "Buy", and your RAM arrives in 48 hours.... and your iPhone or iPad launches a how-to-install app.    

Running out of space? 

The Mac Store would offer internal SSD upgrades - and external NAS devices - and again, either the Mac or your iOS device shows you how to install, step by step.  

(As a side benefit, this gives the Mac App Store a new lease on life / reason for existence!)

This Is Unlikely.

Sadly, I have no reason to believe that this will ever happen.

It's been a LONG time since Apple released a desktop computer. 

And the last time they did, they made the least tinker-friendly Macintosh in history.... essentially stating "This is a disposable consumer device, which will never be better than the day you bought it."

Even if Apple DOES release upgrades to the Pro or Mini, I have no faith that they'll enable the kind of modular system upgrades that I'm wishing for. 

And Apple HAS to push forward. (How about an Airport Mesh that also has Alexa-style Siri!)

But that doesn't mean they can't embrace their past. Release a Wozniak-edition Mini. Make a ton of first-party HomeKit gadgets that allow us to customize our houses. 

Or.....

Heck, enough time has passed.... release a 2017 iPod. 
(I'm envisioning a totally waterproof, rugged plastic exterior, Apple Music over wi-fi, voice control via Apple Watch, a clickwheel, and no headphone jack. But that's another post.)


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