You might have noticed that Apple released a few new smartphones recently – including the iPhone 11 Pro, and while the Cupertino company gushed about its latest handsets, it became ever more apparent that it seems almost completely uninterested in its Macs and MacBooks.
I can sort of understand why. Smartphones are still thought of as exciting and modern, and they are a reliable way of getting people to fork out their hard-earned money every few years.
Laptops like the MacBook, however, are seen more as everyday workhorses that are there to do a job, but aren’t the status symbols they once were. They've lost their cool. While Apple once was a computer company, it’s now essentially a phone manufacturer.
A phone manufacturer that actually wants to be a camera maker. Surely the reason why Apple stuck three ugly lenses on the iPhone Pro, and spent most of its launch event talking about the photo and video capabilities of its new phones, was because it desperately wants to be Canon or Nikon – not Nokia. I can’t actually remember Apple talking about phone calls or 5G or anything that you’d use to make phone calls with. Using a phone to call people? Why, that’s almost as boring as a laptop!
But taking photos? That’s what all the cool kids are doing, so let’s make a camera that can also make a few phone calls.
So I get it, I do. But, for anyone who still thinks of Apple as a computer company, for anyone who uses MacBooks and Macs, Apple’s neglect of that side of things is beginning to frustrate.
Falling out of love
So, what do I mean when I say Apple is neglecting its PC side of the business? After all, Apple has recently released new versions of its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops. Surely, that means it still has an interest in its laptops?
In fact, I’d argue that Apple’s latest refreshes of its MacBooks is a clear sign of how disinterested Apple is in its laptops.
After all, there were no big new features, nor any changes to the designs of the laptops. Apple even stuck with the hated Butterfly switch keyboard, despite widespread reports of the keyboards failing. If Apple really cared, surely it would have at least changed the keyboard, rather than tinkering around the edges.
Instead, the only upgrades this year’s models have is slightly improved specs – certainly nothing to get excited about.
Imagine if Apple treated the iPhone like it does its MacBooks – only a slight specs upgrade every year – there’d be rioting in the streets. OK, maybe not. But the lines outside the Apple Stores on their launch days would certainly be shorter.
New MacBooks coming?
Now, there have been rumors that a more revolutionary MacBook Pro refresh is coming at some point – with hints of a MacBook Pro 16-inch device launching with a (praise Tim Cook) new keyboard.
However, there wasn’t even a hint of that at Apple’s latest event. But if Apple is planning a major redesign, and had released the existing 2019 MacBooks as simply devices aimed at tiding people over until the new – more exciting – MacBook is announced, then this is a risky strategy.
Not only will it annoy anyone who bought a 2019 MacBook, only to find a few months later that it’s been completely superseded, but it has allowed Apple’s laptop competitors to catch up – and in some cases overtake them.
Apple used to be the go-to laptop maker if you wanted a thin, light and powerful device. However, many Windows PCs now offer premium designs that are just as impressive. Known as ‘Ultrabooks’, these Intel-powered Windows laptops offer stunning designs and performance that in many cases blows MacBooks out of the water. Apple took its eye off the ball, and companies like Asus, Dell and even Microsoft have been keen to step up.
Not only that, but while Apple is stubbornly sticking to the same tried and tested form factor, other laptop makers are trying out new and innovative designs. Sure, not all of them are successes (we weren't convinced by the dual-screen Asus ZenBook Pro Duo, for instance) but at least they are doing something different.
A victim of its own success
In many ways, I think Apple’s neglect of MacBooks is because they do what they do so well. Apple arguably nailed the design years ago, so even without a major overhaul in the looks department, MacBooks remain some of the thinnest and best looking laptops in the world.
The solid build quality (keyboard issues aside) also means MacBooks can last years without their owners feeling like they need to upgrade. Sadly, I don’t think Apple is that interested in the type of customer that buys one of their devices once every five or six years.
With the iPhone and Apple Watch (and to a certain extent, iPad), Apple has convinced a heck of a lot of people that they need to buy the latest version every year. That’s a money tree it’s keen to keep harvesting from, even if it leads to leaving other aspects of its business to lie fallow.
Perhaps Apple will release an exciting new MacBook. Maybe it will find its passion for laptops once again. But, there are now so many alternatives that do just as good a job – if not better – that Apple might find it’s left it too late.
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