I've been listening to a lot of podcasters lately trying to understand and rationalize why Apple seems to be abandoning the professional Mac users by letting their Pro line of hardware and software (from the Mac Pro to Logic and Final Cut Pro) languish. Some have speculated that the reason for this is that Apple believes the future is in ultra thin, portable computing devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, and not in powerful desktop computers with copious amounts of RAM and massively powerful video cards that can help professional produce even more beautiful and complex production art faster.
There's also been articles about Apple being stretched thin, as they struggle to maintain their growing product lines and incredibly complex production process. From a podcast by Guy English, my understanding is that Apple is very particular about the kind of skills the company looks for in the people it's willing to interview and hire. Apple seemingly is not interested in hiring people with certain kinds of experience and then training them and giving them time to become experts at the specific product/skill that theyneed. Rather, they want to hire people that already have those skills. That makes it a lot harder to find enough people to support all of their existing and future software and hardware design and development needs, which means the existing employees continue to be stretched even further, which forces Apple to prioritize between supporting the product that's making tons of money and is the future, and supporting an existing product line that's reached maturity (i.e. the Mac line up) and that doesn't reach the kind of sales of the new hottness (i.e. the iOS ecosystem).
I wonder if there's another factor here. I don't think that Apple has this amazingly clairvoyant vision of what computing will be like in a few decades. Rather, I believe Apple is trying to create a future where they're able to sell products that competitors will have a hard time trying to build or create. Apple wants to dominate the marketplace, and find a way to create products that no one else can create, that only they can offer. And Apple is willing to drag it's best customers kicking and screaming into this new future that they've created, and one that they can control and influence. Apple wants to create products that appeal to the masses, and if in the process, they lose their traditional audience, the ones that stuck by Apple through thick and thin, even in the worst of times, Apple is okay with that.
It's not necessarily the best future, but rather a future that is most profitable for Apple. As with almost every for-profit organization, Apple's first priority is its own survival and growth. Apple's first priority is itself, but it's marketing team has done a fantastic job of convincing us that they care about their users. They do, but only in so far as that it helps them stay enormously profitable. And that's perfectly reasonable.
But for those of us, that understand the value of upgradability, of being able to swap out components so we can slowly build up to the computer of our dreams instead of plunking down thousands of dollars, and going into debt to have the buggy version of that dream now, for those of us that create the content and apps and products that make people want to buy more Apple products, it can be frustrating.
There was a time when Apple was willing to spend money on products like Logic, Final Cut Pro, and Mac configurations that only large companies with deep pockets can afford to buy, because the halo effect of these products brought in people who would then spend money on Apple's more mainstream and affordable products, and that helped make Apple fabulously wealthy. But now that the network effect has made Apple secure in it's position as the dominant platform for people that want to consume content instead of create it, Apple's top leadership is willing to jettison those people creating the content in favor of those consuming content.
Apple's marketing team might like to show ads with people creating movies and presentations on iPhones, but the number of people doing so are vanishingly small. The vast majority of content creators are teenagers and parents taking photos and writing posts on Twitter and Facebook. Or surfing the web. Turns out that while a lot of use love Apple's approach to hardware design, it's the software that keeps us interested in using that hardware. And that software can run on anything from a Windows desktop to an Android phone to yes, an iPhone, an iPad, and a Mac laptop. Apple doesn't control Facebook, Twitter, Amazon.com, or the millons of websites where we view, post, share, and generally spend all our time.
Apple's hardware is quickly becoming commoditized. Lots of people are perfectly happy with their Samsung and other Android phones. What they want is Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Amazon. While Apple continues to try and own the future of computing, they seem unaware that that future has moved away from platform specific software that only runs on iOS or Android, and instead has moved to the Internet and the Web, where any user on any platform can access the content, as long as developers and designers are willing to put the effort to reach out to those customers by ironing out any obstacles that get in the way of fast, easy, seamless access to that content.
Will the future be in augmented reality, virtual reality, conversational interfaces (chat UIs), and smart watches? Perhaps. But eventually the hardware that those platforms will run on will become commodities as the differentiating factor becomes the software that runs on those platforms that consumers are willing to spend time on. And increasingly, consumers are going to tire of the walled garden approach to the software. More and more, people are happy with good enough hardware. They want access to the software platform, and more importantly, the content on that software platform far more than the platform itself. People don't care about HBO, or Facebook, or Twitter, or iTunes, or Spotify. They want to watch Game of Thrones, and read posts by their friends, and family, and strangers specially if it's compelling (fake news anyone?). They want to listen to the latest episode of This American Life , and "Hello" by Adele, and tweet passionate messages about how awesome Rogue One was or how distressing it is being treated unequally because of the color of their skin.
Content is the future. And to produce that content, producers need great hardware. Or not. Content producers will make do with web-based tools that aren't as powerful as their native iOS, Android, and Windows counterparts if it helps them get their content to their audiences faster, or more seamlessly, or more cheaply.
A long time ago, Apple roared back from the brink of extinction, because a certain visionary leader and his team understood that enabling content producers to produce amazing content would draw content consumers as well to their platform. Then one day, the visionary leader passed away. And the company, secure in its place thanks to the hard work of those content producers to produce software that made people want to use the hardware, decided that they no longer needed those content producers. Apple's hardware and software platform had so much momentum that they would do fine on their own. And they slowly turned their back on the content producers. So far they've done pretty well, because it turns out, hardware is really important.
But what will the future hold? Will Apple strategy eventually cause them to gradually lose market share and mind share, as the content producers move their content to the web, where the hardware doesn't matter as much, where what matters is whether the content is engaging or not? I honestly don't know. But I am going to be paying close attention. And it might even influence my UX strategy. It's going to be an interesting journey.