With all the attention Apple have given the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch in recent years, the company has had a hard time convincing many business professionals that its Macs are still worth the premium price they command. In a one-on-one interview, Jason Hiner, Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic, shared his insights on what Apple can do to win over pros who may be considering Windows machines or even low-cost Chromebooks. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Bill Detwiler: So Jason, what do pros need from a new line of Macs?
Jason Hiner: Apple clearly hasn't put a whole lot of attention into the Mac line for years, it's no secret, we've talked about it many times. It's understandable from a business perspective because the iPhone and the iPhone ecosystem is such a massive part of their revenue, and the Mac is such a small part. That being said, it's still a multi-billion-dollar business, if it was its own company we're still talking about a billion-dollar business.
But clearly they put minimal effort into the Mac, and it's starting to catch up with them because these products are long in the tooth, the MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Mini, and our expectation is, and what we've heard numerous reports of, is that they are working on a new version of the MacBook Air and potentially a new version of the Mac Mini. Which is great, and could potentially help them compete where they are really struggling, which is that average, everyday user where Chromebooks are getting more powerful, more usable, and more friendly.
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Where people and businesses still like Macs is for their usability, for their durability, so they tend to take less user training, they tend to have less hardware failures, so the professionals like them, IT departments like them. But they are being nibbled away on the bottom by Chromebooks, which are getting easier and more durable, and on the top end by Windows machines because of the problems that Apple's kind of created for itself with those high end professionals.
So they've got a real challenge, we'll see if they can answer that in their September event. We've talked about, the September event tends to be where they focus on mobile devices, so I'd be surprised if they brought the MacBook in, but you never know. I think it's probably more likely they'll have a separate Mac event in October. But we'll see.
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Bill Detwiler: Speaking of those high-end users that used to be the bread and butter for Apple in the enterprise, these were video editors, they were graphic artists, designers, people that need a lot of horsepower in their machine to do their jobs. And in recent years it seems like Apple's abandoning that group. What can Apple do to win those people back, or have they pretty much just said, "Hey, we're gonna cut our losses and we're no longer targeting that group of business users"?
Jason Hiner: Yeah, it's a great question. It is a lot of the bread and butter, and these are people that are longtime Mac enthusiasts in many cases, and they are very loyal to the brand. Because of their use of Macs, they were some of the early adopters of the iPhone, of the iPad, Apple Watch, and other products. Abandoning them, not very wise strategy, but that has felt like what Apple is doing in recent years.
Although, I would argue that in many cases it's not so much that they're abandoning them, they're just trying to get a little too cute with what they're doing with the high end. What that high end customer has told them again and again they need is, you remember the old Mac towers, right? The silver towers, they were really some of the best-looking, designed towers we had seen. People liked having them under their desk or on their desk or wherever. And that was fine, but they still need them to be highly functional.
What's happened is Apple's gotten too far away from functional and gone too much in the way of cute. We've also seen this on MacBooks, MacBook Pros with the Touch Bar as well. People love the Touch ID, but that Touch Bar has removed their function keys, it's caused pros a lot of problems, a lot of headaches. They've gone so far in the direction of USB-C that now people are carrying a handful of dongles which they easily use-
Bill Detwiler: We all have a bunch of dongles and cables in our packs, right?
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Jason Hiner: It's a pain. But on the real true enterprise, high end professional side, that box, they've gotten away from that really good, usable, functional tower, and they've gone the way of the iMac Pro, which is not very upgradable, not very friendly to the professional, or the Mac Pro, the trash can Mac, which is a device that is also not very upgradable, not very modular.
So what Apple really needs to do is just stop getting so cute with it, make a good tower again if they want that professional back. And we know that people love that Cinema Display, essentially the iMac which was just a monitor where they can order a big, high performance retina display to put on their desktop. If they want those users back, they need to make that tower, they need to make a new Cinema Display.
If not, then I think they're gonna continue to, and we've seen them continue to, lose that professional to others who are now even almost, against their own better judgment and their own will, having to ditch Macs and go with these high-end Windows devices instead.
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Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.