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macOS is becoming legacy software

macOS is becoming legacy software

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Vjeran Pavic

Everything that Apple did, and didn’t do, with its Mac lineup this year tells me the company would rather be selling more iPads and iPhones. The departures from the 2016 MacBook Pro — MagSafe charger, USB and memory card slots, and a keyboard with more than 0.55mm of travel — are all things the iPad lacks. The improvements to the same machine — thinner, lighter, all-metal chassis, a display with wider color gamut, and a sliver of a touchscreen called the Touch Bar — are all things the iPad has. If it’s not perfectly obvious, Apple’s efforts with its new Macs are to wean its old users off their desktop and laptop habits and familiarize them with the new world of touchscreen PCs. What that means for macOS is that it’s fast turning into legacy software: an afterthought on its way to becoming abandonware.

This may all sound very dramatic, but yesterday’s report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, someone with impeccable connections within Apple’s ranks, agrees with my assessment:

In another sign that the company has prioritized the iPhone, Apple re-organized its software engineering department so there's no longer a dedicated Mac operating system team. There is now just one team, and most of the engineers are iOS first, giving the people working on the iPhone and iPad more power.

The internal rearrangement of priorities for Apple is very much evident in the changes the company has made in recent years. Final Cut Pro X was a simplification of Apple’s video-editing software that drove many pros away. The professionally inclined Aperture photo editor app has also been replaced by the more universal and simplified Photos. Siri made its way from iOS to macOS, and has been followed by Touch ID and a catalog of touch controls in the Touch Bar. The only other big user-facing alteration to macOS in recent times has been Apple’s Continuity, which is designed specifically to make Macs better at communicating and collaborating with iOS devices. Continuity is like the Mac’s W1 wireless chip for headphones: a spoke connecting the peripheral device to the iOS-based hub.

Apple’s new features are "trickling up" from mobile to the desktop

It might be arguable that Apple is melding its two operating systems into one, but the weight of evidence is heavily on the side of the company making iOS as good as it can be, and then dragging macOS along for the ride. Everything happening with macOS and the computers running it seems to be a retrofitting or adaptation of Apple’s leading-edge stuff on iPhones and iPads. We’ve long ago passed the point of "trickling down" desktop features to the mobile realm — Apple has been "mobile first" for much longer than competitors like Microsoft have been touting that slogan.

Broader industry trends would appear to support Apple’s (unspoken) decision to treat Macs as its second-class citizens. The truth is that Intel-powered x86 computers — like the MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and iMac — are hitting a performance and efficiency ceiling, whereas ARM chips like Apple’s A series keep going from strength to strength. Investors want to see growing sales, and to secure those, Apple needs to show consumers constant and meaningful improvements in its products. Thinking along similar lines, Microsoft recently announced it’s developing the means to make Windows applications run on ARM processors, and everyone else in the traditional PC industry is also working on blurring the line between tablet and laptop.

The curious thing with Apple is how settled the strategy appears to already be. Even while the Bloomberg revelations seem to paint a rare picture of disorder within Apple, there’s no indication that the company’s vision is sundered. Scything off essential ports from the MacBook Pro, as Apple just did, is the expression of a deliberate choice from the company to move aggressively toward a less wired and more mobile future. Apple may be aggravating many of its established users today, but it sees a bigger market and greater opportunities by pursuing the path it has chosen.

Macs are still a $22 billion business, but Apple is prioritizing the more lucrative iOS

One of the things that can sometimes go neglected when discussing the Mac, which is after all the product line that first made Apple famous, is how small it has become on the company’s balance sheet. In 2016, Macs accounted for 10.5 percent of Apple’s net sales and were eclipsed by the company’s Services division, which includes things like the iTunes Store, Apple Pay, and Apple Music. The iPhone, by comparison, brought in six times as much in net sales. Macs are still a very meaningful $22 billion business, but Apple clearly has more lucrative opportunities that it has chosen to prioritize.

macOS is, of course, not going to disappear anytime soon. Many people rely on it for their jobs — iOS app developers among them — and there’s a passionate user base that will extend its life far beyond the amount of time it takes Apple to transition all its eggs into the iOS basket. But make no mistake about it, that move is already underway. iOS is the center of Apple’s universe, and everything that is to come from the Cupertino company will be in service to its most profitable platform.