If you listen to Apple podcasts - and you really should, because ATP and Gruber's The Talkshow are a delight to listen to, even if it's sometimes infuriatingly inaccurate about Windows, Android, and Linux - you would know there's a lot of talk going on about what Apple is going to do to 'salvage' the iPad, and what Apple is going to do - if anything - to replace the Mac Pro. They sometimes take it a step further, and go into what the future of macOS and iOS is going to - will they continue to exist side-by-side? Will macOS be tightened up and made more like iOS, or will iOS be expanded to make it more like macOS?
These questions arise from Apple's seeming indifference towards the iPad, and the obvious situation with the lack of updates for the Mac Pro, the Mac Mini, and to a lesser degree even the iMac. On top of that, the rumour mill is running in overdrive, and it further fuel the fires of these discussions.
I've been thinking about this a lot these past few months, and I've been talking to people who know their Apple stuff, and the more I take a step back and look at all the discussions, rumours, and Apple's actions - and lack thereof - the more obvious it becomes: it seems like Apple is about to completely redefine its infamous product matrix.
In case you don't remember, back in the late '90s, Steve Jobs showed the following product matrix:
Before I show you what I think Apple is going to do, here are a few reasons underpinning it, in list form:
- The Mac Pro was introduced to much fanfare, but hasn't been updated in - as of writing - more than three years.
- Likewise, the Mac Mini hasn't been updated in well over two years.
- The MacBook Air - the number one crowd pleaser among non-techy buyers - hasn't been updated in two years.
- The iMac hasn't been updated in over 18 months.
- Apple told Nilay Patel that the company is out of the standalone display business. If true, the logical extension of this would be that Apple is out of the headless Mac business. As John Gruber noted in the latest The Talkshow episode - do you really think Apple is going to put ugly LG monitors in its brand new, meticulously designed headquarters?
- The rumour mill claims Apple is expected to expand its iPad lineup even further, with more Pro models.
- iPads - even the basic models - have an insane amount of computing power, and newer models have lots of RAM and crazy fast processors. What for? To watch Netflix? I don't think so.
- And last but not least: Apple debuted a number of new commercials last week, in which the company positions the iPad not as a companion device, but as your only device, touting its productivity features such as Microsoft Office support.
Add all this up, and I'm getting the feeling Apple is working towards a product matrix that looks more like this:
The basic gist is that I feel Apple is slowly but surely working towards positioning iOS computers as its consumer line, and macOS computers as its pro line.
Since I can already hear people tapping away at their keyboards about Xcode this and consumption device that - it's important to note that what is iOS today will be very different from what will be iOS in the future. iOS surely has its limitations right now - specifically things like awkward and cumbersome file management, no proper windowing, etc. - but there's no reason to assume that what iOS looks and feels like today is what it'll look and feel like forever.
A lot of people are exploring what an IDE and related software will look like on iOS (just follow Steven Troughton-Smith and Federico Viticci on Twitter - they talk a lot about production-oriented iPad applications). The problem here isn't that iOS can't do complex applications - the problem is that the application ecosystem isn't conducive to such complex applications, which is quite a big hole Apple dug itself into by letting the App Store model ravage the indie developer scene, race all prices to the bottom of the barrel, and creating the expectation that everything is either 99 cents or free.
Another issue easily spotted in the product matrix is that the iPad Pro awkwardly sits in the desktop line, even though it clearly isn't a desktop device. It could very well be that we'll eventually see an iOS desktop or desktop-like device, but I honestly don't think it's worth the effort. People have overwhelmingly voted with their wallets, and portable computing has resoundingly won.
If this hunch of iOS = consumer, macOS = pro does indeed pan out, I don't expect it to happen overnight; in fact, it will most likely take several years, in a way where you barely notice it's even happening. We should be seeing a heavier emphasis on things like iPad keyboards, which may even include 'hard shell' keyboards which effectively turn them into laptops. On the software side, we should see things like mouse and trackpad support, improved multitasking (perhaps even some form of windowing), and improved file management. Of course, this would be accompanied by a marketing campaign more heavily focused on positioning the iPad as an all-round device capable of replacing your laptop.
Looking at the evidence I listed above, the conversations I've had with people who know Apple really well, and the Apple podcasts I've been listening to, I feel like this is a plausible future for Apple. I obviously don't have any insider information or anything like that - this is all based on gut feeling, some common sense, and the listed evidence. This is not a prediction, and not an "Apple must do this, or else"-kind of thing - just something I've been piecing together these past few months.
This year, 2017, will make or break a lot of this stuff.