In the last years, we have seen Apple busy developing iPod MP3 players, iPhone mobile phones, and PCs --in that order. The latest new Macs Apple conceived have been met with great enthusiasm but the finish and quality of build were less than what Mac users hoped for; cracked screens, problems with the graphics cards, and more misery hit the buyers of the most powerful iMac ever made. So how important are creative designers and computer users in general to Apple these days?I have always considered the reluctance of Apple to focus more on corporate users and less on gadget users as something of a paradox. Here’s a company that develops its own motherboards, chipsets, etc, but which refuses to disclose future plans even under NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) to large corporate customers for obscure reasons and lacks the support organisation to service those types of customers.
Instead, Apple chose to become an entertainment provider that controls both the hardware (iPods, iPhones, iMacs) and software side (software, music, video, etc) of the business. Great show, but not always so for the Mac buyer. In the past 6 years, we’ve seen a transition from PowerPC processors to Intel Macs and from Mac OS X 32-bit to Mac OS X 64-bit. All in a spirit of ‘take-it-or-leave-it’—a spirit most corporate buyers don’t like, as do few individual users.
In the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to test the first generation Intel Macs which were not dramatically faster or more powerful than my old Power Mac G5. The current and second generation is, but am I wrong in stating they cost much more than a Power Mac did (with the necessary adjustments to accommodate for inflation, etc.)?
True, second generation Intel Macs are equipped with state-of-the-art I/O technologies, but state-of-the-art is a relative concept—my G5 was state-of-the-art when I purchased it, but it’s become near to useless—to start with, and a standard equipped Mac Pro still has no Fibre Channel or even eSATA on board.
The newest most powerful quad-core iMacs therefore looked like a real steal: they are faster than the average Mac Pro and a lot cheaper. They don’t come with great expansion capabilities, but we all know there’s always a compromise—people understand that. I almost bought into Apple’s promise too, were it not that I saw the forum messages drizzling in before I ordered mine—what started as a drizzle of disappointed comments soon became a tsunami—threads covering screen cracks, DOAs, numerous problems.
What is the creative user to Apple?When I saw those messages and the fast growing threads of which they were part, I wondered how important Apple estimates its most loyal customers these days—the creative community. I mean, to ship iMacs that clearly have a quality control problem is one thing, but to abandon products like Shake completely without an explanation at all is another. How should post-production pros—the crowd Apple has been pampering the past few years with Final Cut Studio components like Color—interpret the lack of Blu-Ray support?
Never mind the opinion of Steve Jobs on that subject; to call Blu-Ray support in Compressor a major new feature if you can’t buy a Mac Pro with a Blu-Ray burner is sort of cynical, especially as DVD Studio Pro has not been upgraded to make full use of Blu-Ray capabilities.
Don’t get me wrong: I still think Apple is lightyears ahead of what any PC maker can deliver. I just purchased my first Intel Mac—a Mac Mini 2.53 GHz because I’m going to wait for the new generation Mac Pros for some really serious computing power—and I was stunned to see this little gem tackle Motion, Color, X-Plane and Vue 8 Infinite without a problem. These applications don’t run extremely fast, of course and I’m not saying I can do some complex compositing in Motion, but it works and it’s actually a tad faster than my G5.
So, in some areas Apple is doing the right things, but what I lack mostly is a message of consistency like the one the company is clearly communicating to gadget buyers; the iPod and iPhone users. Mac users on the contrary are left in the dark. Even the poor iMac i7 and i5 buyers were left in the dark about their machine’s problems.
Oh, and what other bloggers and some Mac commentators have called an apology by Apple to me is not an apology at all; it’s just an affirmation of Apple’s intention to put this right. That to me is the least a company can do when it made a mistake or its quality control failed, but by no means should this message be seen as an apology. As far As Apple is concerned, there was no problem and it’s business as usual.
Which takes me back to my title: how important are Mac buyers to Apple anyway these days?