Apple to creative pros: Go f*** yourselves
For decades the Mac has been the choice of creative professionals. Graphic designers, photographers, videographers, musicians, writers, artists of all stripes love the Mac. They love the ease of use, the robustness of the operating system and the third-party apps, products, and services that work with it. But as Apple has become the biggest consumer electronics company in the world, it’s also shown an increasing indifference to the needs and desires of the creative community.
This trend isn’t new. Apple upset video pros years ago when it pivoted from Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X, a complete rewrite of its pro video editing software that changed its workflow and broke compatibility with third-party tools on which an entire industry depended. The reaction from videographers was to hoard FCP7 licenses to the best of their ability to continue to support the systems and workflows they’d spent years and millions of dollars (collectively) to develop.
The company allowed its heaviest iron, the Mac Pro, to languish for years with only minor refreshes to keep it chugging along. Then in 2013 the company introduced a completely reinvented Mac Pro.
“Can’t innovate anymore, my ass,” was the retort from Apple VP Phil Schiller when he introduced the new Mac at an Apple event. And it was an innovative device — a turbine-shaped parallel-processing monster designed for people who needed to crunch a lot of data quickly. As well-suited to engineers and scientists calculating huge data arrays as it was towards creative pros working with high-res photos, 4K video, multiple tracks of high bit-rate audio and more.
The Mac Pro hasn’t been touched with any sort of in-line refresh since then. Three years ago. Even the “cheese grater” Mac Pro that preceded the current “Trash Can” model saw occasional updates with new graphics cards and CPUs. What’s more, the old Mac Pro could be upgraded with new capabilities thanks to RAM sockets, internal PCIe-based expansion ports, two externally-facing 5.25-inch drive bays and four internal SATA drive bays.
By comparison, you can upgrade the RAM on the new Mac Pro easily but that’s it. There’s one SSD in there for internal storage. It can be replaced, but if you want additional features or functionality, it better be through USB or Thunderbolt. Which has, in some cases, created a veritable Gordian Knot of expansion cables.
Apple just introduced an updated MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is thinner and faster than ever before and Apple vaunts the Touch Bar as a huge advance forward for creative professionals, but in other respects, it’s fallen short. It’s limited to 16 GB RAM, for example — a critical shortcoming for some creative pros working with really large files and multiple applications. It can’t connect to the huge number of USB and Thunderbolt peripherals already in use without using ugly, expensive “dongles.” Why apply the “Pro” appellation if this isn’t, in fact, aimed at pros?
All of this is happening at a time when Microsoft is making a stronger play for creative professionals than it has in many years. The company’s Surface Studio combines a massive touch-sensitive display with the sort of thoughtful, minimalistic design you’d expect of an Apple product. Microsoft is also making a strong advertising play for creative pros with its “You can’t do that on a Mac” campaign, which features creatives doing innovative work on Surface devices — movie animation, set design and more.
Apple’s latest blow to creative pros came earlier this week. Word emerged from the MacTech conference in Los Angeles that Apple eliminated the position of its manager of user automation, Sal Soghoian. Sal is well known in creative and developer communities. A creative pro himself, Sal came to Apple almost 20 years ago after realizing how powerful user scripting tools like AppleScript could be. Sal once shared Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference stage with Steve Jobs to introduce Automator, a key scripting tool developed by Apple.
What’s going to happen to automation technology in macOS going forward, however, is anyone’s guess. Apple’s decision to eliminate the position of the one person who was shepherding the technology does not speak well of its priorities.
Writing on his Six Colors blog, former Macworld editor in chief Jason Snell says, “But lately it’s hard not to see that Apple’s interest in automation technologies appears lukewarm. iOS has no systemwide automation features; apps like Workflow and enterprising users and developers have provided ways for users to connect apps together, but it seems like they succeed despite — not because of — Apple.”
Twenty years ago, when Soghoian started at Apple, Apple was in a very different place than it is now. It was before the iPhone, before the iPod, even before the iMac. Apple was on the rocks, having been beaten pretty badly in the personal computer market by Microsoft. The company was months away from running out of money and possibly shutting down or selling off to the highest bidder. Creative pros were one of the very few market segments that were even interested in Apple anymore. Apple knew that and counted on them to help keep the home fires burning.
Those same customers seemingly aren’t enough of a market for Apple to bother with anymore. Which brings to mind an old aphorism: “If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.”
It will be truly ironic, after all these years, if that someone turns out to be Microsoft.
A version of this post appears on my own Web site.