Steve Jobs has a famous quote that lays out a perfect metaphor for the future of laptops and desktops.
When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that’s what you needed on the farm. But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, cars got more popular … PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people.
If this metaphor were reality, and laptops really were trucks, then the parking lots at Apple headquarters would be filled with pickups, not Teslas. Because basically everyone who works for Apple in software development is spending their days on a Mac — they’re not coding on iPads.
John Ternus, Apple’s vice president for hardware engineering for Macs, said so in a briefing earlier this week. “Some of our most talented folks are working on the Mac,” Ternus said, according to Daring Fireball. “I mean, quite frankly, a lot of this company, if not most of this company, runs on Macs. This is a company full of pro Mac users.”
On Tuesday, Apple reaffirmed its commitment to its oldest product line. It updated its trucks.
The current lineup of Mac Pros got the latest components, Apple teased a faster iMac model, and also made vague promises about an expandable, redesigned Mac Pro coming next year, for the most demanding users.
The reason that Apple is breaking with tradition and talking about upcoming products is because pro users are essential to Apple. They make up a small proportion of Apple users — 30% of Mac users, Apple estimates, which is a fraction of the number of iPhone users.
But Apple is not necessarily worried about video editors or artists, like Microsoft is targeting with the Surface Studio. It needs to keep the Mac strong because the Mac is what every single serious iPhone developer uses.
Currently, Apple’s software for making software, Xcode, is only available on the Mac, and there’s no iOS version. Apple is planning for a day when software development is done on tablets and phones, releasing the educational programming app Swift Playgrounds last year, but most developers still require a hardware keyboard, a command line, and a Unix-like environment, like macOS provides.
“I think if you use Xcode downloads as a metric, it’s possible software developers are actually our largest pro audience. It’s growing very quickly, it’s been fantastic,” Apple software SVP Craig Federighi said at the Mac briefing.
Some other Mac stats Apple shared on Tuesday:
- 80% of Macs sold are laptops, and 20% are desktops.
- It’s a $25 billion run rate business on its own based on holiday quarter sales, which were up 20% annually. That’s no iPhone business, but it would still be a Fortune 500 company on its own.
Developers, developers, developers
Developers are critical to Apple. The number of great apps available for iPhones and iPads is one of the biggest reasons to pay more for an iPhone over an Android phone. Apple likes to tout the job creating effects of software development for the iPhone, most recently saying that there are 627,000 jobs attributable to the “iOS ecosystem.”
Do most developers need a pro machine with beastly GPUs and CPUs, like Apple is promising the launch in the future? No. Most developers can make apps and other software on Apple’s laptops, and the company knows this.
But increasingly, next-generation experiences, like Apple CEO Tim Cook is fond of talking about, will require lots of power to do 3D-rendering. Apple wants to make sure that people can do AR and VR development on Macs. Plus, if you’ve ever spent time with software engineers, you know that a lot of them like to have a lot of horsepower on their daily rig.
So Apple can’t get rid of Macs, even though they’re dwarfed by the size of the iPhone business, because they’re trucks. Developers are using those trucks to build the mountain of iPhone, and Apple’s moat, and that’s why the company won’t be abandoning the Mac anytime soon.