Macworld has managed quite a scoop, interviewing Apple executives about the future of the Mac. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, noted Apple’s longevity, remarking how the companies making computers when Apple released the Mac are all gone. This, he said, was down to Apple’s ability to reinvent itself over and over.
This willingness was most clearly illustrated with iOS, not least when the iPad arrived. On its introduction, Apple’s tablet was positioned as being some way between a notebook and smartphone, but it’s increasingly obvious the device is capable enough to replace computers for a great many people. Plenty of users look forward to a future where the iPad is so powerful that it becomes the device for everything, with Macs consigned to history.
Interestingly, Apple doesn’t seem to agree. Schiller said:
There is a super-important role [for the Mac] that will always be. We don’t see an end to that role. There’s a role for the Mac as far as our eye can see. A role in conjunction with smartphones and tablets, that allows you to make the choice of what you want to use. Our view is, the Mac keeps going forever, because the differences it brings are really valuable.
I have no doubt this passage will fuel speculation for a long time. It says so little—there are no specifics—but it also suggests so much, not least that Apple doesn’t see (or at least won’t admit to seeing) the iPad eventually replacing the Mac. The question is why that might be the case. It would seem nonsensical for Apple to arbitrarily ‘hold back’ what the iPad might be capable of, in order for its Mac line to survive. Instead, it seems more logical that the will Mac increasingly move into ever-smaller niches, for those needing to do tasks the iPad’s not suitable for, until such a time no longer exists.
It’s also telling Schiller appears to be approaching life from the standpoint of someone with an awful lot of money (which he has):
It’s not an either/or. It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all…. It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way.
That’s a worryingly Microsoft sentiment. The main difference between that statement and Steve Ballmer’s line of thinking is that Microsoft’s desperate to shove all the aspects of these devices into a single case; Schiller simply reasons you should buy them all.
As educator and iPad fanatic Fraser Speirs remarked on Twitter, this latest interview is in stark contrast to Steve Jobs’s radical simplification of Apple’s product line in 1997. Perhaps such thinking is now obsolete in itself, but as a long time Mac user, I’ve increasingly been caught in the buyer’s doubt loop because of the growing range of Apple products. MacBook Air or MacBook Pro? iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina? Logic would seem to suggest the iPad would in the long run take the consumer/mobile slot in the original Jobs four-box product matrix (one each of consumer/pro for mobile/desktop), but perhaps now Apple sees the future as something more complex, with more devices.
That’s all very well if you can afford it, but Schiller’s being optimistic to think that will be the default for typical users in the future, splashing out on phones and tablets and computers. Something has to give; Apple would like it to be your resolve and your wallet. To my mind, within the next decade, it’s for most people going to be the Mac, whether Apple likes it or not.