Since the release of the latest Apple MacBook Pro there's been a lot of huffing and puffing taking place by all sorts of people, but it seems more so by the niche of creatives like audio and video creators. Some has been well argued, other stuff just plain silly.
Articles have ranged in tone from dissatisfaction to outright rage with suggestions that Apple have lost their mind and don't have a clue about innovation.
Much of what is being written in the creative community reads like four of the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining and depression. I want to suggest that some may need to move to the fifth stage of grief and that is acceptance.
Acceptance of what? Well let's talk some numbers...
Let's start with the creative industry. It's changing. Large music studios and post houses are in decline, despite the almost insatiable need for content to be produced, because the way we produce content has changed. I used to be part of the management team of a post house in Soho, which was one of the first to use Final Cut Pro and had a complete Apple workflow. When Apple announced Final Cut X that caused a problem for the company because it did not cater for team-based workflows and content ingest capabilities were reduced. Even now that post house has continued with the older version of Final Cut because of these limitations.
However Final Cut Pro X and it's new 'internalised' workflow caters very well for many of the new generation of DSLR (one person owned) video creation companies, who have little need to work in teams and would rather have the new agile FCPX for their needs.
The same can be said for music and audio. Who would have dreamed that many of us would be making music or editing post audio on our laptops? Who would have imagined that for many users DSP cards would become unnecessary and that a small desktop audio interface would be used instead? The term "bedroom producer" is no longer an insult but describes the reality for many audio professionals making top music, movies and TV from home. Check out our recent survey of how you use Pro Tools.
These are just a couple of small examples of how our industry is changing, it's been taking place for a long time and now we are starting to see the impact.
OK let's talk some numbers.
Apple And Computers
In early 2007 at the Macworld Expo Steve Jobs said that Apple was dropping the word “Computer” from its name to become “Apple Inc.” Apple was no longer dependant on revenue from just computers and had a much broader product offering.
The first Mac Pro 'cheesegrater' came to market about a decade ago and was at that time Apple's best attempt at a building a best in class machine for the desktop PC market, building on the success of the Power Mac G5. It had a good run without any change to it until Mid 2013 when Apple announced the controversial 'Trash Can' Mac Pro, which offered no options for existing Mac Pro owners to fit things like audio cards and their existing hard drives. The 'Trash Can' marked the start of Apple expecting owners to use external peripherals, after all this was the remaining weak link in Apple's chain of controlling the user experience. This ability to control the whole software/hardware experience has always been Apple's winning hand versus the Windows where anyone with a screwdriver can build a computer approach and, fingers crossed, it works!
But getting back to the change of name, it also highlighted that Apple now has new revenue streams, which have continued year-on-year, making computers one of the smallest revenue streams for the company. Take a look at 2016 results for Apple shown below.
The two numbers to look at are the contribution all computers make to Apple's bottom line, it's about 12% and remember that's iMac, Mac Mini, Mac Pro and laptops combined. It may be the case that watches are creating more revenue than certain Mac product lines. The second number is the Year/Year Change at the end of each row and Mac sales are down -17% in terms of revenue.
At first one may put this down to Apple losing market share, but the chart below shows the PC performance for the top 5 brands up until April 2016 Anyone with a minor understanding of Apple's history of market share in the PC world will know that to see them in the top 5 is a minor miracle, because of their other lines such as iPhone and iPod and the 'halo effect' Apple grew their share of the computer market from niche to major player... but in a declining market. The entire market is down by nearly 10%.
Apple have grown their share of computer sales in a declining market, but despite this computers make up a small part of their overall revenue stream.
Let's Talk Pro
One of the common phrases bandied around about the new Apple MacBook Pro is 'this is no good for the pro!' This criticism is mainly emanating from the creative sector, citing the change in ports to USBC amongst other things. Let's set that aside for a moment and look at who might be seen as a target user of the new MacBook Pro, who are these professionals? Take a look at the chart below showing how different sectors make up the economy in the UK. If you wish you can see the interactive version of this chart here.
Helpfully you can see the Arts right at the bottom of this chart, but let's for the hell of it also throw in the 'other services slice' too. A report from the UK's Department of Culture, Media And Sport pins the contribution from the creative sector to around 6%. So whilst the creative sector makes a valuable and essential contribution to the UK economy we are not the only professionals Apple have to target.
You can see that across different sectors there are many professionals who need a laptop computer, all of whom can claim to be 'pro' users. Granted certain sectors will lean towards a Windows based specialist machine but there are plenty of lawyers, scientists, marketeers, educators and more who are the target market for an Apple MacBook Pro.
It would be disingenuous not to add some historical context to this debate. During Apple's years of small market share a large contingent of their purchasers were creative professionals - in fact they worked hard to cultivate that market when they were little more than a niche computer brand against the might of IBM et al! Before Apple made iPods and Phones it was almost the case that the only place you found a Mac was recording studios, post houses, advertising and design agencies and education, everyone else used a 'real computer'.
So it's not unreasonable for the creative community to consider themselves a 'special case' when it comes to Apple's target audience.
But as one can see from the numbers presented so far computers are a small part of Apple's income in a declining market AND creative professionals are a small part of the market Apple want to try and win. When you consider all the professionals who may choose a MacBook Pro, then battery life and weight are important. Many are unlikely to want to string a load of audio and MIDI peripherals off the back of one, add more memory or and bigger drive and for many of these professionals the most taxing thing the MacBook Pro will do is crunch numbers, create presentations or send emails all day. It doesn't make their use any less important, simply different and I'd wager more people will buy a Mac for this kind of work than for creative pursuits.
What We Want Is A MacBook Niche
Having seen the recent release of Final Cut X 10.3 I can say with assurance that Apple still cares about attracting and equipping the creative community with useful tools. But I think Apple has a different view of who these people are, it sees the changing practices of many creative professionals and is trying to make the next generation of computers to meet the needs of some of them. Note I said some of them - Apple is making a calculated decision which does not include everyone, even some of it's customers who have been faithfully using a Mac for decades.
If you are looking at the new generation of computers like a MacBook Pro or the Microsoft Surface Studio and are wondering how in the hell you attach your HDX cards, that's as silly as someone looking at the Model T Ford and wondering where you attach your horse. There are two questions to ask in this dilemma and it's only fair if we also ask if our DSP card audio system is still the best way to record audio. As technology evolves we have to face the fact that either we stick with what we know works or make some changes to accommodate the change. This is the story of technological change (good and bad) we've been here so many times before we should all be used to it by now. I don't have the space to list all the things I bought that were superseded in the several decades I've been doing this, but if anyone can open a few ZIP drives that I have I'd appreciate that. My loft is full of old technologies that were once declared the future and are now long forgotten.
Many of the recent complaints about the MacBook Pro from the creative community come down to the fact that we want Apple to make us a MacBook Niche, one aimed at the professional creative community.
Do I think Apple got the new MacBook Pro right? I'm not sure, some of their decisions seem a little odd but only time will tell but early data suggest someone thinks they have done a good job. According to Mac Rumors
"Slice Intelligence says the new MacBook Pro accumulated more revenue from online orders during its first five days of availability than the Microsoft Surface Book, ASUS Chromebook Flip, Dell Inspiron 2-in-1, and Lenovo Yoga 900, based on e-receipt data from 12,979 online shoppers in the United States.
The new MacBook Pro generated over seven times the revenue that the 12-inch MacBook did over its first five days of availability, according to Slice Intelligence. If accurate, that means it took the new MacBook Pro just five days to accumulate 78% of all the revenue generated by the 12-inch MacBook since its April 2015 launch."
What I can say is that Apple only have themselves to blame when it comes to the response from the creative community. Apple courted creatives for several decades when building their business, at one point we were almost the only professional sector buying Apple computers, then Apple found a new way to grow their business with the iPhone and other consumer devices. Suddenly the class geek become the school president and the kids who had been faithful friends during his wilderness years are no longer besties, just part of their adoring fan base - That has to hurt.
It's Time To Move To The 5th Stage - Acceptance
Team member Alan Sallabank summed it up so eloquently "What is a "pro" product anyway? Surely any product is only as "pro" as its user?" As a creative I've been using the Mac Pro 'Trashcan' and a MacBook Pro for the last few years to create music and video successfully and with few issues, in fact the biggest issue has been some of the OS releases over the last few years not the hardware. But both of my so called by some 'non pro' Apple computers are helping me run a successful business and making me money. To suggest that Apple's current crop of computers are useless for professionals is untrue - They may not work for every creative professional, they may not suit you, but that's not the same thing.
Like everyone else I would love an Apple computer built to my creative sector specifications. I like you have a lot of gear that I need to attach to my computer in the studio. I'm doing it but with some changes to my workflow. The reality is I don't think that a machine made to cater for our sector exclusively (the MacBook Niche) is coming anytime soon, I'd almost go as far to say never, I would be foolish to say never, especially in print! Would I put money on Apple making that computer? No.
So if you are holding out for that computer then I suggest you have two choices; work with the computers Apple already make or look elsewhere.
I suggest the sooner we accept this the better.