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Tuesday Talk ~ Where to, Apple?

A new column, since there’s hardly ever any Apple news on Tuesdays …

(Image from the MacTracker software, that features the salient points of every Mac ever made)
(Image from the MacTracker software, that features the salient points of every Mac ever made)

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, almost the first thing he did was rationalise the Mac product lines (remember, there was no iPhone or iPad in those days – Apple just made Macs). He cut products by 70% – it was such a good idea. In those days, there were so many flavours of Macs, it was really hard to work out which ones to buy: the Performa 6300? 5320CD? 6360? Or Power Macintosh 72300,? 8500? 6400? (That’s the other thing – they had meaningless names that told you nothing.)
This was a very smart business move, and thousands of people around the world – me included – heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, all sorts of processes and operating procedures changed, too. I interviewed a former Apple engineer once. He told me that the main difference between Microsoft’s approach and Apple’s was that Microsoft listened to all the product feedback (hardware and software) and on the next release, tried to add in every feature request. It sounds like a sensible approach, but leads to ‘feature bloat’. One person in Qatar wants their word processor to indent, bold the first character and italicise the initial word at one command? Put it in … meanwhile, 99.99% of users don’t know, don’t care, and would never use it even though it’s there. But they soon bemoan the milliseconds the new feature adds to loading and operation time. And all those other features hardly anyone cares about add up to serious lags and the predilection to crash with even more lines of confusing code for the software to wade through to achieve anything.

Apple’s approach, he told me, was to work on the percentage of feature requests that added up to a significant user group and ignore the rest, leaving it up to users to work out how to get what they want, and this was apparent in hardware and software. Consider the amount of ports a Mac could have, for example. Surely it’s better, for weight/power/sleekness, to just have a few ports you can plug expanders and adapters into?

But look at what we have now: instead of a desktop Mac and a laptop mac, we have six types of Mac – the MacBook Air in two sizes. There’s the MacBook which inhabits the same niche (ultraportable, sleek, light, not very powerful) – and you can get this in several colours.
Then the MacBook Pro, which comes in two sizes and several configurations … for desktops we have the Mac mini (in three configurations), iMac (in two sizes and several configurations each) and the Mac Pro. We don’t just have an iPad and an iPhone, we have iPad in four sizes and in varieties of specs, and we don’t just have iPhone 6s on sale in two sizes, but the iPhone 6 is still available (in two sizes), plus smaller all round iPhone SE. Five models!

Confused? You should be. It’s getting hard to advise people what to buy again.
What would Steve Jobs say?

[Should I include these columns in the monthly MagBytes? Please let me know what you think.]