In the back of my closet there’s an Apple Plus. Last I checked, it still worked. That was a while ago, because I’m almost afraid to check. It’s a box with a screen. If you’ve ever seen the Sad Mac symbol, which disappeared years ago, that really is what it looks like.
It’s so old that if you search on “Apple Plus” you’ll get stuff about Apple TV. Including if you add computer. It was introduced in 1979, it was the third Apple computer produced, and it remained in production until 1990. That’s an unimaginable lifespan for a computer model these days.
It had a few firsts. It was the first Apple with user-upgradeable memory (remember that?), the first to have double-sided floppies, which could store a whole 800 KB. That was a lot back then. It didn’t, however, have an internal CD drive, although you could manage without one. (I still have the external drive too). Oh, and it didn’t have a fan, that came with the SE.
But for its time it was an advanced machine. This continued. In fact, when it was released, the G5, which I used for a while, could not be exported to certain countries because it fit the legal definition of “supercomputer.” It was considered weapons grade.
What about Apple Computers Now?
I’m typing this article on one. My current machine is an iMac Retina 5K, 27-inch, 2017 model. It runs the latest version of macOS, Catalina. It doesn’t even run 32-bit apps any more.
The problem is, it’s not an advanced machine for its time. It’s a good machine. It’s worth paying extra for in my mind, but it’s not a no brainer the way it was back in the old Plus days. A high end Dell has similar specs and they’re using the same monitor. Most people who still use Apple are involved in sound editing or desktop publishing, for which the Mac still has the best software.
So, what happened?
The iPhone happened. In some ways, the iPhone was an inevitable development. In 2001, Apple released the first iPod, which was intended to replace portable clip on tape players as a way of taking your digital music with you everywhere. It’s telling that most models of iPod are now gone.
In 2007, Apple combined the iPod with a phone. Smartphones had been around a while. Technically, the first smartphone was the Simon Personal Communicator, released by IBM in 1994 for a price of $1,100. This was a luxury item. It was heavy. But it did have a touch screen, it could connect to the internet through wi-fi…it was a smartphone. Internet over cellular, however, had to wait until 2000. Cell companies charged a ton for very limited amount of data and people got Blackberry thumb. And it wasn’t the real internet.
Until the iPhone. The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone. It was the first modern smartphone. And whether Steve Jobs predicted it or not, Apple was about to cease to be primarily a computer company.
The innovative energy went from designing professional quality desktops to putting ever more sophisticated hardware in our pockets.
So, has Apple really fallen behind?
People are predicting the death of the PC, and they are even more keen to predict the death of the Mac. The fact is, though, Apple has not fallen behind. They simply aren’t surging ahead.
(And not everyone agrees that the iPhone is either. Many people feel the removal of the headphone jack is not an upgrade).
If you’re doing desktop publishing, or if you’ve always had a Mac, the current generation of Macs are fine, if a little bit expensive. But there is definitely less innovation and the biggest thing to come to desktop Macs lately is…a rather klutzy way to run iOS apps. (It will probably get better, but for right now most users aren’t bothering with it.
But here’s the thing:
Nobody else is innovating in desktop either. Because really, there’s only so much that can be done with mature technology. If I typed slower I’d probably use Siri on my desktop (Yes, Siri works on desktops) but as it is I type so much faster than I talk that a personal assistant isn’t an upgrade.
The only upgrade I see coming to my next Mac (probably in three to five years) is that it might have a touch screen.
Which I might not even use, because I don’t see it being faster than my mouse.
So, in some ways Apple has fallen behind. But that’s only because we’re used to them being so far ahead.
I’m still not about to trade my Mac in for a Dell.
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