Where's our new Macs?

There's a lot of angst in the blogosphere about lack of appearance of new MacBook and Mac Pro models from Apple. Maybe they'll just appear after iPad ships — the smart money says Apple is focusing on iPad at the moment. For very good reasons, I trust.

What all the complainers are overlooking is that Apple is currently achieving record sales. If we didn't buy its products, then Apple would worry, but not now. Apple is having record quarterly results and we've shown our approval by buying the aforementioned products. Apparently Apple doesn't need to release newer models any faster than it is. It doesn't need to keep up with competing hardware and it doesn't need to improve iPhone or even Mac OS any faster than it is right now.

Sure we'd always like updates — hardware and software sooner rather than later. The flagship iPhone is starting to look as dated as a MacPlus these days, but Apple was ever thus. We've always wanted updates sooner and Apple has always done things at its own pace. Quad-core iMacs appeared maybe a year later than it was technically feasible.

And it's true that chip technology changes so slowly these days. 20 percent CPU improvement can often be bested more cheaply by better caches, busses and faster RAM, which is what Apple has been doing with C2D machines for years.

But the lesson of the 1990s is apposite here. Apple was riding high, and it failed to innovate.  When Apple was unable to hold Windows up in the courts any longer (starting to sound familiar), Microsoft walked in with a lipservice-GUI interface and — for a few dollars less — the general public didn't care. Despite record profits now, Apple has never achieved the double-digit market penetration it had before.

Apple is riding very high now and the rumbles of dissatisfaction, no matter how petty, are growing. It would pay Apple' executives and directors to learn from the '90s, if they can. None of them were around to see exactly how Apple fell so low. Many of them were part of the solution, but that's not the same as recognising the signs and the slow burn of history repeating itself.

Apple is in a perfect position to innovate — lots of money in the bank, the Touch OS breaking out of iPhone size into netbook/iPad size, and competitors are breathing hard down its neck, so the all-important motivation should be apparent.

The Zune7 winphone looks slick enough to win customers back (even if it's still a dog to use). Android is starting to find its legs, even if its "integration" relies on customers putting their contacts and calendars (and everything else) entirely into Google. Worst of all, the pundits (and I believe the general computer buying public) perceive Windows 7 to be an equivalent computing experience to OS X. Not true, but the lesson of the '90s was "near enough is good enough" where the hip pocket is concerned.

Apple desperately needs to leap ahead of Windows or suffer the fate of the '90s all over again. Touch Mac OS for all platforms will do this, if it brings the benefits of iPhone's/iPad's more intimate interaction with the OS to the whole Apple line. We know it. The temptation to touch your Mac's screen after your first taste of iPhone was overwhelming. It took me two weeks to excise that automatic action from my brain.

Apple has benefited greatly from the minor "surface" differences between Windows and Mac OS. Mac and Windows developers are more likely to make cross-platform products (even FileMaker gets most of its money from Windows). That's the biggest inertia in the system, that a Touch OS needs to fight.

Touch Mac OS needs to offer significant productivity advantages, as cool as the first time we saw the iPhone inertial scrolling demo. iPad didn't quite grab the imagination that way on launch, no matter how "magical" it was proclaimed to be. Apple will need to work harder on porting Touch to the rest of its hardware line.

Am I unrealistic given the current inability of Apple to meet customer demand for updated MacBook and Mac Pro models? For Apple's sake, and ours, I hope not. iPad is an important first step toward weaning the public off mouse and keyboard. Let's hope it succeeds.
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