Stephen Hackett provides Ann incredible stroll down memory lane. I especially appreciate the screenshots from the Mac OS X Public Beta. I went full in on Mac OS X on my PowerBook G3 during the beta period, and I’ve never looked back.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 90s, he found a product line that was too confusing for most consumers, so he simplified things. At the 1998 MacWorld Expo, he shared a simplified product grid that would serve as the foundation for Apple’s product lineup for several years. It looked something like this:
The intended audiences were clear, and everything from the components to the industrial design reflected this approach. Of course, there were multiple choices in each category, but it was clear to potential customers which machine was for whom.
Over the years, Apple’s customer base has grown considerably, and their business model has evolved. The four-quadrant grid was never going to last forever, especially with the growing prosumer market and Apple choosing to move beyond computers as their primary hardware products. If you were to try to grid out their products in 2004, it might look similar to this:
The laptop line was already beginning to grow a little confusing, with the smaller PowerBook targeting a humbler audience than those who would buy the larger models. This approach remained fairly consistent over the next few year and saw Apple through the Intel transition, with the Mac mini replacing the eMac in the consumer category. Then came the MacBook Air.
The MacBook Air and a New Product Category
It was one of the most memorable product reveals in recent history, even compared to the much-anticipated iPhone announcement from the year before. Steve Jobs held up a manilla envelope, the type you might see for old interdepartmental messages, and pulled a computer out of it. No one had seen a computer so thin or light before. It made compromises; it had almost no traditional ports; but it was cool.
Over the years, the MacBook Air had different places in Apple’s product lineup. For a time, it existed in its own category for early adopters. Then, it evolved into a replacement for the white plastic MacBook, serving as the only alternative to the MacBook Pro. Then Apple brought back the MacBook in a thinner, lighter form-factor, and the Air became its heavier, slower budget sibling. Now, the MacBook serves as the thin and light machine with compromises, the Air is the mainstream consumer/prosumer machine, and the MacBook Pro straddles prosumer and professional customers.
The Air and the iPad Lineup
The word Air has had a similar journey in the iPad lineup. The iPad Air came our in November 2013 and completely replaced the iPad line. There was no iPad Pro yet, but there was an iPad mini. The iPad Air was thinner and lighter than previous iPads, and that’s where things maintained for a couple of generations.
In 2016, the iPad Pro came out; the very next year, Apple dropped the Air branding from any iPads, so now their lineup was iPad mini, iPad, and iPad Pro. The updated iPad had some concessions compared to the iPad Air, but it was still a good update and smoothed out a rather odd naming convention.
But now the iPad Air is back, basically reviving the 10.5″ screen of the 2017 iPad Pro, while that line has moved to 11″ and 13″ screens. The no-modifier iPad is still around with its 9″ screen and slower processor, and the iPad mini lives on with the faster iPad Air architecture and a 7″ screen. When Apple announced the new iPad Air and iPad mini, I felt they needlessly complicated the product line, but a pattern may be emerging.
Currently, Apple seems to be filling out a MacBook product line that moves from entry-level to mainstream to premium. Forget any notion of consumer, prosumer, or professional usage and think in terms of desirability instead. Yes, premium machines have better capabilities than the lower tiers, but they also come with desirable features — things like Touch ID and the Touch Bar. The iPad line seems to be taking a similar approach.
iPad Air iPad mini
iMac Pro Future Mac Pro
And now things start to make sense*. All of the entry level machines are for consumers who may not know what they want and will gravitate toward the most affordable option. (I expect the MacBook to see a price reduction in the near future to clarify its place in the lineup.) The mainstream machines are for most of us. They are good enough for most needs and don’t carry the sticker shock of the premium models, and those premium models are for those of us who want the latest and greatest innovations Apple provides.
When I started writing this piece, I began writing about an Apple that had lost its product strategy; now I see an Apple that may actually be in the final stages of solidifying of a new strategy, and I don’t dare guess what the last pieces of that puzzle will be. Whatever it is, Apple is always evolving, and they’re always thinking several steps ahead.
*The exception to things making sense, of course, is the Apple Pencil. That Apple sells two different devices with the same name that have different capabilities and compatibility is confounding.
I haven’t used Windows for ten years, since I was contractually obliged to at work. Perhaps all these features are there too. But they were not discoverable by Fabio, an intelligent person who uses a computer to do a job which is not a fancier version of “using a computer”.
I’ve been a Mac user since the IIsi. I know those features above inside-out, know which have been there since Classic days, which have just arrived, and yes, which can be flaky on occasion. But to see it through a new Mac user’s eyes is to see a vast enormity of mistakes not made. It is to perceive a clarity of intention through design, maintained over decades of updates.
I’m not an Apple pundit. I should probably listen to and read far fewer opinions from those who are. I will say, though, that no misstep today’s behemoth Apple has made, no product delay, no underperforming market, no dodgy spacebars – nothing leads me to believe that the company has lost focus on its principles of design.
I love my Mac, of course. But seeing someone else fall in love too, again, today? Pretty sweet.
As a longtime Mac user, it’s easy to point to numerous problems and flaws in the system; it’s easy to point at certain features and bemoan how I liked something from the past better. However, I also have regular and deep experience with Windows and Ubuntu, and coming back to my Mac always feels like a breath of fresh air after extended time in either environment.
There are so many basic things macOS just gets right. I take it for granted and even lose sight of it in the midst of being critical of modern Apple. But the simple truth is if you give me a choice between a modest Mac and a souped up Windows PC or Ubuntu workstation, I’ll pick the Mac every time.
The whole story is only seven paragraphs long, and one of them is devoted to explaining how to invoke Undo and Redo. This is — inadvertently on the part of the App Store editorial team — a scathing indictment of the state of iOS’s user interface standards.
Before reading a word of it, how much would you wager that Apple’s story on Pixelmator Pro for Mac does not mention how to invoke Undo and Redo? I would’ve bet my house — because even if you’ve never even heard of Pixelmator, you of course know how to invoke Undo and Redo in any Mac app: Edit → Undo and Edit → Redo, with the shortcuts ⌘Z and ⇧⌘Z. In fact, even their placement in the Edit menu is always the same, in every Mac app: the first two items in the menu.
Undo has been in the same position in the same menu with the same keyboard shortcut since 1984. Undo and Redo are powerful, essential commands, and the ways to invoke them on the Mac have been universal conventions for almost 35 years. (Redo came a few years later, if I recall correctly.)
iOS does in fact have a standard convention for Undo, but it’s both awful and indiscoverable: Shake to Undo, which I wrote about a few months ago. As I mentioned in that piece, iOS does have support for the ⌘Z and ⇧⌘Z shortcuts when a hardware keyboard is connected, and the iPad’s on-screen keyboard has an Undo/Redo button. So for text editing, on the iPad, Undo/Redo is available through good system-wide conventions.
But on the Mac, Undo and Redo are invoked the same way for any action in any app — everything from editing text, making illustrations, to trashing or moving files or mail messages.
Undo on iOS seemed delightful when it was first revealed, but I’ve found it a hassle at best in real-world practice. Undo and redo are foundational pieces of functionality. That iOS still struggles with these makes it a shaky computing platform. There are several ways iOS holds back the hardware it runs on, and Undo is one of the most glaring.
It’s weird to remember, but the App Store did not launch with the iPhone. It came a year later — a year of nothing but default apps and the occasional web app; a year where you couldn’t even change the iPhone’s background image. When the App Store launched, it would have been hard to predict the challenges it would face, the impact it would have on software development in general, and the positive and negative effects it would have on developers.
When Apple introduced the App Store on July 10, 2008 with 500 apps, it ignited a cultural, social and economic phenomenon that changed how people work, play, meet, travel and so much more. Over the past decade, the App Store has created a safe place for users of all ages to get the very best apps and a vibrant app economy for developers of all sizes, from all over the world, to thrive. Today, customers in 155 countries are visiting the App Store more often, staying longer and downloading and using more apps than ever before.
While there have been many notable moments since apps first came to iPhone and later iPad, the milestones and testimonials below reflect some of the most significant over the past 10 years — defining how the App Store democratized software distribution and transformed how we live every day.
Apple’s own retrospective is predictably upbeat, but it hits every major milestone and positive impact the App Store has had. The App Store still has a long way to go in some regards, but it’s also amazing just how far it has come.
One of the most significant design opportunities in recent history was announced with a simple blog post on Apple’s website. “Let me just say it: We want native third-party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February,” Steve Jobs wrote. On a quiet Thursday morning less than a year later, the App Store opened to iPhone users with a selection of just over 500 apps.
Few contemporary innovations have changed how we live our lives and interact with the world around us more than iPhone apps. The creators of the first 500 available at launch had the unique opportunity of shaping the design direction and interaction methods of the millions of apps created since.
To celebrate the App Store’s 10th anniversary, let’s study the visual evolution of 10 original App Store apps.
I loved browsing though the iterations and redesigns of the apps and icons they featured. A couple of these apps — like Twitterrific and Evernote — I’ve used for years and have been able to watch the apps as they evolved. Others are new to me. The only downside with the flatter aesthetic in later designs is that some of the apps lose a bit of personality. Case in point: the current version of OmniFocus looks so much like Fantastical, I had to look twice.
Not everything has been smooth sailing for the App Store and developers, however. Even well-respected Apple-centric developers ran into App Store headaches from time to time, and some of those issues have never been fully resolved. Some of those frustrated developers left the App Store and have never returned.
Apple’s vision for the App Store has always been driven by privacy and security. Rather than sending users out to a host of unvetted websites to find software that may or may not be what it claims, the App Store was a single unified market for approved, malware-free software to live. As a user, you could download any app in the confidence that it wouldn’t be able to bring harm to your device – and you could do so without providing your credit card details to anyone but Apple.
Apple created and has maintained the safety of its closed platform thanks to its thorough review procedures and guidelines. Every app on the App Store must follow Apple’s rules, which for the most part is widely accepted as a good thing. If an app’s aims are nefarious, it should be rejected by Apple and, hence, not allowed in public view. However, throughout the App Store’s life, there have regularly been controversial app rejections that stirred up the Apple community. Here are a few of those controversies.
Apple has been steadily improving their guidelines and expectations, but the truth is that developers could still be served better. Though software demos are coming to a future App Store update, it could be better communicated in the store interface that a user is getting a demo instead of a free app. Also, upgrade pricing and more lenient content purchasing guidelines would go a long way.
All data has been collected from assorted Apple Genius Bars in the U.S. that we have been working with for several years, as well as Apple-authorized third-party repair shops.
The 2014 MacBook Pro model year saw 2120 service events in the first year, with 118 related to keyboard issues necessitating an upper case replacement —5.6 percent of all MacBook Pros serviced in the first year. The 2015 has 1904 service tickets, with 114 relating to the keyboard, making 6.0 percent.
The two numbers are very similar, which is to be expected. The keyboards were essentially unchanged since the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro, and should have failure rates similar to each other.
Apple released the new keyboard with the MacBook, and moved the design to the 2016 MacBook Pro. In the first year of the 2016 MacBook Pro, our data gathered 1402 warranty events, with 165 related to only the keyboard and not including the Touch Bar —11.8 percent.
We don’t have a full year of data for the 2017 MacBook Pro yet. But, since release in June 2017, our data set has 1161 captured service events with 94 related to keyboard issues also not including any Touch Bar issues —8.1 percent.
Failure rates across all four models are relatively static, with no appreciable increase or decrease in events reported at any time after release. Percentages of failures were comparable between the third-party authorized shops, and the Genius Bar data.
The title is a little misleading, but that data is still troubling. To add to the frustrations of this issue, repairing a MacBook Pro keyboard will set you back around $700. When you pay north of $1,000 for a computer, it should be reliable. Apple should be doing better than this.
Among the casualties of the impending transition to 64-bit apps is one long-lasting oddity: QuickTime 7 Pro.
What makes this app so unusual are a few factors. For one thing, it’s one of Apple’s own apps. For another, it was first released in 2005, making it almost 13 years old, though it hasn’t seen an update in about 8 years.
But despite its age and the fact that the writing was on the wall for QuickTime 7, news that it wouldn’t see an update when macOS makes the jump to all-64-bit-all-the-time sparked some cries of frustration from users, including both myself and Jason, who have carved out a place in their workflows—and their hearts—for this little anachronism.
I did my very first video editing in QuickTime Pro. QuickTime X has never really filled those shoes, but that makes some sense. Many of QuickTime Pro’s features are now in iMovie, and that’s been my go-to for quick editing the past several years. But QuickTime Pro was such a simple and fast tool when you needed a video editing utility more than a comprehensive application.
Chicago — Apple today updated its most popular iPad with support for Apple Pencil plus even greater performance, starting at $329. The new 9.7-inch iPad and Apple Pencil give users the ability to be even more creative and productive, from sketching ideas and jotting down handwritten notes to marking up screenshots. The new iPad is more versatile and capable than ever, features a large Retina display, the A10 Fusion chip and advanced sensors that help deliver immersive augmented reality, and provides unmatched portability, ease of use and all-day battery life.
“iPad is our vision for the future of computing and hundreds of millions of people around the world use it every day at work, in school and for play. This new 9.7-inch iPad takes everything people love about our most popular iPad and makes it even better for inspiring creativity and learning,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of Product Marketing. “Our most popular and affordable iPad now includes support for Apple Pencil, bringing the advanced capabilities of one of our most creative tools to even more users. This iPad also has the power of the A10 Fusion chip, combined with the big, beautiful Retina display, advanced cameras and sensors that enable incredible AR experiences simply not possible on other devices.”
These are good updates to the iPad, but they still fall short of creating a truly compelling computing device. I can’t help but think that a Smart Connector for a first-party keyboard and support for legacy input devices (like a trackpad) would go farther into getting more iPads into classrooms and homes.
The iWork updates are nice too, and I think it makes a lot of sense to roll iBooks Author into Pages. But I’m still waiting on a couple of my wish-list items — user-defined templates and fonts. The Mac versions of the iWork apps have pretty much always supported these because of the nature of macOS. iOS sandboxing creates barriers to this, but I’m sure it’s not impossible to overcome while retaining system security.