Apple’s Vertical Disintegration

I’ve been recently looking to replace my 2008 Mac Pro, but it’s hard to find an Apple product that’s right for me. The new Macbook Pro has far less horsepower than my existing tower, and the 2013 Mac Pro isn’t a clear replacement either. The Mac Pro’s GPU is not really an improvement over the GeForce 680 in my Mac Pro, and it doesn’t support the new LG 5k wide gamut display, which is a must for me. I’ve been orphaned by Apple with nowhere to go, except to Newegg to build a PC.

Apple’s trimming and neglect of their product line is dangerous. Vertical integration relies on tiers within a company that might not be profit leaders, or even profitable, but exist to support the profitable product lines. Apple as a whole can’t be unprofitable, but it’s just as important to maintain a foundation that supports the core business.

The original example I always go back to with Apple is when the Xserve line was cancelled. The Xserve was clearly not a huge moneymaker, and I can only imagine that the OS X Server software business was similarly a money pit on paper as well. But that division helped to move Macs. Take a look at the original demo of the first version of OS X Server. The Computerease Chicago points out that the hardware and the software were probably never profitable, but OS X Server launched the Mac back into the education world in a big way by making system management easy. Similarly, the Xserve pushed a lot of Mac hardware into education by simplifying system management and allowing Apple to be an organization’s single vendor. The Xserve would have been an attractive defense against Google in education. Why keep your data and files offsite in Google’s cloud when it would be easy to host everything in house using Macs and Xserves? Without the Xserve, Apple wasn’t able to complete their education story, and has seen their education share slashed by Chromebooks. Google has a complete vertical integration story for education. Apple doesn’t.

For me personally, the lack of a Mac Pro update is a hole in a critical piece of my Apple ecosystem story. If I have to buy a PC desktop, I’m probably going to look at alternatives to iOS and Mac development, or at least cross platform development. That means I’m not inclined to support Apple technologies like Metal. When it comes time to replace my Macbook Pro, I’ll probably start looking around at alternatives. I almost certainly wouldn’t buy another iPad. I’d have very little reason to keep using iCloud and keep my data locked into the Apple ecosystem. And at that point, especially if I lose my vertical integration with iMessage, my iPhone is the next thing to go. Again, I’m sure the Mac Pro isn’t a huge profit center for Apple. But it’s a central plank that supports all my other Apple purchases and my role as an Apple platform developer.

Even for users of Apple products that don’t rely on the Mac Pro, Apple’s position is still precarious. iPad sales aren’t particularly great. The iMac is also being neglected. Apple’s laptop line isn’t particularly ideal for anyone. And the iPhone, while not in any immediate danger, continues to see declining share. I don’t know personally know anyone who is happy with their Apple experience right now, on iOS or Mac. And I don’t know anyone right now who feels like Apple’s product line meets their actually needs, even for people outside of the pro or development community. My mom, a Mac user for 20 years, hasn’t exactly been happy with Apple. At best, I’ve maybe seen a few people on Twitter who seem happy right now.

Apple has been on a cutting spree recently, sending display production outside of Apple, cutting the Airport base station line, and neglecting Mac desktops. It’s tempting to cut everything that isn’t a massive line of profit, but if Apple isn’t careful with their removal of supports, they’ll bring the whole house down on top of them.