What the Mac needs in 2017

Ap­ple should stop ne­glect­ing its desk­top Macs, say good­bye to spin­ning drives, and more, ar­gues Ja­son Snell

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The new year is a time to re­flect about what’s hap­pened and pon­der what’s to come. Last year I made a list of things I wanted to see from the in 2016; the re­sults were fair to mid­dling.

Truth be told, 2016 was a rough year for Mac watch­ers. There were new MacBook Pros and a slightly up­dated MacBook, and of course OS X be­came ma­cOS, but there were no new Mac desk­tops for the first time in a long time.

Keep­ing in mind that th­ese lists are al­ways a mix­ture of in­formed guess­ing and sheer

wish­cast­ing, here’s a list of some of the things I hope we see from the Mac in 2017.

Mac Pro: Wanted, dead or alive

The all-new Mac Pro was un­veiled in 2013, a ground­break­ing new de­sign with a near-silent fan and loads of CPU and GPU power. Phil Schiller boasted about Ap­ple’s Mac in­no­va­tion. It was an in­ter­est­ing, if con­tro­ver­sial, ap­proach to a high-end com­puter.

And then: noth­ing. For three years, the Mac Pro has sat on Ap­ple’s price lists with no price or spec­i­fi­ca­tion changes to speak of. At some point, it be­comes em­bar­rass­ing to even at­tempt to sell such an out-of-date prod­uct at the full price set in 2013.

You could ar­gue that Ap­ple crossed the line into em­bar­rass­ment in 2015, but it’s cer­tainly reached that point now. This needs to end, one way or another. Ei­ther it’s time for the Mac Pro to be dis­con­tin­ued and shown the door, or it’s time for Ap­ple to up­date it – ei­ther by keep­ing the ex­ist­ing de­sign but with the lat­est In­tel hard­ware, or by toss­ing the ‘trash can Mac’ into the trash and do­ing some­thing new.

Which will hap­pen? It de­pends on which tea leaves you read, ap­par­ently. I’m in­clined to be op­ti­mistic: If Ap­ple truly wanted to kill the Mac Pro, wouldn’t it be dead al­ready? The lin­ger­ing sug­gests to me that Ap­ple re­ally is work­ing on a re­place­ment, and de­lays have left the com­pany in this em­bar­rass­ing po­si­tion. Also, I think there’s a place in the Mac prod­uct line for a Mac that can ful­fil needs that an iMac sim­ply can’t match. I’m pretty sat­is­fied with my 2014 5K iMac (which, last

time I checked, was still faster than the low­est-end Mac Pro mod­els), but there are some peo­ple who re­ally want lots of pro­ces­sor cores and work­sta­tion per­for­mance. It would sure be great if Ap­ple could please them–but at this point even ad­mit­ting they won’t ever be sat­is­fied would be an act of mercy.

The Mac mini, dead or alive

Speak­ing of Macs that need a fi­nal dis­po­si­tion: What’s up with the Mac mini? It’s been the most ne­glected Mac in terms of up­dates for a long time, but it seems like it’s past time for one. The Mac mini is never go­ing to be a huge hit, but it’s a use­ful prod­uct for schools, as a server, at­tached to TV sets, and all sorts of other wacky places. I’ve had a Mac mini run­ning in my house for more than a decade now. I’d like the lit­tle guy to sur­vive.

Or maybe Ap­ple should solve both of th­ese is­sues with a sin­gle new prod­uct: a desk­top Mac with­out a dis­play that can be out­fit­ted with pro­ces­sors from the mid-range to the high end, some­thing that’s more like a Mac mini at its base price but more like a Mac Pro at the high end. Un­rea­son­able? Prob­a­bly. Un­likely? Cer­tainly. But if it hap­pens, I’m go­ing to point at this para­graph and nod like I knew it all along.

Next-gen­er­a­tion MacBook

This was on my list last year, and I’m bring­ing it back un­til I get sat­is­fac­tion: I’d like to see Ap­ple take a se­cond crack at the MacBook, two years af­ter in­tro­duc­ing it. Adding sup­port for Thun­der­bolt 3 would be swell, and adding a se­cond USB-C or Thun­der­bolt 3 port would be even bet­ter.

While Ap­ple’s at it, how about some more colour in the Mac line? The MacBook – al­ready avail­able in gold, rose gold, space grey and sil­ver – seems like the best place to start. I’d like a metal­lic blue MacBook, my­self.

Elim­i­nate the spin­ning disc

Another item I’m re­play­ing from my 2016 wish list: Ap­ple needs to clear spin­ning-disc hard drives out of the iMac line. I know that flash stor­age is ex­pen­sive and the drives are small – that’s why I con­sider the Fu­sion Drive an ac­cept­able tran­si­tional form. But it’s ab­so­lutely crim­i­nal that the base-model 4K iMac is still sold with a spin­ning disc rather than a Fu­sion Drive. The Mac ex­pe­ri­ence is vastly im­proved with fast stor­age; those slow spin­ning drives in the low-end iMacs don’t cut it.

iMac re­vi­sions and Touch ID

Af­ter ma­jor re­vi­sions in the falls of 2014 and 2015, Ap­ple’s iMac line went un­touched in 2016. That needs to change in 2017. As with all Macs in 2017, I’d expect th­ese new iMacs to fea­ture USB-C/

Thun­der­bolt 3 ports rather than tra­di­tional USB and Thun­der­bolt ports. (It’s pos­si­ble that Ap­ple will also of­fer some older ports for tran­si­tional pur­poses, but I wouldn’t count on it. A clean break seems far more likely.)

Now that Ap­ple has in­tro­duced the Touch Bar and Touch ID on the MacBook Pro, it’s hard to imag­ine one or both of those fea­tures com­ing to the iMac. Touch ID is a nat­u­ral. I’m not sure if Ap­ple would re­lease a new ex­ter­nal key­board with an on­board Touch ID sen­sor, or in­te­grate Touch ID into the iMac hard­ware it­self – touch the Ap­ple

logo, for ex­am­ple – but once you’ve un­locked 1Pass­word for Mac with a fin­ger­print, you re­ally don’t want to go back.

My dream would be a Magic Key­board, or equiv­a­lent, with both a Touch Bar and a Touch ID sen­sor. But would the er­gonomics of the Touch Bar work when your com­puter’s dis­play isn’t right above your key­board like it is on a lap­top? And would the bat­tery life be re­motely de­cent? And would Ap­ple foist the new MacBook Pro key­board de­sign on all of us and kill the ex­ist­ing (and quite nice) Magic Key­board de­sign? All good ques­tions that I hope 2017 will an­swer, one way or another.

A ma­cOS that knows about net­works and bat­ter­ies

Most of the new fea­tures in ma­cOS the past few years have taken their in­spi­ra­tion from iOS. So let’s con­tinue down that line with a new ver­sion of ma­cOS that is much smarter than its pre­de­ces­sors when it comes to net­work­ing and bat­tery use.

On iOS, the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and apps are able to vary their be­hav­iour based on net­work sta­tus. If you’re on Wi-Fi, a pod­cast app might down­load a bunch of episodes, but it might re­frain if you’re on a me­tered cel­lu­lar con­nec­tion. This aware­ness is in­cred­i­bly use­ful for cel­lu­lar con­nec­tions with band­width caps.

But guess what hap­pens when you’re on a Mac and you tether to an iPhone or a mo­bile hotspot? The Mac will suck as much data as pos­si­ble, be­cause it has no aware­ness of what kind of net­work it’s on. The iPhone, be­cause it was de­signed for mixed net­work­ing, doesn’t do this

(ex­cept when there are bugs, of course). You can also use the Set­tings app to bar apps from us­ing cel­lu­lar net­work­ing en­tirely. Users have a lot of power and con­trol over how their apps be­have.

It’s time for Ap­ple to bring that un­der­stand­ing to the Mac. We tether our lap­tops to cel­lu­lar con­nec­tions all the time th­ese days. (Es­pe­cially since there are no cel­lu­lar-ca­pa­ble Macs – pre­sum­ably be­cause ma­cOS has been un­able to be­have re­spon­si­bly on those net­works.)

While we’re at it, how about adding a Low Power Mode in the style of iOS to ma­cOS? Low Power Mode would be a sig­nal to the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and var­i­ous apps that the user is try­ing to eke out as much run time as pos­si­ble with what­ever bat­tery life is left. Stick­ers and ef­fects and all the other fun stuff in Mes­sages for iOS 10 can be seen, but not sent,

by ma­cOS. 2017 is the time for that to change. (And while we’re at it, Ap­ple, can we get a ma­jor up­date to the emoji picker for ma­cOS? Yours is still not great.) In 2016 we learned that Mac au­tomat­ing prod­uct man­ager Sal Soghoian was laid off from Ap­ple and his team scat­tered. It’s a sad sit­u­a­tion, but I’m go­ing to (again) try to be op­ti­mistic and hope that Ap­ple has a new ap­proach to user au­toma­tion on the hori­zon.

There are plenty of lan­guages out there on which to build an en­tire new script­ing frame­work. JavaScript seems to make a lot of sense, and Ap­ple al­ready built one ap­proach that uses it, but maybe Swift is the one that would have the most po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit in­side Ap­ple? I don’t re­ally care, so long as some­one at Ap­ple is point­ing at the Mac and sug­gest­ing that it’s worth au­tomat­ing tasks and let­ting users wire dif­fer­ent apps to­gether in in­ter­est­ing ways.

Alas, I don’t think I can call this one a pre­dic­tion, more like wish­ful think­ing. Ap­ple hasn’t shown a whole lot of in­ter­est in mak­ing its own apps script­able, let alone build­ing a whole new gen­er­a­tion of au­toma­tion sup­port in­side ma­cOS. iOS au­toma­tion hap­pens largely in spite of Ap­ple, rather than be­ing en­abled by it. I don’t think it’s likely that this will change in 2017, but you’ve got to have hope.

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