• Explore the magic and the mystery!

  • Newsletter Issue #1049

    February 4th, 2024


    How things have changed. Consider the state of Apple Inc. 30 years ago, when it was known as Apple Computer. In many descriptions of the company from the mainstream media, the word “beleaguered” inevitably appeared. It was hard to avoid it, and you had to be optimistic that the company would succeed in a world where Microsoft’s dominance only grew larger.

    By 1995, for example, the arrival of Windows 95 made Microsoft’s graphical OS good enough; well at least if you preferred a clunky, if serviceable user interface to something reasonably attractive and user friendly. But I’ll set aside the politics and the business issues Apple faced then, or about the acquisition of Steve Jobs’ NeXT company, which paved the way for an amazing revival and the arrival of Mac OS X (as opposed to macOS 10 and so on and so forth).

    In those days, I happily boasted about buying the latest and greatest Apple gear, even though it wasn’t cheap. Almost every year, Apple touted some great new feature that was destined to change your computing life. It meant, for example, that you could type along at a reasonably speedy rate and not wait for the letters to appear on your display. When you wanted to save a large document, you didn’t have to consider a restroom break while the process completed. Well mostly.

    Sure you still had to wait long minutes or hours to process a hefty multimedia file, so perhaps it was best to do it during lunch or — as need be — overnight.

    I was then contributing articles to Macworld, working as a paid forum lead for AOL, and writing tech books. So I could justify deducting the costs of buying a new Mac every year or so on my tax return.  I worked at home and I used a second bedroom to a home office.

    In the scheme of things, the improvements seemed more compelling on paper than in the real world. There were fewer seconds between app openings and saving. Long rendering operations weren’t quite so long. Perhaps dropping three or four thousand dollars on something new and better made sense.

    Yet it seemed that, despite the touted performance improvements, apps continued to hog system resources. Features were added by developers largely without regard to efficiency. After all, the faster processors would mostly compensate for the differences.

    Microsoft was especially adapt at bloat. A blatant example was Word 6 for the Mac, introduced in 1993. Microsoft boasted about the enhanced feature set, the efforts to bring it closer in parity to the Windows version. But it was a pig, taking up to 60 seconds to launch on the fastest Mac on the planet. I remember writing a book on Mac software, getting an NFR (Not For Resale) copy from Microsoft, and a contact with their developer team. I complained, loudly, about putting up with dreadful performance. Believe it or not, Microsoft listened to me and others who complained, and the launch times were lessened to something tolerable in an update.

    In passing, recent versions of Microsoft Word, even on Macs with decent performance, aren’t as fast as they could be. As you know, I have a vintage Mac, a Late 2014 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display, optioned to the hilt. After two of those infamous Fusion Drives failed, I migrated to a 2TB SSD, sourced from MacSales, which delivered a huge performance bump. That said, I still have to wait 10-15 seconds for Word to launch. The Outlook email client/contact manager manages the feat in seven seconds flat.

    Big deal!

    I have followed Apple’s boasts about improving product performance. The A-series chips for the iPhone and the iPad, and the Mx series chips for Macs offer, on paper, huge performance bumps while providing extraordinary battery life in many respects. Each year, Apple boasts of speed bumps that are largely in the 10-25% range. If you’re editing a 4K video file in Final Cut Pro, you’ll save precious minutes in rendering huge files. For most people, the latest MacBook Air, thin and powerful, is good enough for most chores.

    After years of huge boosts, sales of Apple gear have largely plateaued. The last financial quarter, ending December 30, 2023, revealed a sales increase of roughly 2% year-over-year. The installed base of Apple gear has exceeded 2.2 billion. It may not seem so unusual for a multinational conglomerate, except when you consider that, years ago, Apple was barely able to move a few million units of any product in a single year.

    iPhone sales were up a sliver; less so for Macs, but still above last year. The negatives included lower sales for such wearables as the Apple Watch and headphones, and the iPad continued to reach fewer customers.

    That said, I can hardly go anywhere without seeing someone with an iPhone or an Apple Watch. They are everywhere, and Apple’s biggest problem is probably trying to persuade people to buy something new. After all, your gadget doesn’t stop working when the new model arrives, although really old gear will earn a “vintage” classification so they can avoid having to fix it.

    When it comes to outright performance and usability, I expect most of you will be hard pressed to detect much difference from year to year. At one time, it was normal to acquire a new smartphone every couple of years, now I’m not so sure. It all depends on how much you stretch the device’s capabilities, and it may well be that any advantage in a slightly faster CPU, a brighter display and a few features few care about or can even recall, aren’t so compelling nowadays.

    This is probably an extreme example, but my sister-in-law has an 3rd generation iPad, first released in 2012. It still runs and it still performs the modest tasks she requires. Apple Mail retrieves her email with decent speed. Apps are sluggish to load, but Safari can render most sites with reasonable fidelity. All right, some sites don’t work so well, but she hasn’t complained all that much. iOS updates for that model ended years ago. But the battery can still retain a charge, though its longevity is far less than it used to be.

    Her iPad is a hand me down, one that my wife, Barbara, gave her when she last upgraded her iPad a few years back. In turn, Barbara hasn’t complained that her iPad doesn’t do what she wants. Ditto for her iPhone SE, a second generation model first released in 2020.

    As to my aging iMac, I continue to host, produce and edit two commercial radio shows each week (The Paracast and After The Paracast). Saving audio files takes barely a second or two; converting AIFF or WAV files to MP3 is a 30 second process for each file in SoundStudio. There’s not much to be concerned about, even though the computer lives on borrowed time. A major failure or a critical component, such as the logic board, will do it in for good since repairs would be too expensive.

    But what it goes to show is that, a big reason Apple’s revenue has been relatively flat, more or less. Ditto for sales, although it would seem the iPad will require more revision to return to decent growth. Even older Apple gear is good enough for most people, and those who are enamored with the latest and greatest technology occupy only a small part of the populace. We all have real concerns to consider.

    This doesn’t mean that Apple is doomed, let alone beleaguered. So long as they continue to dole out decent product updates, and explore new technologies, such as the “next great thing,” and it’s not that overpriced Apple Vision Pro, they will live long and prosper.

    That doesn’t mean that some tech developers in a garage somewhere won’t deliver something that will set the world afire some day. But not today.


    Gene Steinberg’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Steinberg

    Copyright 1999-2024 Making The Impossible. All Rights Reserved.

    Privacy Policy: Your personal information is safe with us. We will positively never give out your name and/or e-mail address to anybody else, and that’s a promise!

    | Print This Issue Print This Issue

    Leave Your Comment