Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Best Before

Here we are again: a stale Mac hardware lineup. Let’s assume that we’ll be waiting until WWDC next year — at the earliest — to hear anything about the next-generation Mac Pro, and that the MacBook Air only exists because Apple can’t hit the same price point with the MacBook yet. The iMac Pro is still pretty new, and it has received near-universal acclaim. That leaves four Mac models unaccounted for.

Just before the keynote last Monday, a good friend unaware of WWDC messaged me to say that he was thinking about going to the store that day and picking up a 5K iMac. I told him to hold off because it seemed like a product Apple might refresh, given that it was last updated a year prior.

That, of course, didn’t happen. Nor were any updates made to the MacBook Pro, with its notoriously poor keyboard. That one pains me: I happen to be in the market for a new Mac, and I will not purchase one of the current MacBook Pro models for that reason alone.

The MacBook still has limited configuration options. I was considering buying one to replace my current MacBook Air — I don’t need that much power, really — but it tops out at 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, the latter of which simply isn’t enough for me.

And then there’s the Mac Mini, which has embarrassingly not changed in either price nor specs in nearly four years. It’s hard for me to justify the purchase of a brand new product that’s already over a year old, like any of the MacBook Pro models; I’m not even considering purchasing a Mac Mini because it’s not much newer than the computer I currently use.

What is the acceptable shelf life of a Mac? How old can a model be before it becomes uncouth to sell it as new? I remember when Macs used to get regular, approximately-annual spec bumps. It wasn’t that long ago — maybe five years or so. Has something changed since 2013 that seemingly makes difficult for the Mac to be updated more frequently?

When Apple launched the 2016 MacBook Pro models — the first models with the Touch Bar — members of their executive team spoke with Shara Tibken and Connie Guglielmo of CNet. Schiller mentioned that the new models took a while to be launched because they “didn’t want to just create a speed bump on the MacBook Pro”. I hope that’s not their attitude across the product line. People love spec bumps; it helps customers know that they’re getting the newest model they can, and reassures them that it will last longer.

When he was in charge of operations, Tim Cook likened his approach to inventory management to being in the dairy business. Inventory is, of course, not the same thing as product freshness — I bet that, if you were to order a Mac Mini today, it would probably be produced within the past couple of weeks — but product age has the same effect. Updating products, even in minor ways, isn’t just good to give the impression of freshness; it also sows trust with customers that there is an ongoing commitment to the product.

For the past several years, it has been awfully hard to feel like Apple has a strong commitment to Mac hardware.