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Sorry, WSJ, but Apple killing off the Mac is a laughably bad idea

July 12th, 2015 at 3:00 PM
Apple Mac Sales

A few weeks ago, Christopher Mims of The Wall Street Journal penned a bizarre and borderline embarrassing opinion piece arguing that Apple should abandon its Mac business entirely. The reasoning? Apple should ostensibly “focus on products that represent the future.”

Perhaps appreciating the shaky foundation upon which his arguments lie, Mims’ piece begins with a plea for to readers to “indulge” him. Not surprisingly, what ultimately follows is nothing more than an exercise in absurdity.

I was reminded of Mims’ piece yesterday in light of reports that the entire PC market, save for Apple, is imploding. While every PC manufacturer on the planet is experiencing a year over year decline in growth, Apple’s Mac business is actually growing. In light of that, I thought it was worth re-visiting Mims’ piece in an effort to show why the Mac remains an ongoing, integral, and strategic part of Apple’s business and bottom line.

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First, Mims writes that tech companies, as a general rule, can only be the best at two or three things, tops. Apple, therefore, with a growing product lineup that now includes PCs, smartphones, tablets and wearables, would be well-advised to focus on more future-oriented products like the iPhone and leave legacy products like the Mac in the past.

Something’s got to give. Showpieces like iMacs with screens that have more pixels than any PC ever (and four times the average selling price of a PC) are impressive, but what is Apple trying to prove? Is it really a good idea for Apple to continue to put resources against being king of a last-century technology?

Apple isn’t trying to prove anything. It’s, quite simply, selling best-in-class products at extremely healthy margins. The notion that Apple’s lineup of Macs represents last-century technology is simply not borne out by cold hard data. During Apple’s most recent quarter, for instance, Apple generated more revenue via the Mac than it did with the iPad. And again, while most PC manufacturers have seen their sales drop in recent years, Apple has been able to buck the trend of declining PC sales for years on end.

Besides, the notion that devices like the iPhone and iPad can supplant workhorses like the MacBook Pro for intensive and involved tasks such as video editing is absurd. PCs may not represent a 10x growth opportunity any more, but they hardly represent antiquated technology that Apple should casually toss aside and forget.

Mims also argues that Apple may be stretched too thin. As a result, Mims argues that if Apple devoted all of its attention towards devices like the iPhone, it might be even more successful than it is today.

How much more competitive could Apple make its other efforts if the designers, engineers and executives behind Mac are redirected? And just as important, what if the developers who create for OS X had no choice but to move to things that actually represent the future? Even a company as mighty as Apple gets to be the best at only a handful of things. So is it going to be PCs, phones and their operating systems? Or will it be phones and the rest of the dematerialized post-PC computing infrastructure—wearables, cloud services and all manner of screens as thin clients—to which the company has already committed itself?

If anything, Apple sans the Mac would be less competitive.

First off, Apple already prioritizes iPhone development over the Mac. The iPhone is Apple’s cash cow and is poised to remain as such for the foreseeable future. Over the years, there have been more than a few reports detailing how Apple doesn’t think twice about removing engineering personnel and resources from its Mac team and reallocating them to iOS projects when need be.

Second, the iPhone is part of a broader ecosystem, one that includes the Mac. Over the past two years, Apple has increased the value proposition of both the iPhone and the Mac with the introduction of continuity features that enhance the overall user experience. As a result, iPhone users who own Macs are able to squeeze out even more functionality from their smartphones. As the old adage goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Everything today is about integration across devices, and the Mac in this regard is a valuable and integral part of that strategy.

All that said, if Apple’s isn’t forsaking iPhone development because of the Mac, why get rid of it at all?

The iPhone may generate the bulk of Apple’s revenue, but again, the Mac is no slouch. Still, Mims sees billions of dollars in revenue as nothing more than a footnote.

In the quarter ending in January of this year, a funny thing happened at Apple. The company took in the highest revenue for its Mac line ever, yet the Mac accounted for the lowest-ever proportion of overall revenue. Apple raked in $6.9 billion on 5.5 million Macs, just 9% of overall revenue. This would be a crazy thing to say for any other company, but Apple doesn’t need this revenue.

Let that sink in for a bit. Apple doesn’t need $6.9 billion in quarterly revenue? In what world does this make any kind of sense? There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Apple abandoning the Mac would kickstart a new wave of iPhone innovation that would increase sales as to make up for all of that lost Mac revenue. Can you imagine how Wall Street would react if Apple up and abandoned its Mac lineup out of the blue?

Apple is an exceptional company, and it is at a crossroads. Is Apple a tech company, or an experience company? Does Apple make computers, or does it make consumer goods? In a world in which the cloud is increasingly the hub of everything individuals and businesses do, and our mobile devices its primary avatar, what on Earth is Apple doing running victory laps around a dying PC industry? Personally, I’d rather see Apple push the envelope on what’s next.

Apple admittedly has its fair share of problems these days. Just look at the endless list of usability problems plaguing Apple Music, for instance. But to suggest that Apple is at a crossroads seems simplistic, if not out of left field altogether. Mims suggestion that Apple abandon the Mac is, to be blunt, laughably embarrassing. The notion that iPhone innovation would be that much greater without the Mac “draining” Apple’s resources is nothing more than conjecture with no facts or even anecdotal evidence to back it up.

As for Apple pushing the envelope on what’s next, well, that’s what the Apple Watch was and is positioned as. Sure, sales of Apple’s new wearable aren’t exactly setting any records, but the device certainly represents an attempt from Apple to create what’s next.

A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.

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