Should Apple license macOS for third-party Mac Pros? [Friday Night Fights]


Wouldn't you like a powerful PC running macOS?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple has finished unveiling its product lineup for 2016, and yet again it appears to have forgotten about the Mac Pro. The high-end desktop will be three years old next month, and although it might look pretty on the outside, it’s way past its best on the inside.

Friday Night Fights bugApple won’t tell us why the Mac Pro isn’t a priority anymore, but its focus is clearly elsewhere. This is a problem for creative professionals who rely on the extra power the machine provides. For some, the iMac just isn’t beefy enough.

Some believe Apple should license macOS to third-party computer makers that are willing to cater to the pros Apple is ignoring. It’s a move Apple would never make, but is it a good idea?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we battle it out over whether Apple should let rival PC vendors build macOS machines!

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: It’s been almost three years since Apple last refreshed the Mac Pro, so it’s easy to see why fans aren’t happy. It’s the company’s only pro desktop, and for some intensive tasks, the iMac just doesn’t cut it — even if you pay more for the fastest chips and all the RAM Apple can offer.

The Mac Pro clearly isn’t a priority for the Cupertino company anymore, but there are plenty of users out there who rely on it. So, maybe it’s time Apple gave fans an alternative. I think it should either license macOS to other computer makers, or at least give users the option to (legally) install the operating system on a machine they’ve built themselves.

I know licensing macOS seems like a crazy idea, but hear me out. If Apple gave other computer makers the option to use its software, it could allow them to build pro machines that keep consumers happy, while the Mac Pro lives out its final days. It would also result in a lot more macOS users, which means more people using (and paying for) Apple services.

In addition, licensing still allows Apple to have some control. It could ensure that the only machines shipping with macOS from third parties are those that meet pro needs, which would prevent a negative impact on sales of the iMac, Mac mini, and MacBook lineup. It’s a win-win.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: From a customer perspective I totally get the appeal of this — in the short-term, at least. Right now, it seems that Apple’s not innovating with the Mac in the way that many would like: be it the mixed reception the new MacBook Pro has received, the lack of a new Mac Pro, the fact that Apple isn’t making a high-end games machine, and so on. The idea that a company could come along and build an ultimate Hackintosh is a neat one.

In theory.

In practice, I don’t think this will ever happen, or should ever happen. If you remember, Apple’s customers were crying out for clone Macs during the 1990s. The working theory that it would get Macs into more homes, make it competitive with Windows PCs, lower the price of entry and more.

In practice, it resulted in sub-par Macs, an even more complicated product lineup (which was already complex at the time) and, amazingly, Apple actually losing money — since the license money it received per Mac sold was less than the money it would have made from its own profit margins. There weren’t more Macs sold, there were just cheaper Macs.

Now, Apple is a very different company in 2016 to 1995, but it just doesn’t seem a strategy Apple would be able to gain anything from. It’s always been a company that, to quote Alan Kay, showed it was serious about software by building its own hardware. Particularly if it’s keen to make technology like the Tool Bar a key part of future operating systems, or even ensure the security of Apple Pay, it needs to be able to ensure total control on all aspects of its manufacturing. It would be one thing if this could be another valuable revenue stream for Apple, but PC sales continue to fall — meaning that this would be Apple compromising its philosophy for little tangible gain.

I just don’t think this would be a good idea. Much as I’d love to see Apple treat its Mac division, and its Mac customers, with a respect that feels like it’s been lacking in recent years.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: I see what you’re saying, but things are a lot different now than they were in the ‘90s. This move wouldn’t be to provide cheaper Macs for the masses; it would be to serve a very specific group of users that Apple isn’t currently serving properly.

So long as the move doesn’t cannibalize sales of other Apple computers, I don’t see what Apple has to lose. It can be picky about which companies it partners up with to ensure that fans get the same level of quality and support they’re used to, and it can put restrictions in place that prevent those companies from competing with other Apple machines.

Not only could this move keep Mac Pro users happy, but it could attract new users to the macOS platform. How many consumers avoid Macs right now because they’re not powerful enough, or because they’re not upgradeable? This is an answer to those problems, and it’s one that requires very little effort from Apple.

Apple is more focused on services now. It doesn’t even charge us for macOS. If serving more pro consumers means a greater number of people are using its platform, and paying for things like iCloud and Apple Music and buying software from the Mac App Store, it’s a lucrative move. Apple has plenty to gain.

PC sales are falling because for the average user, a smartphone or tablet is good enough. If you were only buying PCs to browse the web, manage your email, and play the odd Flash game, you don’t need one anymore. That’s not the case for creative pros and serious gamers who need powerful computers with modern hardware.

It’s certainly an outlandish idea, but I don’t think it’s a bad one. And let’s face it, Apple isn’t exactly the company it once was. Some of the moves it’s making today — like releasing $300 picture books — aren’t typical Apple moves.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: Don’t get me started on that book! If you had been willing to defend it, that could’ve been a good “Friday Night Fights” argument.

I think you’re diagnosing the right problem here, but offering the wrong solution. Again, it would be great to see Apple treat its pro Mac customers like pros, but I don’t know what problem would be solved — rather than exacerbated — by Apple letting other companies produce and sell Macs. It would just mean Apple sharing its future plans with other companies, and risking losing that perfect integration between software and hardware it’s known for.

Do you think Apple lacks the resources to put out new Macs right now? It could, if it wanted to, put out a high-end games Mac as a loss-leader and take to the hit for greater loyalty from a certain customer base. It doesn’t but, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, this isn’t something that would be solved in the long-term by letting other companies build Macs.

What would Apple gain from this do you think?

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Only Jony Ive can defend that.

Maybe I am offering the wrong solution, but other than maybe changing Apple’s image ever so slightly, I don’t see what harm it would do. It’s certainly better than Apple’s current approach, which is to roll out a new Mac Pro every few years and ignore the complaints from fans when it gets old and its price tag becomes laughable.

Apple doesn’t need to share any plans; it just needs to share its software. And I don’t think having complete control over hardware is absolutely necessary when it comes to desktop computers. They’re not like phones and tablets. I have a Hackintosh I built myself, and I get exactly the same Sierra experience you do on your iMac. Only I can put a faster processor, a better graphics card, and more RAM in my machine any time I want.

I’m not sure it lacks the resources, but I think maybe it’s wasting resources elsewhere. I hate to mention the book again, but how much time and money was put into that that could have been better spent on something else. Did the book really need to be that pretentious? Could it not have been a nice glossy magazine that was given away with the 10th anniversary iPhone?

I don’t think Apple could build a high-end games Mac because its ego wouldn’t allow it now. Most gamers aren’t interested in super-shiny cylindrical cases and beautifully designed motherboards that don’t allow for customization; they want desktops they can pull apart and upgrade. Apple simply won’t make those anymore. They’re not flashy enough.

I’ve already mentioned what Apple could gain from this. More people paying for its services. Happy gamers and creative pros. Support for devices like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive that require powerful hardware for immersive virtual reality experiences.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: Well, let’s turn this over to readers. Do you think Apple should re-embrace the era of “clone Macs”? What would you like to see as far as new Macs go? Leave your comments below. And have a great weekend.

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?


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