Mac division has ‘lost clout’ with Jony Ive and Apple design team


The 2009 unibody iMac proved a watershed design for Jony Ive and Apple.
Has Apple forgotten about the Mac?
Photo: Apple

Apple’s Mac team has “lost clout” with the company’s industrial design group and software team, claims a new report, arguing that Cupertino has “alienated Mac loyalists.”

The picture painted by the article is of a division with a lack of clear direction from senior management, departures of key employees, and technical challenges — all conspiring to make the Mac one of Apple’s forgotten divisions.

The Bloomberg article notes that ever since last year’s reshuffle of Apple’s design team, meetings between the Mac team and the industrial design team have become less frequent. A similar thing happened with a reorganization of the software engineering department, which no longer separates macOS and iOS — and therefore invests most of its engineers’ time on the more profitable iOS.

“In the Mac’s heyday, people working on new models could expect a lot of attention from Ive’s team,” Mark Gurman writes. “Once a week his people would meet with Mac engineers to discuss ongoing projects. Mac engineers brought prototypes to Ive’s studio for review, while his lieutenants would visit the Mac labs to look at early concepts. Those visits have become less frequent since the company began focusing more on more-valuable products like the iPhone and iPad.”

As for the internal turmoil in the division, the article observes that more than a dozen engineers and managers working on the Mac have left over the past 18 months, with at least a sizable percentage put off by their lack of clarity about the “future of Mac hardware.”

One possible problem is the lack of a singular vision driving the division. Instead of having one concept to work on, increasingly engineers are — in the words of one source — “asked to develop multiple options in hopes that one of them will be shippable.” The result is that resources become more thinly spread than ever, while products ship later.

The rest of the article, while interesting, is more of a recap of the last few years than elaborating on this intriguing situation. Gurman lays out the lengthy wait between Mac updates — such as the Mac Pro, which hasn’t been refreshed since 2013. He also talks about “underwhelming” newer Macs, which have failed to find favor with Apple’s core audience.

What does it all mean?

It’s certainly a bit of a depressing picture. Of course, losing touch with the core audience for your products isn’t necessarily a problem — so long as you’ve got larger numbers of people you can appeal to.

As I’ve written in my daily “Today in Apple history” posts, one of the areas Jobs came under fire for when he returned to Apple was ignoring the education market, which had previously been a strong one for Apple. He also canceled plenty of projects, most notably the “clone Macs” that were a financial disaster for Apple even though they were popular with some power users.

The difference at this point is that Jobs was streamlining Apple to introduce products like the iMac G3 and the iBook laptop, both of which were phenomenally successful.

Today’s Bloomberg article, on the other hand, suggests that there are no big Mac refreshes in sight. And while Apple has paid lip service to its Mac legacy in recent years (like mentioning the old iBooks during the recent MacBook media event, or the 30th anniversary Mac celebration in 2014), we’ve heard repeatedly that the company is not interested in making major changes like merging iOS and macOS.

Personally, I’ve been pretty underwhelmed by Apple’s recent Macs, which have tended to feel like compromised machines from a creative perspective. I fully appreciate that iPhones make Apple the majority of its money, but there have been too many potentially exciting products that Apple has forgotten about. I’m a big fan of Apple in the 1990s, but I don’t want to go back there any time soon.

Do you like the way Apple is headed with its Mac division? Leave your comments below.