Is Apple back to its best following WWDC 2017? [Friday Night Fights]

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Are you pleased with what you saw at WWDC 2017?
Are you pleased with what you saw at WWDC 2017?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

This year’s WWDC keynote was an early Christmas for Apple fans. It delivered the big updates to iOS, macOS, and watchOS we were eagerly anticipating; a 10.5-inch iPad Pro; updated Macs with Intel Kaby Lake processors, plus nice surprises like the iMac Pro and HomePod.

Friday Night Fights bugBut is this Apple back at its best, or do we need more out of Cupertino? Are fancy software updates enough to breathe new life into boring hardware? Is Apple’s new push into virtual reality and machine learning too little, too late?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we battle it out over a bumper WWDC!

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: The first thing to say is let’s skip the nonsense about whether WWDC “saved” Apple or not. This is a company that’s more profitable than it’s ever been, and was hardly in need of saving in a financial sense. People who talk like that also tend to, in my experience, be the same folks who say Apple has done absolutely nothing interesting since Steve Jobs died.

But was WWDC a great event in terms of reigniting an interest that I felt I had been losing in Apple? You bet. iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra both look very solid, and the new iPad Pro is exciting, as is the HomePod — which is a piece of hardware I’ll be running out and buying as soon as its available, provided that it lives up to expectations.

However, it’s the Mac that makes me most excited: the iMac Pro is a job well done on Apple’s part, and the fact that the regular iMacs also boasting upgradeable RAM and CPU is massive. Both of these show that Apple’s been listening to what its users have been demanding, and is willing to deliver. It was a great night for Apple. What did you make of it?

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: You’re right; Apple isn’t a company that needs saving right now. And maybe it won’t be anytime in the near future. But as you have rightly pointed out in previous Friday Night Fights, it is a company that has become incredibly boring. It needs to do something to change that, otherwise it won’t be the same company in ten years’ time.

Was WWDC the first step in the right direction? I’m not so sure.

I was pleasantly surprised by what Apple had up its sleeve (I’m incredibly excited about iOS 11 in particular). But Apple’s problem isn’t its software. Its problem is that its hardware doesn’t deliver anything new, and competitors are offering more exciting devices. Nothing Apple unveiled at WWDC changes that. At the end of 2017, when everything’s available to the public, Apple will still be the same company with the same problems.

The new iPad Pro does look good — especially when coupled with iOS 11 — but it’s still an iPad. An improved design and a few new features still won’t make it a laptop replacement for the vast majority of laptop users. The iMac Pro looks insanely exciting, and if I had to buy a Mac it’s the one I’d go for. But it will still be outpaced by Windows PCs that cost a lot less, and it’s still not the upgradeable machine many of us have been asking for.

You mention that the CPU and RAM can be upgraded, and that’s great. But you have to take out the iMac’s entire display to do that, which the average consumer won’t (and shouldn’t) want to attempt. Plus we still don’t have traditional desktop graphics cards, which are important for gamers and creative professionals, who need the ability to upgrade when they need more power.

It’s crazy that a desktop, that starts at $4,999, will be outdated and lagging behind within a couple of years — and upgrading it affordably is near impossible.

I hate to be so negative because I was pleasantly surprised by WWDC this year, and I am looking forward to getting my hands on Apple’s new software. But as cool as that “seriously badass” iMac Pro looks on the surface, the hardware just doesn’t appeal to me right now. I’m past spending thousands on computers that become outdated far too quickly because they cannot be easily upgraded.

I’m really hoping the next Mac Pro will change that, but I suspect that Apple will still choose form over function, and it will still charge crazy money for a machine that isn’t as flexible as it should be.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, ultimately. The last Mac Pro was a great product when it launched, but one which was let down by Apple’s failure to focus on it and keep it up to date. Although there’s a good argument to be made that the iMac Pro is good value for money, I suspect that Apple is never going to be the company which provides the most affordable computers if that’s what your looking for.

You’re also right that the average customer isn’t going to upgrade their Mac — but it’s that professional, techie customer base who will, and who have been ignored by Apple for too long. One of my favorite eras in Mac history was the late 80s and early 90s — and a good part of that reason was because Apple chosen to focus on expandability. If that’s something Apple’s returning to now, that can only be a good thing.

With exciting new products and a change in philosophy, this was one of Apple’s most intriguing WWDC events in years.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: I disagree that the last Mac Pro was ever a great product. Sure, it looks magnificent for a desktop PC, but it was never a suitable machine for the power users it is supposed to serve. It’s not even powerful enough for VR, yet you can build a Windows machine that is for a fraction of the cost. Power users need upgradeable desktops; it’s a simple as that. Otherwise they end up stuck with outdated machines soon after they purchased them.

I didn’t say the average customer won’t upgrade their Mac. I think the average desktop user is willing to install things like SSDs, additional RAM, and even a new graphics card so long as it’s an easy process. Installing one of these components in a Windows PC takes less than 10 minutes, and they can dramatically improve performance — often without being too expensive.

I said the average customer won’t want to upgrade an iMac Pro, since that won’t be a simple process. No one wants to pull a sheet of glass out of a $5,000 machine — and they shouldn’t have to just to add more storage or RAM. This isn’t a newfound focus on expandability. It is Apple trying to make it look like it has done something good for the consumer without actually doing it. It is still making user upgrades incredibly difficult.

I am pleased with some of the decisions Apple made at WWDC. It’s about time it finally embraced virtual reality and machine learning. But I’ll have to wait for iPhone 8 and the new Mac Pro before I can say for certain whether Apple is really listening.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: You’re wrong that the Mac Pro wasn’t a great product. With its multi-core processor and compact form factor, it was a whole lot of compute power in a very small space. The problem was that Apple didn’t allow users to expand it, which meant that once it started falling behind it was just a very expensive, out of date machine. You’re totally right about VR, though. Tim Cook has spoken out about Apple’s ambitions in this area, and it’s just the kind of technology it’s good to see Apple staying on the cutting edge of. For a few years it really felt like Apple was losing interest in the Mac, which is why WWDC was so promising.

As noted, however, it wasn’t just that. With the exception of Apple TV — which I’m still waiting to see become the product it could be — every single Apple product category got something of value at WWDC. We haven’t even discussed the focus on machine learning, which is every bit as significant as the Mac announcement. It truly was an illustration of the company firing on all cylinders, and I came away feeling a sense of excitement that has been absent at many, many recent events. Let me put it this way: if WWDC didn’t get you excited about Apple’s future, nothing will.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: It did and still does offer a lot of compute power in a very small space. My point is that you could still build a faster Windows PC (and install macOS on it if you wish) for a lot less. Does anyone really spend thousands of dollars more on a desktop you can’t upgrade just because it fits into a smaller space? I think not.

Yes, it’s great to see Apple finally throwing more into machine learning, but again, it’s nothing new. Google has been doing this and more for years. Apple is catching up, not firing on all cylinders. This is not a feature that will sell boring hardware when the same (better) functionality can be found on more exciting devices.

I’ll tell you what will get me excited about Apple’s future: A desktop computer that’s as easy to upgrade as a Windows PC, and a MacBook/iPad hybrid that runs macOS as we know it when it’s used a laptop, and macOS with an iOS-style interface when it’s used as a tablet. Apple could make a killing with a device like this, and finally compete with the likes of the Surface Pro.

Anyway, let’s hand this over to the readers now. Do you think WWDC signals the start of an exciting change in philosophy for Apple, or were you disappointed in what you saw? Let us know down in the comments!

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?