Apple to creative pros: Go f*** yourselves

For decades the Mac has been the choice of creative professionals. Graphic designers, photographers, videographers, musicians, writers, artists of all stripes have loved the Mac. They love the ease of use, the robustness of the operating system and the third-party apps, products, and services that work with it. As Apple has pivoted to become the biggest consumer electronics company in the world, it has shown an increasing indifference to the needs and desires of the creative community.

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This trend isn’t new. Apple upset video pros years ago when it pivoted from Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X, a complete rewrite of its pro video editing software that changed its workflow and broke compatibility with third-party tools on which an entire industry depended. The reaction from videographers was to hoard FCP7 licenses to the best of their ability to continue to support the systems and workflows they’d spent years and millions of dollars (collectively) to develop.

The company allowed its heaviest iron, the Mac Pro, to languish for years with only minor refreshes to keep it chugging along. Then in 2013 the company introduced a completely reinvented Mac Pro. “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass,” was the retort from Apple VP Phil Schiller when he introduced the new Mac at an Apple event. And it was an innovative device – a turbine-shaped parallel-processing monster designed for people who needed to crunch a lot of data quickly. As well-suited to engineers and scientists calculating huge data arrays as it was towards creative pros working with high-res photos, 4K video, multiple tracks of high bit-rate audio and more.

The Mac Pro hasn’t been touched with any sort of in-line refresh since then. Three years ago. Even the “cheese grater” Mac Pro that preceded the current “Trash Can” model saw occasional updates with new graphics cards and CPUs.

Apple just introduced an updated MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is thinner and faster than ever before and Apple vaunts the Touch Bar as a huge advance forward for creative professionals, but in other respects, it’s fallen short. It’s limited to 16 GB RAM, for example – a critical shortcoming for some creative pros working with really large files and multiple applications. It can’t connect to the huge number of USB and Thunderbolt peripherals already in use without using ugly, expensive “dongles.” Why apply the “Pro” appellation if this isn’t, in fact, aimed at pros?

Word emerged yesterday that Apple had eliminated the position of its manager of user automation, Sal Soghoian. Sal is well known in creative and developer communities. A creative pro himself, Sal came to Apple almost 20 years ago after realizing how powerful user scripting tools like AppleScript could be. Sal once shared Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference stage with Steve Jobs to introduce Automator, a key scripting tool developed by Apple.

On his own Web site, Soghoian points out that there’s no shortage of automation and scripting technology still built in to the Mac: “UNIX CLI (shell, python, ruby, perl), System Services, Apple Events (JavaScript, AppleScript, AppleScriptObj-C, Scripting Bridge), Automator, Apple Configurator (AppleScript, Automator), and Application scripting support in Photos, iWork, Finder, Mail, and other Apple applications.”

What’s going to happen to automation technology in macOS going forward, however, is anyone’s guess. Apple’s decision to eliminate the position of the one person who was shepherding the technology does not speak well of its priorities.

Twenty years ago, when Soghoian started at Apple, Apple was in a very different place than it is now. It was before the iPhone, before the iPod, even before the iMac. Apple was on the rocks, having been beaten pretty badly in the personal computer market by Microsoft. The company was months away from running out of money and possibly shutting down or selling off to the highest bidder. Creative pros were one of the very few market segments that were even interested in Apple anymore. Apple knew that and counted on them to help keep the home fires burning.

Those same customers seemingly aren’t enough of a market for Apple to bother with anymore. Which brings to mind an old aphorism: “If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.”

4 thoughts on “Apple to creative pros: Go f*** yourselves

  1. Designers need to look at their needs, their workflows, and the needs of their clients to figure that out for themselves. I think for most of them, the Mac is still going to be the go-to system.

    That line’s gotten blurred over the years as more of the companies offering apps, services and other products aimed at creative pros have supported Windows, and as Microsoft’s own tech has improved. Does it really matter now if you’re running Photoshop on the Mac or PC, for example? Can you get the same work done with a PC running Premiere Pro as on a Mac? In some cases, you’re getting features first on Windows, even with creative tools.

    But more and more I’m hearing creative professionals turn their noses up at Apple’s Mac offerings, with a lot of grumbling about building a “Hackintosh” – a PC-compatible computer that’s been modified to run OS X. That’s been a cottage industry ever since Apple switched to the Intel platform back in 2006.

    There are a lot of inherent shortcomings of Hackintosh PCs – Apple doesn’t support them, which means that some system drivers require tweaking, some features don’t work right or aren’t supported, or you need to wait for the open source community to come to the rescue. So it requires a lot more self-reliance than I think a lot of folks who aren’t hardcore computer enthusiasts are willing to make.

  2. Sad. As a full stack software engineer I’m wondering if this is aligning us for a path where MacOS no longer has a shell, no longer has a command line. If that’s the direction we’re headed in then Apple will lose pretty much all of the engineering market that doesn’t build native apps (iOS, MacOS). That’s a pretty big audience. But before that happens the anemic hardware will begin the decline because a lot of our work is done in VMs today: I just finished a project that required no less than 3 VMs running at the same time. We need RAM, CPU, and potentially better GPUs to do this work, not a thinner design, a cute touch interface that removes a row of keyboard shortcuts or a raft of ports that work with absolutely none of our current investments.

    As a former owner of a creative and interactive agency I can say that we experimented with replacing iMacs with PCs in 2012: Creative Suite is a much smoother operation in Windows, especially with the funky Adobe cross platform GUI that always looked weird on a Mac. Adding a bunch of third party extensions to a more open system replaces functionality that you might miss (like document preview from the finder). Network file transfers were a lot faster (critical when your working on creative assets as a team). You get to spend as much as you want on a GPU. There are a lot of benefits to this setup. No, it’s not as pretty as an Apple solution but then Apple’s solution means struggling with outdated hardware for a long time while waiting: looking at you finally discontinued Thunderbolt Display.

    With regard to a “Hacintosh”: unless you’ve actually tried this you’re not going to fully appreciate what a hassle it is. These things are built through experimentation. It’s not a workable solution and even if it was, it doesn’t change Apple’s plans for the future with a watered down MacOS.

    Clearly, we can’t believe the rhetoric coming out of Cupertino. Proceed with extreme caution when planning future investments. The last two weeks have brought us disappointing hardware and now bad news on the OS side as well. Apple’s trying to steer us toward a future that better fits their vision instead of building products that better address our needs. Perhaps it’s time to bring back BeOS and the BeBox!

  3. Agreed regarding the Hackintosh. The point isn’t that it’s a viable alternative for designers (or anyone else) looking for the Mac user experience without the hassles of Apple hardware – it’s that they’re dissatisfied enough to even explore it as an option.

    Regarding virtual machines: I suspect the writing is on the wall. Rumors suggest that Apple is staffing up with engineers designing silicon for the Macintosh, which may mean a pivot away from Intel. Given Intel’s recent missteps are at least partially to blame for the moribund state of Mac evolution in recent years, that may not be a bad thing. Apple’s handled the processor transition enough times that it knows what to do to reduce friction as much as possible, but without an X86 architecture underpinning the system, it could get a whole lot more difficult for people to run different OS environments on a Mac. Which will make the Mac a lot less attractive to a lot of current users – including many enterprise customers – who depend on that technology to get their work done.

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