What it is: While PC sales have been steadily falling with no end in sight, Macintosh sales have actually increased until recently.
The world no longer needs PCs to do everything any more. Back in the old days, you needed a PC to send and receive email, browse the Internet, and stay in touch with friends through instant messaging. Now you can do all that with a smartphone.
Another reason people used to buy PCs regularly was because both the hardware (usually the processor) and the software (usually Windows) kept offering new features. Now PCs are generally fast enough and software improvements are minimal. That means older PCs still work perfectly fine so there’s little reason to buy a new one as often.
So the twin combination of smartphones and good enough PCs have hurt PC sales. Yet Macintosh sales kept climbing. That’s likely because many Windows users were buying a Macintosh instead of a Windows PC. But now Macintosh sales have finally slowed and declined. What’s the reason for this?
One possible reason is that the number of Windows users switching to a Macintosh has slowed. Another possible reason is that Apple hasn’t updated their Macintosh product line as often, leading many people to hold off buying a new Macintosh since the latest models are only slight improvements over the older models.
From a pessimist’s point of view, it’s inevitable that Macintosh sales would drop if the overall PC market has been dropping. The fact that PC sales have been dropping steadily while Macintosh sales increased seems to indicate that fewer people want to buy any new computer any more. Yet from an optimist’s point of view, perhaps something else is happening.
Typically, Apple stops updating products right before they kill them or let them languish. Nobody cares any more about updates to the iPod product line because dedicated music players are a dying market so there’s little reason for Apple to promote the iPod or push dramatic improvements on the iPod if people are essentially getting an iPod for free every time they buy an iPhone or iPad.
Since it’s unlikely that Apple plans to kill the Macintosh or let it languish, here’s a hopeful possibility. In May of 2016, rumors appeared that Apple was planning to eliminate function keys and replace them with a touch screen that could turn into a virtual keyboard.
In the old days, function keys served a purpose by letting you give commands to a program by pressing a different function key. Pressing F1 might display help and pressing F7 might spell check your document. To give function keys additional features, programs often let you press the Shift, Ctrl, and Alt/Option keys with a function key so pressing F10 might exit out of a program but pressing Shift+F10 might print a file. By combining modifier keys with function keys, you could give more commands to a program.
For greater flexibility, keyboards increased the number of function keys from ten to twelve or more. Yet when computers started offering graphical user interfaces with pull-down menus, function keys fell out of fashion. That’s why most computers now assign hardware controls to function keys so pressing F7 might increase audio volume and pressing F5 might change screen brightness. If you want to use the function keys as function keys, you may need to press a special Fn key at the same time.
Assigning hardware controls to function keys is a stop gap measure that still doesn’t eliminate the clumsiness of function keys that are rarely used. That’s why the latest rumors point to Apple eliminating the function key row altogether to replace it with a rectangular screen that acts like a virtual row of keys. That means programs can create custom keys on this touch screen where the function keys would normally appear.
If this rumor is true, this could explain why Apple has taken so long to update their Macintosh lineup. It’s not because Apple is ignoring the Macintosh so much as they’re readying a radical new keyboard that requires work to make sure it performs correctly and actually proves useful.
So the lack of Macintosh updates could mean Apple is ignoring the Macintosh, or it could mean that Apple is readying a radical new improvement to the Macintosh. That means Apple will likely want to release this new virtual keyboard for both their laptop and desktop models. Until they perfect this virtual keyboard, Apple might be content to let the Macintosh lineup limp along.
Apple will likely release new Macintosh models right before the back to school season and the holiday season, so expect new Macintosh models then. The only question is whether the new Macintosh computers will offer a radical new feature like a virtual keyboard to replace the traditional (and obsolete) row of function keys.
What seems more likely? That Apple is ignoring the Macintosh line or that Apple is holding back on updates to ready something new?