The fall of Apple Inc.


No, Apple is not doomed. They are doing quite well, thank you very much. And I don't see that changing any time soon. Where they are falling down is on the design of their hardware offerings. More and more lately it seems like the latest hardware revision makes things worse, at least in some ways, than the previous. Allow me to explain.

It all started back in 2012. October 23, to be exact. Apple was holding a special event, during which they announced an "All-New iMac" featuring "Stunning Design, Brilliant Display & Faster Performance" And it did. There was a lot to like about this new machine. Fusion drive, the latest and greatest processors (3.4 GHz i7!), Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, a new, sleeker profile - there was plenty to be happy about with this upgrade.

The only problem was the downgrades that came along with this upgrade. The most obvious was the removal of the DVD drive. This really didn't bug me much - I understand the reasons (everything is moving to streaming), and while I still use the drive regularly, I could easily get an external. No, what bothered me was the number of other, smaller things that they downgraded relative to the previous version:

  • No user-upgradable ram on the 21" version. For a desktop machine, especially an all-in-one that is more expensive to replace, this is inexcusable.
  • SD slot in the back. They might as well have just removed it. In the previous model, it was on the side where you could actually use it. Now? you have to dig around behind your computer to plug in your SD card.
  • No IR receiver. Ok, this is quite minor in the grand sceme of things. Perhaps I am the only person in the world who used the remote with their iMac. But it is still a removal of a feature that the previous model had.
  • 5200 RPM 2.5" hard drives. And only one. Yes you could do a fusion drive, which in many ways is better, but no longer could you get dual TB hard drives if you wanted a lot of storage.

Ok, so none of these items are earth-shatteringly bad. Upgrading to the 27" model even fixes some of these regressions, as it did have user upgradable ram and a faster, 3.5" hard drive. In fact, after the next revision, I went out and bought one, which I am happily using today. But every one of these changes was something about the new model that was WORSE than the old model. New releases are supposed to improve things, not make them worse.

Unfortunately, it didn't stop there. Next on the chopping block was the mac mini. For those who were looking for a small, relatively inexpensive computer, or something that could use their existing display or the like, the mini was just about perfect. The entry level model came with a decent 2.5 GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 4GB of easily user-upgradable RAM, and room for two internal (2.5", but that's to be expected on a machine like this) hard drives. At the upper end, you could upgrade to a 2.6 GHz quad-core i7 processor. All-in-all, a decent, though not top-of-the-line machine.

Then came the "upgrade" - October 16, 2014. They upgraded the graphics, added Thunderbolt 2 (rather than just the original that the previous had), and faster WiFi. And neutered everything else. The RAM, which was easily upgradable in the previous model? Now soldered to the motherboard. The entry level 2.5 GHz Core i5? Replaced with a - wait for it - *slower* 1.4 GHz core i5. Dual 2.5" hard drive? Nope - though you can get a PCIe "blade" style SSD, which somewhat mitigates this issue. Ok, so it is $100 cheaper than the previous entry-level mini. You *can* upgrade to something about equivalent to the previous entry level mini - for an extra $200. And you're still stuck with the soldered-on RAM. For around $1000 you can upgrade to a 3.0 GHz core i7, which actually does sound better than the previous top-of-the-line - until you realize you are only getting a dual core 3.0, not a quad core. So you are paying at least $100 more than before, for something with a *slightly* higher clock speed, but half as many cores and non-upgradeable ram. Be sure to throw in a couple hundred more now for the RAM upgrade, because you can't do that later.

Finally, there is the iPhone. I have had various revisions of this device since it came out, and have been happy with all of them. Then they released the iPhone 6 and 6+. Ok, don't get me wrong - it's still a nice phone. It's just that it's too big to be conveniently usable. And that's just the 6 - not even the 6+. Some people may like the larger size. It certainly sells well enough. I don't, and I know I'm not alone in that. But now you have a choice: huge, gigantic, or last years technology. Guess which one I'll be sticking with?

Hopefully future hardware improves on the current batch. Maybe future iPhones will be offered in three sizes for those of us who want to be able to use our phones as, you know, phones, without holding a mini tablet up to our heads (if I wanted a tablet, I'd get one). Perhaps future revisions of the mini will add back in user-upgradeable ram, or at least decent processors (assuming Apple doesn't kill it completely). Only time will tell. Even with these issues, Apple still makes the best computers and phones out there. If only I could get over my fear of the next Apple event, watching with bated breath to find out what they are going to downgrade next.

Israel Brewster 2011-2016