Apple and the Pro market

Ever since the introduction of the iPod, Apple has been making a shift towards becoming a consumer electronics company. In 2007, at the iPhone keynote introduction, Steve Jobs famously declared that Apple was changing its name from ‘Apple Computer Inc’ to just ‘Apple Inc’, to better reflect that change.

In the years since, Apple has taken many steps that have left many in the professional markets scratching their heads and stomping their feet. Need a reminder? Here are some of those steps:

  1. 1. The Mac Pro: Apple let the Mac Pro languish for 2 years without an update. More than any machine Apple makes, the Mac Pro is the workhorse of the professional market. Hollywood studios, print shops, animation professionals, music professionals… all of these markets count on the Mac Pro and the numerous apps that Apple makes to get work done. And Apple went 24 months without an update to the hardware. It looks like we might finally get a Mac Pro update next week at WWDC, so keep your fingers crossed.
  2. 2. Final Cut Pro X: Apple takes a solid, popular and industry leading application and rewrites it from scratch, leaving out dozens of features Pros rely upon, and forcing many to reconsider their entire investment in Apple applications.
  3. 3. Aperture: Apple dropped the price of Aperture from $199 to $79 when it went to digital delivery via the Mac App Store. However, no new version of Aperture has been released, and with Lightroom 4, many long time stalwart Aperture uses (myself included) have taken Apple’s silence and lack of new Aperture version as an abandonment of the application and switched to Lightroom.
  4. 4. XServe: It probably didn’t sell a ton, but for those who bought in to a Mac OS X Server environment, XServe was an inexpensive way to serve websites and files without needing Windows or Linux server experience. Apple tried to steer users over to Mac Pros running Mac OS X Server, but when that product languished for 2 years, well, you can guess what that says to people.
  5. 5. Mac OS X Server: With Lion, Apple changed how Mac OS X Server is delivered. No longer a full stand alone OS, it is now a bolt on to Mac OS X, again available for download from the Mac App Store. While the new pricing is a huge improvement over the previous $499 price, the update has made many who use Mac OS X Server for web hosting angry, as Apple removed MySQL, and changed the admin configuration to the point that many who upgraded recommend staying away until the bugs are fixed.

And the trend continues with OS X Mountain Lion. In Mountain Lion, Apple removes the built in connection to start/stop Apache from the Sharing Preferences pane. The underlying Apache web server is still present, but why take away something that has been present in Mac OS X for 11 years, and force users to the Terminal to handle something that was drop dead easy before?

The above issue is a small one, but I feel it illustrates the problem at hand: Apple, even when it doesn’t have a financial reason to do so, is reworking their products to appeal to consumers, even if it means making the products less appealing to professionals.

I’m sure Apple has hard numbers that show that sales lost to the Pro market are inconsequential in comparison to sales gained in the consumer market, but it doesn’t have to be an either or proposition. Apple can make the best tools for professionals and still make tools that appeal to the general public. Hopefully Apple doesn’t lose sight of the benefits of being the darling of the professional market, and continues to take their needs in to consideration.

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