The Mac that will be
By now, we've all heard Steve Jobs's famous soundbite comparing computers to trucks and smartphones and tablets to cars. It's not simply a case of one technology replacing another just because it's better. Nor is it a matter of two complementary technologies coexisting; the microwave still hasn't replaced the stove for most people. Rather, the question has become whether a technology is good enough for most people. Smartphones and tablets are doing to traditional computers what cell phones did to landlines — not completely ushering them out of existence, but reducing them to more specialized tools reserved for those who really need them.
The Mac has already started down its road of being a niche product. While Apple appears prepared to continue catering to those niches, consider the new Mac Pro — a machine that even power users acknowledge may be too much.
Despite all that, I don't expect to go Mac-free anytime soon. As a writer, I'm still in a niche market: The iPad and iPhone can handle a lot of what I need to do, but they can't quite match up to the sheer convenience and customizability of my MacBook Air. But then again, I'm a technically savvy user whose Mac tweaks once prompted raised eyebrows from a couple of Apple Geniuses. My aunt and uncle, on the other hand, just need to read email and look at webpages; they're only too happy to ditch a seven-year-old PC laptop to go iPad-only. And we know they're hardly alone.
That shouldn't be a surprise: The trend in personal computing is toward simplicity and prevalence, two concepts that often go hand-in-hand. Most people don't want to change their own oil or replace their own timing belt; they just want a car that is going to get them from point A to point B and not break down. The same is true with computers, no matter what form they take.
Long live the Mac
This isn't a death knell, by any means. I believe the Mac will persist for a good while longer, both for Mac enthusiasts and for those whose jobs require specific capabilities — serious video-editing, for example, or the ability to develop the very apps that run on our Macs and iOS devices. Eight-tracks and cassette tapes might have died out, but vinyl records still have a vibrant and passionate fan base. But as in that arena, we enthusiastic power users have never been the biggest, or — despite what we might like to think — most influential chunk of consumers.
And, really, the Mac has already survived against long odds, given its survival over the last 30 years. Sure, it has adapted, changing operating systems, changing hardware platforms (twice), and going through countless models. But at the most basic level, the Macintosh of 1984 is surprisingly recognizable in the Mac of today. In a field where progress often seems to happen with whiplash-inducing speed, that's no small thing: Among the many items that can be replaced by a smartphone, the Mac is perhaps the hardest to leave by the wayside. And it's hard to imagine many of the other devices that have come along in recent times — MP3 players, portable DVD players, fitness trackers — lasting a single decade, let alone three.
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