The future of the Mac: What will the next 30 years bring us?

Does the Mac have staying power to last another 30 years or are its best years behind it?

With the Mac's 30th anniversary now receding into our rear view mirrors, I've begun to wonder about the future of the Macintosh. Will we be celebrating Mac's 60th anniversary in 2044? Or will the Mac just be a footnote in the annals of technology history? And what do you think the future of the Mac might look like?

At the time the Mac debuted in 1984, the personal computer industry was at a crossroads. Apple had struck gold with the Apple II, becoming the most popular computer of its era. But already when the Mac hit the market, the Apple II's glory days were gone. Apple had fierce competition in the form of IBM's own PC.

Thirty years on, the landscape of the computer market looks very different. Macs have taken a larger chunk of the PC market than they have in years, but they're still the minority. Having said that, personal computer sales in general continue to dive as more and more consumers and businesses alike find more uses for iPads and other tablet devices.

The Post PC era

Steve Jobs famously predicted the "Post PC era" after the advent of the iPad. "PCs are going to be like trucks," he said. They'll still be around, Jobs opined, but not everyone will need one.

It's a great analogy. I don't own a truck but I'm very content to borrow my parents' Toyota Tacoma when it's time to do spring cleaning or buy new furniture.

And the downward trend in PC (and more recently, Mac) sales suggest that Jobs was on the right track. Is this a long term trend, though, or a simple fad, like the netbook craze of a few years ago?

I think it's safe to call it a trend at this point. Many people prefer to have tablets for their computing needs rather than a full-fledged laptop or desktop computer. Apple and other tablet makers have improved processing power and capabilities to expand the usability of these devices, too.

But that doesn't mean the Mac - or the PC - is headed for the dustbin. I suspect they'll level out eventually, since businesses and consumers alike still need computers to do what they do.

Continuing Jobs' truck analogy, what's the best-selling vehicle in America for the last three decades? The Ford F-150, a pickup truck.

PCs fall but Macs ascend

Mac sales may be falling along with PC sales, but the actual percentage of Mac sales against PC sales has steadily increased over the years - in fact, Mac sales have outpaced the PC market for most of the last seven years, which has resulted in the Mac slowly but inexorably increasing its market share against Windows. Admittedly, it's still the minority, and will be for a long time, but things have improved.

Bottom line is that people continue to buy Macs, and lots of them. Macs still have a strong seat at the table when it comes to the traditional content creation markets where they've always done well - graphic design, publishing, video editing, music. Many small business have turned to Macs to help defer IT costs in the belief that Macs are more reliable or less reliant on staff-based tech support than PCs.

One of the biggest market segments for Apple is in the home, however, as people have turned to Macs after years of dealing with PC malware, mediocre updates from Microsoft and just general disappointment with their purchases. About half of the people walking in to buy Macs at the Apple Store are new customers, according to Apple - people who either owned a PC before or haven't owned any kind of computer before.

Equilibrium with mobile devices

Accepting for a moment that tablets and other mobile devices are here to stay for many people's general computing needs, I wonder what the landscape of the Macintosh is bound to look like. Is the Mac relegated to "truck"s status as Jobs opined?

I don't think so, and here's why. Tablets are great for a lot of things, but they don't replace computers. For any kind of long-form data entry, whether you're working on a spreadsheet or database or writing a report for work or school, you really need a good keyboard and text entry system.

Some people can fake it with a keyboard case for the iPad, and that's fine. But it's an edge case. Typing in text or numbers using a Bluetooth keyboard on a tablet is an awkward experience, because before too long, you have to reach for the screen anyway, to activate on-screen controls or to do editing. And that means marking up the glass you're looking through with fingerprints and breaking the plane you've set your hands in, changing them from a horizontal to vertical orientation.

Or trying switching between different applications on a mobile device like an iPad. It's an awkward experience. If you're writing a paper that requires you to research information online, you'll go mad switching between Safari and your word processor or text editor, especially if you're citing references and using copy and paste. It's ugly.

Not only that, but computers still dramatically outperform tablets, which are optimized for battery life more than they are for performance. The gap has narrowed since the first iPad hit the streets in 2010, but computers still have the edge.

Looking down the road

Apple senior VP of software engineering Craig Federighi said that Apple was making the change from the "big cat" nomenclature of OS X to something that would last Apple the next ten years - place names (Mavericks is named after a surfing spot in Northern California not too far away from Apple's headquarters).

Federighi's "next ten years" comment was probably just a lyrical conceit, but it's comforting to think that somewhere in Cupertino, he has a 10 year plan for OS X. I'd love to see what it looks like. I don't pretend to have any insider knowledge here, but I'd love to imagine it.

I admit that I was a bit concerned when it seemed like OS X and iOS were moving together. I've even read alarmist analyst comments about a forthcoming "iAnyhwere" OS that will blur the line between Mac and iOS device entirely.

I think that's nonsense and bunk. iOS and OS X will coexist for some time to come, and the line will blur where it makes sense - in a Maps app for Mavericks that enables you to easy transfer directions to your iPhone, for example, or in seamless exchange of data through iCloud for calendar, contacts and even iWork documents.

OS X will remain its own, distinct entity because inherent to Apple's design philosophy is that form follows function, and OS X is designed to answer a very different set of consumer and business needs than iOS.

The future of the Mac itself

The Mac is still undergoing a transition from old technology to new technology. The iMac, Mac mini and standard MacBook Pro all employ conventional hard disk drives, for example, while the rest of the Mac line has moved along to solid state.

But solid state drives (SSDs) don't have the same sort of density or cost per megabyte that hard drives do, which has left Apple in the position of having to rely more on cloud-based document sharing to help fill in the blanks. I can't even buy an iPod touch with the same storage capacity as my three-year-old iPod classic, for example.

But the writing is on the wall - Apple's moving away from conventional hard drive storage and has almost completely worked itself away from optical drives (the standard MacBook Pro - still available but unchanged since 2012) is the last model with an internal SuperDrive). That will continue as higher density flash storage becomes available and as consumers find alternatives to hard drives and CDs/DVDs.

I'm no expert on display technology, but I've been reading up on organic light emitting transistor (OLET) and seems really promising. Maybe we'll see something like that emerge for laptops and iMacs in the not too distant future. And it seems like we're inevitably headed towards 4K and "Retina Display"-class resolution, too.

I don't think we're going to see any short-term revolutionary changes to the Mac platform. After 30 years, Apple's taking an incremental approach, promising developers yearly updates to the operating system to help the Mac keep pace with both consumer expectations and developer needs.

Ultimately the Mac will have to change with the times, just as Apple has made it do a number of times in its life - from System 6 to 7, later to OS X, from PowerPC to Intel architectures.

One thing I know for sure - in 30 years' time, I'm willing to bet that the Mac will be recognizable to anyone who's using it today, just as the first Macs are to modern Mac users. And I'm sure we'll view much of the Mavericks interface with the same sort of quaint nostalgia and anthropological detachment we do today when we look at how the first Mac Finder and apps looked back in 1984, marveling at how Apple, developers and users were able to do so much with such limited resources.

What are your hopes and dreams for the Mac in the next 30 years? Share your thoughts in the comments - I'd love to know.

  • Am I the only one here who is baffled to why the words "mac and PC" are together in a sentence?
    Let me spell this out to iMore and many, many people:
    PC stands for "Personal Computer". Are you saying a Mac isn't a personal computer? People seem to think PC means Windows (and, in some cases, Linux). A Mac is a PC just like everyone else. Some PCs run Windows. Some PCs run Linux! Some PCs, Macs, run the Mac OS. Hell, even the iPad is a PC! Basically any computer is a PC. iPad, Nexus 7, Surface RT, etc.
    Mac = PC.
  • No. "PC" became the shorthand for computers running Windows years ago. You're not really baffled: you're being one of *those* guys. "Hi, I'm a Mac." "Hi, I'm a PC." Millions saw those ads and knew what was meant. The street determines how words are used and how languages evolve, not pointlessly pedantic posters on web sites.
  • While I agree with you that most people have come to use PC as meaning computer running Windows. Just because it is generally used that way doesn't make it right. PC is an abbreviation for Personal Computer. This is why there are Windows PCs and Mac PCs. I'm not baffled by the distinction when someone uses it I can obviously tell what they mean. It doesn't make it correct though. Sent from the iMore App
  • There are no such thing as "Mac PCs". There are iMacs, MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros and Mac Pros but none are just called 'Mac'. I'm not baffled by the distinction because I can obviously tell what you mean. It doesn't make it correct though.
  • PC and Mac are like Band Aid and Kleenex. I have become a Mac bigot over the last 6 years but have to use "Windows" a PC for work. I refer to my Mac as a "Mac" and the Windows machine I use as a "PC". I don't use facial tissues I use a Kleenex but I rarely by the Kleenex brand.
  • PC is usually just short for Windows PC. I wouldn't worry about it. I think the author knows what a PC is.
  • Actually before it stood for Personal Computer it had three letters preceding it: IBM. Windows was just this GUI slapped on DOS slapped on a box full of off-the-shelf parts so that IBM could put out something quick and dirty to respond to the products like the Apple II, TRS80, Commodore, and the Mac. It was IBM's market power that drove adoption in the enterprise and why Apple never gained any traction. Then Compaq and HP decided they could slap boxes together and put Windows on computers too and IBM lost its chance to drive development.
  • Because its easier than saying or typing "Windows-based computer" by at least a dozen letters. If its clear what the author means, that's all that matters. Of course Macs are PCs. So are tablets and smartphones. But we don't call those "PCs" because the term hasn't come to mean that. Just read, enjoy, and don't be so pedantic, life will be much better.
  • You're being needlessly pedantic. PC means a computer running Windows. Mac means a computer running Mac OS. As for Linux, come up with your own term if it pleases you.
  • I think the concept of desktop and mobile as we know it will morph into the experience that a given computing device provides. For example, a single computing processor can be a phone or tablet in one mode and when "docked" morphs the UI into what we know as a "desktop" OS. We are still a long way from this being truly ubiquitous but we have seen examples of it, especially with Ubuntu and Ubuntu mobile and to a lesser extent the Moto Atrix.
  • Macs will be composed entirely of photons, appear in the air whenever you need it, contain Sirideity (a Singularity level AI) and have a mean time between failure of 11 billion years. And iFixIt will still blubber that they can't service it with a Torx screwdriver and score it a 1, Wall Street pundits will still say Samsung has won (despite Samsung's transition to smartshoe manufacturing in 2035) and that Apple is doomed despite it's recent purchase of Jupiter. Google will be out of the picture having merged with the NSA in 2019, but the geeks still cling to the last release of Android (Mountain Dew Cheetos Pony) as being the ultimate in OS because you have to write a Ruby script just to dial the phone.
  • LOL @ "Mountain Dew Cheetos Pony."
  • I'm envisioning that next iMac form factor will be even thinner and lighter. Today, they look about 1.5 to 2" thick at thickest point. Once they move to SSD only, it's going to be as thin as the rMBP. Like 0.5" at its thickest point. I believe the chin will stay. Apple must be somewhat tempted to make an ARM-based Mac or a high performance iOS device that is in a laptop or desktop form factor. The CPU in the A7 SoC is pretty close to Haswell IPC. If they improve IPC by 20% in the A8 SoC, design in a turbo that can hit 3 to 4 GHz, and have better power consumption that Intel's offering, tempting!
  • When I think of the future of the Mac, an interesting article by Ben Thompson comes to mind; The last paragraph sums it up nicely; "Ultimately, it is the iPad that is in fact general purpose. It does lots of things in an approachable way, albeit not as well as something that is built specifically for the task at hand. The Mac or PC, on the other hand, is a specialized device, best compared to the grand piano in the living room: unrivaled in the hands of a master, and increasingly ignored by everyone else." About that analyst comment about a converged iAnywhere OS (AKA unification of iOS / OSX), this post best sums it up; "Think code convergence (more so than today) with UI modifications per device. A unified underlying codebase for Intel, Apple A-series, and, in Apple’s labs, likely other chips, too (just in case). This would allow for a single App Store for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users that features a mix of apps: Some that are touch-only, some that are Mac-only, and some that are universal (can run on both traditional notebooks and desktops as well as on multi-touch computers like iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and – pretty please, Apple – Apple TV). Don’t be surprised to see Apple A-series-powered Macs, either."
  • In 30 years it's hard to imagine where computing will be by then. It moves at such a rapid pace iPads of that time might have more computing power than a Mac Pro or MBP of today. The iPad might not even exist who knows. I think eventually iPads may become the new laptop. Yes using today's keyboard with an iPad is an effort. But in 30 years a keyboard with a trackpad that lets you scroll and tap without tapping on the iPad could help the workflow. Using 2nd and 3rd monitors with the iPad would allow for more desk space and possibilities. These are just the things we can imagine because they exist today. Take an iPad back 30 years and whatever someone was doing on a computer then I bet you could do it on the iPad and probably faster too. I do think more things will move from the browser to apps on the Mac OS. So instead of navigating to iMore, Facebook or my Bank website I will just launch the app just like I do on mobile. It's an experience that the creator can have control over instead of the browser. Sent from the iMore App
  • I believe there will always be a need for the Mac... That is to say until mobile tech is powerful enough to rival any desktop workstation for processing & storage. Then we could just use any large screen in range for work... But there better be some serious interface advances because I have to have a keyboard & mouse for digital art & Starcraft II.
    :D Sent from the iMore App
  • I actually agree with iAnywhere os, because Im not sure macs or PC physically will survive another 30 years, and apple and ms will have to try and find a way to display their os on a display some how for work purposes, (unless things go full circle and people realise they need computers for work). Once PC and Mac demand drops to a too lower level I think that apple and ms will stop selling them, companies won't buy them anymore as they will be unavailable or too expensive, and then they'll just say to employees bring your own. As always just my opinion, enjoying reading other peoples thoughts and opinions
  • I'm so tired of reading that iPads can't replace Macs or PC's. That is what is happening right now. I used to have 2 Macs but now I have a Mac and an iPad, and the only reason I still have a Mac is I have expert skills with Mac apps like Logic and Photoshop. If I was younger, I would not have developed those skills and I wouldn't have a Mac at all. The only reason this trend is not even more apparent is it takes a long time to educate people and change their habits, and because while Apple is the only one who makes a tablet PC, the other PC makers are constantly telling consumers that a tablet PC can't replace a notebook. That is simply false. Most Windows PC users don't even install their own native software, outside of iTunes. They just use the Web browser. When they switch to an iPad, they do much, much more than they did with a PC. > long-form text entry Only 10% of users do long-form text entry. And iPad is very popular with them. Many, many professional writers prefer to use an iPad for the important advantages it has over Mac or Windows PC's: * you get to choose your own keyboard from 10,000 options instead of using whatever is built-in to a notebook — this is very important to someone who is doing a lot of writing
    * your writing sessions on iPad are quiet and undistracted like using a typewriter, whereas a Mac is like writing on a printing press
    * you can write on batteries for 10 hours, wherever you are, which is longer than the typical writing session
    * it is very easy to carry an iPad with you 24/7 and write when inspiration strikes or time permits, whereas even a MacBook Air is a much bigger chore to carry 24/7 I think the answer to your question about the next 30 years is that the truck/car split is here to stay, and the Mac is by far the best truck. It is the only one making any profit also. The people who will use the trucks are engineers of some kind, and the ones using cars are the rest of us. For example, in music, a songwriter can use an iPad only and they are much better off than with a Mac. You can plug in Apogee accessories and use GarageBand and there is almost no technical overhead. All you are working with is the actual song. But a recording engineer is going to have a Mac-based system that is much more complicated to use, but enables the engineer to do the many, many technical things that he or she needs to do. The songwriting is a very focused, non-technical task that benefits from the focused, non-technical iPad. Engineering a record is a sprawling technical task that benefits from the sprawling, technical Mac. An easy distinction with iPad and Mac is that iPad is used for creation and capture, and Mac used for editing and publishing. That is how it works these days on the projects I work on. In a recent project, the music was captured as multitrack audio and MIDI on an iPhone (with Apogee hardware) and the video and photos were captured on an iPhone, and the lyrics and other text was captured on an iPad, some drawings and paintings were done on an iPad, and then all of that content was brought together onto a Mac and made into an iBook and website and YouTube videos. Most of the creativity happened on the iOS devices and most of the technical work happened on the Mac. The iOS devices went out into the field and returned with captured content on them. The Mac stayed in a studio, and its precision tools and multitasking of apps into one meta-app were used to make fine edits and composites and write a lot of code and engineer the whole project into one data set that represented the canonical master copy of the work. A key thing is the iOS work was serial and the Mac work was parallel. With the iOS device you are doing one focused task such as shooting a single video clip. Then you do another focused task such as writing some copy. Then you do another focused task such as making a drawing. With the Mac, you are doing multiple tasks at once, such as editing multiple clips into one and adding titles and music and encoding into sharable copies and embedding in a Web page you just coded. The thing is, most people don't do the Mac-style work. So for most people, an iPad is enough. But for people who do the Mac-style work, the Mac is essential. Therefore we can say at the same time that iPads replace Macs and PC's, but the Mac is still not going away. > Federighi's "next ten years" comment was probably just a lyrical conceit, No. Apple is very careful about what they commit to publicly. And they have to already have the next 10 years of Mac planned. That is only 3 Mac lifetimes (3 years each.) > Continuing Jobs' truck analogy, what's the best-selling vehicle in America
    > for the last three decades? The Ford F-150, a pickup truck. The best-selling desktop computer in the US since 1998 is the iMac. It is the F-150 of the computer industry. > which has resulted in the Mac slowly but inexorably increasing its market share
    > against Windows. Admittedly, it's still the minority, and will be for a long time,
    > but things have improved. Market share is irrelevant. The Mac has 90% of high-end PC sales since just after the Intel Mac shipped, resulting in Apple taking over 50% of the profits in the entire PC market today. The Mac is the only non-disposable PC left. The only PC choice for serious users who have work to do. The rest are Web terminals, easily replaced by tablets. So I think going forward the Mac will stay roughly where it is versus iPad, and Windows PC's will continue to morph into iPad-style tablets — in other words, they morph into cars. The main reason for this is that Windows PC users are already using them as cars and are demanding they get more car-like. That is why Windows 8 is a tablet (car) OS, but unfortunately it is an El Camino — half-truck, half-car, with all the disadvantages of both and very few of the advantages of either one. And interesting only to a tiny number of people that find its quirks appealing, just like El Camino. The idea of the Mac going away is crazy, to tell the truth. Consider that every iOS app was made on a Mac. So was iOS. The majority of movies are made on Mac. The majority of music. The majority of books. And not in some way that could easily be moved over to Windows, which lacks creative subsystems like CoreAudio and CoreMIDI. Yes, consumers are going to enjoy all those things on iPads and other devices, but only because there are Macs producing and publishing them. That's where the tools you use to publish to iTunes Store and iBooks and App Store are. The Mac is the foundation of iPad and iPhone. Even if for no other reason than programming, the Mac would have to stay around to support iPad and iPhone. The lack of coding access on iPad and iPhone is a security feature and reduces complexity for the 98% of people who don't code and never will code. Even if the Mac were just a tool you plug into an iPad/iPhone to make apps, that gives it a reason to exist and thrive. But it is the development tool for all the movie, music, and book stores as well. And most Android apps are made on Mac as well, because Windows has historically been anti-Java. So there is absolutely zero danger of the Mac going away. ZERO. NADA. ZILCH. It's Windows PC's that are going away, because they are mainly used for Web/office terminals and Netflix/iTunes (car stuff) and Windows is welded to giant Intel chips and giant batteries (truck parts) and it will still take up to a decade to move it over to ARM (car parts.) They'll lose all their users to iPads long before that. That is a crisis at Microsoft that is of their own making. Apple has nothing to fear from it.
  • Oh come on, let's not go there - If we start predicting what Apple will be doing in 30 years, and they haven't delivered everything we expected, plus, levitating cars with power generated by a negative ion drive, free-space video, and, iPhones in one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen inch models - the stock market will crash - oh wait no - Apple will fail miserably within the following 24 hours, and then the stock market will crash - and it will be Apple's fault. Let's get through the boring iWatch nonsense and the, too-big-to-be-a-phone fiasco, and then begin to tackle what truly new and innovative tech Apple can come up with in the next couple years - What do think?
  • One fundamental rule of the Apple experience will remain gloriously unchanged over the next thirty years. Apple has always considered the end user first and foremost in its design calculus. That is why it is the greatest company in the world and why it will continue to be. It is the platinum standard in user experience and customer respect. Sent from the iMore App
  • I would think the biggest change will be with the user interface. Keyboards, mice, even touch screens are all on borrowed time. Oral cues/dictation, eye tracking, potentially even neural implants will be commonplace by then. Looking back from 2044, Google Glass will be seen as the first Neanderthal's attempt at fire...Even as tech gurus prognosticate, a lot more attention should be paid to the human side of the interaction equation. I doubt we'll be any closer to the Singularity, but the line between human and machine will be much more blurred...and those people/societies that don't adapt will become even more second-class citizens than the digitally illiterate are today.