Last week’s update to MacOS Catalina was… underwhelming. Although the requisite line about big fixes and security was present, Apple’s two changes related directly to media production (improved gamma handling on a specific external monitor, and 4K multi-stream editing performance.
Compare this thin release to the iOS release in the same timeframe. iOS 13.3 brought new features to Apple News, additional controls in Screen Time, and improvements to the Stocks app, tweaks to Gmail, Photos, Exchange, text input, messages, voice memos, dark mode, wireless charging… as well as the bug fixes. Last week’s point update 13.3.1 improved the security in screen time and added in numerous options and configurations to protect your location.
Once more the MacOS platform is picking up little more than maintenance releases since it became publicly available in September 2019, while iOS continues to get the lions share of focus and attention on its issues as it continues to expand.
12 November 2019, US, New York: The new MacBook Pro, recorded at an Apple presentation in New York, … [+]
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It’s not as if the MacOS Catalina does not have it problems, with stories of instability, upgrade problems, and application support still being discussed. But MacOS feels like Apple is ‘finished’ with it in a way that is not perceived with iOS.
Some enterprising developers have taken a closer look at latest MacOS Catalina and have found hints of new features in the code, including a ‘ProMode’ which will allow for a wider thermal window to access more performance for lower battery life, and some hooks that suggest Apple is looking at AMD as an option alongside Intel. So there is some work going on at the hardware level, but in terms of the core software and Apple’s own apps, if they are not subservient to iOS and Apple’s software and services business, they are going to very far down the list of priorities.
What does this mean for Apple’s laptops in 2020? I suspect the answer is not much. Apple is expected to have a launch event in March for the iPhone 9 (the spiritual successor to the iPhone SE). The tweaked hardware is expected to show up in a 13-inch MacBook Pro, which could make an appearance, but I think it more likely Match will be the iPhone 9 with perhaps a dash of iPad for the education marketplace. WWDC is a more likely launch platform for the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
And at WWDC the next version of MacOS is likely to be announced, a new round of developer betas will be released, and MacOS 10.16 will be available for upgrades in October. While there may be a maintenance release for Catalina over the summer, that will be it for software improvements for most of 2020.
In terms of genuinely new hardware and ongoing support, 2020 is looking to be a dead rubber from Apple in regard to laptops. What you have now is what you have for the rest of the year. While the hoped for upgrade to the keyboard to the older design will be welcome, fixing previous hardware flaws should not be the only update of note in 2020.
It’s also worth noting what this says to potential customers about Apple’s ongoing support for the MacBook family. Has Tim Cook decided that this is as far as the evolution of the MacBook will go? Now that the media producers have a machine that has enough extra capacity in terms of storage and memory, is that it? Will Apple now lean in even heavier on the iPad and iPad Pro to deliver a laptop experience to the public? Or will Apple carry on trying to tie the Mac closer and closer to Cupertino?
I personally hope not. The iPad platform is only as flexible as Apple allows it to be, unlike the Mac platform which can still happily run outside of Apple’s garden.