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Apple Watch: 30 years of Mac

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January 24th marks 30 years since Apple Computer (as it was called back then) introduced the Macintosh. This was an all-in-one beige box with a built-in 9-inch black and white screen. That's pixels on, pixels off, not even grey scale - tones had to be represented by patterns of black and white pixels.

At the same time, Apple was selling (and was to carry on for some years) an Apple line of computers and the two platforms were rivals, in a way, within Apple. The last Apple PC, the IIGS, was Mac-like anyway, with a mouse and a similar user interface, but it was gone by the end of 1993. Macintosh reigned at Apple.

Of course it's been through a lot since then. It's had peaks (around 1992) and troughs (around 1996) and then the beautiful all-in-one translucent iMac appeared and Apple was saved. This CRT Mac had a pretty direct connection back to that original all-in-one Mac, as has the current iMac. Apple's presence rose with its products, although it was iPod, iPhone then iPad that really made it a household name.

My allegiance to the Mac has been pretty clear. When I saw my first Macintosh properly in 1988 I realised the industry I worked in was doomed (prepress) and I became a desktop publisher, working up from designer to production manager.

Then I became an editor of a magazine called Macguide for five years.

I've always loved the Mac. It has let me create, design, explore and, probably most importantly although less excitingly, earn money, all without a degree in computing and completely without any ability to code. When I was first asked to write a blog on the NZ Herald online, I was told it would be called Mac Planet, and I thought this was a good idea. In 2007 the iPhone had only just appeared - to me, the Mac was by far the most important and interesting thing Apple had ever achieved. But use of Macs had declined at this point. In New Zealand use had been around 12 per cent in the early 1990s, as it was strong in education, desktop publishing had really taken off and designers loved them. But around the time the NZ Mac magazine Macguide was closed down, in 2007, Mac use had dropped to under 3 per cent of the NZ PC market, and this was similar almost everywhere else Macs were sold. Holdouts were like me: designers, creatives, editors, writers, sound and video engineers. Average computer users shunned the platform due to price, availability of certain software packages and they succumbed to pressure from IT departments raised on Microsoft Windows.

Of course, from that point on, Apple's profile just rose and rose. The iPhone put the company back on the map, and the iPad drove it to further highs. Strangely, when tablets really took off and PC sales plummeted, the Mac somehow held its own. Apple Mac sales actually rose for years after the rest of the market looked doomed. This increased Apple's percentage of PC markets in which Macs were sold.

However, Apple CEO Steve Jobs declared that the iPad was ushering in a new era: the PC-free era. He was right, even in relation to one of Apple's flagship products - the very one that had kept Apple going for nearly three decades, through thick and thin. And sure enough, pretty soon Mac sales were declining too. In the last financial quarter we have numbers for (Nov 2013), 4.6 million Macs were sold down from 4.9 the same quarter in the year before (2012), or 300,000 less. New Macs were released at the end of this period but didn't make it into the numbers, so they'll appear next quarter. Mac sales may have surged over Christmas/New Year but we don't have official figures yet. But the future for the PC market - of which the Mac forms a part - is not looking great: IDC's estimates of PC sales offer a bleak view with its calculations of 6.4% contraction in the global market and a 4.5% decline in the United States.

Still, I think the Mac is going to decline in general, just as iPod has been declining ever since you could have a phone that did all the same things. And that's one of the reasons we changed the name of this blog to Apple Watch.

So people are asking me where the Mac will be in 30 years time. Firstly, it's quite conceivable Apple won't be around in 30 years. Who can really say? IBM appeared unassailable for many years, and it made one serious miscalculation (failing to foresee the allure that personal computers would have) and was almost killed off. However, IBM is still there, in a very different form, and it's still strong. Could Apple survive such a miscalculation some time in the future? It comes down to resilience of corporate structure, so I simply can't predict how Apple would fare, but things change. You can patent thousands of things nd acquire dozens of companies but you still miss just exactly what will fire people's imaginations and expectations.

But 30 years is way too far ahead to predict. I'll be an old man. However, I will make a prediction - but don't count on it - for where the Mac will be in a few years time.

Apple's foray into 64-bit processing on iDevices is a real game changer, and most people don't really understand why. It's a game changer because it means a pocketable device can have the scaleability to undertake tasks that are so complex, we currently rely on PCs to do those things now.

So this is what I imagine. And please note I use the word 'imagine': I have no inside information. No one's leaked anything. I have not been sneaking around in Apple's development labs and I could be completely 100 per cent wrong. But this is, at least, entirely feasible thanks to advances made in the latest iPhone (5s) and the iPad Air and mini.

2020: you buy an iDevice. It's super powerful. It may be roughly iPhone sized or iPad sized. You may ever only use it as an iPhone or iPad, and why not? That's perfectly fine. You play games, find things, find yourself, make calls and communicate, search the net, get information, clock your health, record ... all things you can do now.

But you need more. So you can buy an Apple keyboard, an input device like a trackpad or mouse (but the iPhone/iPad is already an input device, of course, with touch) and a screen, all connected wirelessly. Maybe two or three screens, or maybe a 3D display or projector of some sort. Now you can compose, record and edit music, make that movie, write that thesis, the sky is the limit. This means it's now a Mac-like desktop environment, but you can still grab that originating computing device and pocket it, or put it in your bag, and go away and do all the things that you can now with an iPhone or iPad - and more, of course, because we're talking about the future.

So where's the Mac? It's a supercomputer, iterated from the new Mac Pro of late 2013, and yes, you can still buy a Mac. And you can probably integrate your iDevice into your Mac Pro as I outlined above for an iDevice only.

So that's my punt on where Apple is going.

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