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Month November 2016

Sponsor: MailButler

Popular Apple Mail plugin MailButler has already started the email revolution when it first became available less than a year ago. Ever since it has regularly been adding new functionalities to Apple’s built-in mail client, such as the ability to undo, track, and snooze emails, convert emails to notes, upload email attachments regardless of size, create beautiful signatures, and more.

As you can see from this list, MailButler is a pure productivity tool, which allows you to reduce the time spent on working with emails and to email like a pro. Very recently this list has got three new items. Now MailButler users can add GIF’s to their emails, put their Inboxes on hold in particular time ranges and unpause them later, and share quotes from their emails on sources of their choice.

Bottom line: if you use Apple Mail on your Mac, you really should check out MailButler.

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The Genealogy of the MacBook Pro

I was an early user of the first MacBook Air. When that product was launched I saw in it something different: a dedication to a new measure of performance: thinness and conformability. The key image used to launch the Air was the laptop sliding neatly into an inter-office envelope. The implication was that the laptop does not need to have its own special “laptop bag”. It could fit into any bag. Users would be able to slip it into all manner of new contexts. It sought to compete with computing non-consumption.

The Air was launched by Steve Jobs in 2008 and was almost universally panned. It was considered underpowered and the dedication to thinness was seen as irrelevant to what consumers wanted. The stock price fell.

The product went on to become Apple’s most popular laptop. It still is. It grew the base of Mac users to over 100 million today.

For the same reason, I was an early adopter of the newest MacBook Retina. The even thinner new MacBook was spectacularly thin. It was smaller than an iPad. It had no ports except one USB-C and a headphone jack. It required dongles for physical connections. It had a new keyboard that barely registered movement and it had a new trackpad that did not move at all but played mind tricks to make you think it did.

As I used it over the last year, I became used to it. It was not my only laptop. I had an older 15 inch Pro, but over time I came to use the MacBook Retina exclusively. I thought I could not do “real work” with it but I managed. I got used to the keyboard. I got used to the trackpad. I got used to the need for a dongle to connect a display. But these challenges were more than offset by delightful improvements. I was delighted by the small power brick and the ability to use any USB power to charge it. I was delighted at the all-day battery life which meant I would charge it the way I charged my Phone: at night.  I was delighted that I could use it in places where I could not use a laptop: on any airplane tray, stowing it in the seat back pocket. And I no longer cared what bag I had for my computer. It did not make me productive by completing tasks more quickly. It made me more productive by letting me be do things when and where I otherwise couldn’t. I love my MacBook.

Now Apple launched a new Pro Mac laptop.The new Pro laptop has the same (slightly improved) keyboard as my MacBook. It has the same (larger) trackpad as my MacBook. It has the same (but more of) USB-C port.  It has something new called a Touch Bar which puts function keys into a touch screen but mainly it feels like a grown-up version of my MacBook Retina. It’s faster too.

Overall, the new MacBook Pro feels to me like an evolution of the MacBook of 2015. I remember at the time thinking that this baby MacBook is probably the wave of the future: the new keyboard, new trackpad, new thinness, new USB-C, deprecation of other ports. These required enormous engineering efforts and it would be silly to leave them on only one model. In any case, from where I was standing all these were “better”. Not along the previous definition of goodness but along a new definition: making the computer more conformable and easier to put into use in more places. The very ideas that drove the development of the Air of 2008. Indeed the very idea that drove the development of laptops since the 1990s.

What’s fascinating to me from a product management point of view is that the groundbreaking new features which re-define the product’s direction are not designed to trickle-down from the top-of-the-line to the bottom, but rather that they trickle-up. The low-end product gets the updates first and the the Pro products adopt them later.

And we can even trace this genealogy of features through to an even “lower-end” product: the iPhone. The iPhone “ethos” of usability and conformability has permeated through to the Macs, starting from the lowly and advancing to the top of the range. The question of where Apple’s design direction comes from can be answered: the bottom.

All this is consistent with a strategy of “low-end evolution”. A way to defend the low-end rather than abandon it in pursuit of what the most demanding customers are asking for. Rather, Apple seeks to incubate a new performance measure. Re-defining goodness.

So is this new MacBook Pro a worthy successor to the MacBook Retina? My attention is riveted by the Touch Bar. It seems a completely new way of interacting but requires discovery and practice. What Apple has to achieve is allow the product to work well without it but also to allow users to evolve their experience with it. Over time we got used to trackpads instead of mice (many resisted the change). We got used to a different, small travel keyboard. We got used to new ports (HDMI vs. VGA) and we got used to wireless everything (it may seem easier, but remember having to always enter credentials vs. plugging in a cable).

The touch bar is a new UI metaphor. It will take time but it is looking at me right now, winking.

Experience the comfort of connected lighting

With Elgato’s new connected wall switch you can switch your lights on and off using Siri or with a quick tap on your iPhone. It transforms any single or multi-bulb setup into an intelligent lighting system, so can use your existing bulbs regardless of their shape, size or color.

Moreover, create scenes to control Eve Light Switch and other HomeKit-enabled accessories with a single command. Leverage the power of automation and attune your lighting to your routine.

Want to illuminate your home from afar? All you need is an Apple TV, and you’re ready to remotely switch your lights on and off and launch your favorite scene.

Eve Light Switch features Bluetooth low energy technology, thus ensuring easy setup, reliable operation, and power efficiency – without disturbing your already crowded Wi-Fi network or other wireless devices. Eve Light Switch makes your home smarter, not more complicated.

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Wherefore art thou Macintosh?

Managing the Mac product line must be one of the most challenging problems at Apple. That may not be obvious given the product’s success. Consider what it has achieved:

  • The product is in its 32nd year of market presence. A longevity that in unmatched by any other PC maker.
  • Apple reached a top five position in the ranking of PC vendors. This was achieved for the first time only this year, far along in the evolution of the market.
  • With about $23 billion in revenues per year, Apple places among the top four PC vendors in terms of revenue.
  • With an estimated $5.5 billion in operating margin Apple is the most profitable PC vendor, capturing over 60% of the available PC hardware profits.
  • The product has retained an average selling price of over $1200 for at least a decade. At the same time the average pricing of Personal Computers has more than halved.
  • Although volumes have fallen for three quarters, the product grew volumes and sales for 22 out of 29 quarters. As a result, volumes almost doubled in eight years.[1]

The contribution of the Mac to Apple’s revenues is shown in the following graph.

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It’s attractive and convenient to contrast the Mac with the rest of the PC industry. A David vs. Goliath tale of redemption. The classic comeback story. But the split between the two old rivals (Windows/MacOS) focuses the mind into a limited view of the computing market. The big change in computing has not been a growing Mac vs. declining PC. It has been a huge surge in mobile device use vs. a decline in PC use overall.

This data is visible in many ways. Browsing data shows mobile overtook PC use this year. Shopping data around Black Friday points in the same direction. Data on user interaction captured by comScore is shown below[2]

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PC use went from half to a third of time while mobile went the other way: from a third to half of time within only four years. All the data is consistent: mobile use has swept PC use aside.

Notes:
  1. The unit volumes in third quarter 2008 were 2.6 million. Eight years later they are 4.9 million and could easily be over 5 million in the holiday quarter. []
  2. Although US only, the global picture is likely to be even more skewed toward mobile as PC didn’t saturated global markets before the smartphone swept to power. []