How Apple's Product Cycles Torture Customers Into Loving It
Apple's most loyal customers wouldn't think of going with a Windows PC for their next computer. Yet their attachment to the brand means living by Apple's product cycles, which don't exactly move like clockwork. The waiting can be painful, and it probably looks silly to the rest of the computer-using world, but for most of us, we wouldn't trade it for anything else.
May 24, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Apple MacBook Pro rumors, and to a lesser extent iMac, MacBook Air and Mac Pro rumors, have been flying around fast and furious these days, and all it's doing is stoking my fire for a new MacBook Pro.
Every Tuesday, which seems to be Apple's favorite day of the week for announcing new products, I anxiously wait to see the Apple Online Store go down and a press release to appear or a special media invite to go out to journalists with some cryptic message about the next generation of MacBook Pros.
And every Tuesday for the last six weeks I've been sorely disappointed.
Getting Used to Disappointment
The bottom line for savvy Apple fans is that their buying experience is generally dictated by one of astounding joy (the new device they've just purchased is awesome), which then shifts to familiarity (the device works great for two to three years), which then shifts to readiness for an upgrade (while the device still works, we're anxious to use new features or get a speed boost).
The problem is that all too often, a Mac customer's desired dates of upgrade fall near the end-of-life of an older product and somewhat near the likely introduction of a new model. Because Apple is the only company creating its hardware, you've got to wait on Apple. And Apple doesn't communicate any of its timelines, any of its plans, and worse yet, it doesn't even give anyone any hints as when something might appear.
Savvy Apple fans are left to puzzle out the company's traditions, such as unveiling products at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June, and launching iPhones in the summer (but now not so much), and unveiling new iPads and iTunes-related features and software in Fall (with nothing new coming in November or December, ever).
Sometimes the rumor sites and general news will pick up on special component availability, such as a new graphics chip that might be used in a new model of Mac or a new Intel processor that might be used in a new MacBook Pro (Intel's Ivy Bridge).
What I Need and Why I'm Waiting
I'm poised and ready to buy a 15-inch MacBook Pro. No way around it. I've tried to work remotely with some mediocre ability on a small 13-inch screen, and I've considered using my iPad as my travel companion, perhaps paired with an iMac or Mac mini back at home. I even considered an iMac or Mac mini along with a MacBook Air for travel purposes. But it all comes back to one thing with me: I need a big screen and full access to everything I have, no matter where I am or how I'm connected. The only choice is a MacBook Pro.
I successfully avoided making a mistake by buying the last generation iMac and Mac mini (as I said, wrong for how I work), and I successfully avoided buying the last generation of the MacBook Pro, which was basically just some new paint and tires on the old model.
And so the waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting has started to become excruciating.
As we get closer to the June 11 Apple WWDC, it becomes more likely that Apple will wait until then to unveil a new MacBook Pro, perhaps alongside Mac OS X Mountain Lion, which is coming this summer (according to Apple).
As the tension builds in prospective buyers, a nasty thought creeps in: What if Apple simply announces that the new MacBook Pros are coming, that they will delivered at a future date? What? More waiting! Or what if Apple says nothing at all, content to count billions of dollars in cash all summer long, refining and refining until September and a new school season?
Oh the pain! It's ironic, of course, that Apple's best fans and most loyal customers get stuck in painful waiting cycles. They shell out for a product, want it to last, and when they are ready for a replacement, either Apple disappoints with a lackluster new iteration ... or they must wait longer for the next generation of innovation.
At least in PC and Android land, you've got multiple distributors and choices. There's usually a suitable option by one decent manufacturer or another at any given time.
It's been almost 7 months since the last minor update to the MacBook Pro -- a bit under the average time between updates. The iMac? Just over a year and nearly three months longer than average between updates. But Mac Pro fans have had it worst, with some wondering if Apple has essentially killed the professional-grade box altogether. They've been waiting close to two years since that last update, when the average time between releases is about a year.
This has to be humorous to the rest of the computing world. It must seem incredibly silly. Still, for most of us, we wouldn't trade it for anything else. Our loyalty to the Apple way runs deep. And so I join the tens of thousands of Mac users poised to instantly order the next MacBook Pro. And if they have hot new Retina displays and are therefore in limited supply -- or have NVIDIA graphics and are therefore in limited supply -- I'll be racing to get my order in before they sell out and face additional delay.
Of course, whether it's intentional or not, Apple is successfully leveraging a maxim of the universe: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.