In a way, it feels like iOS devices are rented, not owned. This is not a criticism: I’m totally fine with that. It’s appropriate for something so very mass-market and so very much built for a networked world.
But what about Macs?
Macs carry the flame for the revolution. They’re the computers we own, right? They’re the astounding, powerful machines that we get to master.
Except that lately, it feels more and more like we’re just renting Macs too, and they’re really Apple’s machines, not ours.
Brent Simmons, a long time Apple fan, is saying what a lot of people have felt since Steve Jobs passed away. Apple isn't a computer company anymore1, and the products we pay top dollar for are neither ours nor what we've asked for. Sure, they look nice and some of the software that runs on macOS is admittedly very powerful and often tastefully designed, but the machines are very much appliances in the shape of our notion of a traditional computer.
Over the last couple of years, I've managed to migrate off Apple's hardware aside from a SIM-less phone that I use like an iPod Touch, and a 5 year old iPad from work that acts as a single point of communication for all things related to the day job. Apple isn't interested in building the sorts of tools that I need to do my job anymore, and this is fine. There are plenty of alternative products out there that a person not tied to Apple's ecosystem can use and enjoy ….
Except a lot of non-Apple notebooks are also being turned into appliances. Windows 10 is also not something that people feel they own, but instead rent. Given Microsoft's moves to making just about everything they offer into a subscription service, it won't be too long before Windows is something that people pay for on a monthly or yearly basis.
People who want to relive the heady days of "computing freedom" do have options, of course. There's always Linux, FreeBSD, or another operating system that can be used in place of Windows or macOS, but this isn't an option that a lot of people would enjoy as it's simply not practical. The learning curves are steep, the amount of commercial software is limited, and the 20 years of early Linux horror stories is what many people remember when they think about trying a non-commercial operating system. Sure, Linux has gotten a lot better in the last few years, but it's not enough for anyone who doesn't need to eke out every last iota of processing power in a CPU cycle.
But this is to be expected when the desktop market is beginning to atrophe.
Fewer people are buying traditional computers for the home. Instead we see a lot of people using just a cell phone, or a cell phone and a tablet. Desktop sales are mostly limited to corporations and gamers. Notebook sales are shrinking despite the lower costs and better battery lives. Just from the people I've spoken to about this, it's clear that the era of having a desktop or notebook at home for "real work" is almost over. Smaller appliances are taking over, and they're doing a better job of giving people the tools and confidence they need to solve problems in new and interesting ways.
With customers showing a clear preference to appliance-like computing, it's really no wonder that manufacturers are making their machines into appliances while Microsoft, Apple, and Google continue to provide more restrictive updates to their operating systems. You go where the money is at and, unfortunately, this means leaving "power users" who occasionally update their hardware for the "general users" who vastly outnumber the people who expect more from technology.
Desktop computing is dead. Long live desktop computing.