Let’s be honest. Back when Steve Jobs first announced how Apple was just going to focus on four essential products—a consumer and pro version of a desktop and a consumer and pro version of a mobile computer—that “quadrant vision” of his had a zen like appeal that suddenly made Apple (and Steve) look quite smart. It was the panacea Apple badly needed in the late 90’s.
It was clean and spartan. And, as far as corporate boardroom logic goes, it seemed ironically self-obvious. In order to truly innovate Apple needed to a lot more focus. And in order to be much more financially successful Apple needed just a few truly break-out innovative products. Products that the media now refer to as “hits.”
To the Wintel crowd Jobs’ vision didn’t make sense; it was counter-intuitive to say the least. How can you serve all of your customer’s various needs and constraints if you limited your product road maps’ addressable footprint? But the strategy worked. It worked beautifully. The new radically designed iMac energized Mac users who found the consumer-facing machine useable in lower and higher education settings, in addition to homes around the world. But it wasn’t something you found in professional settings too often, especially if it had to handle “pro software.”
Fast forward today, 15 years or more, and you have a completely different reality. Today’s modern iMac is found literally everywhere and for years even software developers making tools for “pros” have been both using and displaying their “pro” apps on them at conferences and trade shows serving Apple’s pro customers.
Breaking the Jobsian Quadrant
What happened? Why did this zen-like quadrant of pure division between “pro” users and everyone else get violated?
The short answer is because it needed to. The long answer is because putting computers and devices into neat little quadrants with absolute “user-type” boundaries creates arbitrary usability barriers which are simply not practical.
On a more technical note, the last few generations of the all-in-one iMac have been very strong technically, with the ability to pair a vast amount of high-quality screen real estate to high-performing graphics cards and even an Intel i7 processor.
The need to go to a tower format with multiple CPUs and expandability has now been questioned. Even Autodesk’s Revit product is ideally oriented at a high frequency Intel i7 processor—and just one!
It’s worth noting that Apple doesn’t make a “pro” and “consumer” version of its hit iPad tablet computers. Why not?
iPad is a run-away hit within enterprise and we might argue that it’s even a stronger hit among the creative pros whom Apple targets with its “pro” class tools (hardware and software). Since the dawn of the iDevices era Jobs’ original four quadrant product matrix has been under attack. Not simply because Apple now makes more than four key products, but because in the era of consumer devices like iPhone and iPad, these new tools found immediate uses in “pro” user settings. Our own Ultimate iPad Guide: Apps for Architects (originally published in 2013) lists dozens upon dozens of powerful “pro” software tools aimed squarely at creative and technical pro users.
Does the Idea of an iMac Pro Perk You Up?
Even Apple’s mobile line of computers ceased to have a distinct pro versus consumer clarity. Is the Air model just for consumers now or do some pro users buy it too? And more to the point, is the MacBook Pro really just for “pros” or do consumers use it also?
Perhaps it’s time Apple spent some deep thinking sessions on what constitutes a hardware product for “pros” and what attributes does a pro product need to have deserve that moniker? Architosh began its 2014 Mac Workstation Professional Survey a little over a week ago and while we can’t yet say a whole lot about the excellent data that is coming in, we can share that to many users the latest iMacs are an intriguing option for their pro software uses. And one participant who wrote to us said, “I wish Apple made an iMac Pro.”
It was a surprising revelation to me to hear that view. And this particular survey/reader was hardly alone. It made me think about the term “Pro” and what that word has come to mean over at Apple through the years. At one time it was quite crystal clear. But these days—in the era of an expanding product line-up at Apple—the use of the moniker “Pro” at Apple has an increasingly fuzzy meaning.
For those who want to revisit that Jobs keynote where he explained the idea behind the four-product matrix, check out the video below. Now ask yourself how does this Jobsian Quadrant vision still relate to the Apple today?