Is Apple letting musicians down?

Anthony Caruana
28 September, 2016
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The annual update of OS X, now called macOS, is now part of our normal system maintenance operation. In July, at WWDC, we hear about the next operating system, a beta program commences – this used to only be for those who pay for an Apple Developer subscription but has now moved to a public beta process – followed by a final release in September.

One of my friends, a writer named Josh, loves this time of year as it makes him feel like he’s getting an all new computer.

But for my friends who use their Macs to make music, it’s a time for great caution.

Some general advice

Apple’s efforts to make the upgrade process as simple as possible have been a great boon for usability. These days, when I update a Mac via the App Store, I simply hit the upgrade button and walk away. When I return an hour or so later, my Mac has been updated and is almost ready to use, other than the need to enter my iCloud settings and a few minor bits of fiddling.

The downside of that simplicity is that the complexity of the task and the magnitude of some of the changes are hidden.

As a result, we often miss the magnitude of some changes. And Apple always promotes changes as ‘good’, rarely acknowledging publicly the pain change can cause.

For this reason, I think it’s critical to not just rely on Time Machine for backing files up, but to take a full snapshot of your system using disk cloning software like Super Duper or Carbon Copy Cloner so you can restore your system, operating systems and everything back to how it was before the upgrade if something goes awry.

Apple and musicians

One of my good friends is a musician. Not a pro, but he plays almost every week. He’s a keyboard player and uses a bunch of hardware to connect the instruments he uses to the PA system and the Mac he uses on stage.

That Mac is locked back on an older version of OS X as each upgrade he has tested has fundamentally broken the way third-party devices for musicians work.

My friend pointed me to this article. There’s lots in this covering everything from the loss of the 3.5mm jack and the issues it causes. For example, “…it appears the analogue output in Apple’s headphone adapter (that is, via the Lightning port) isn’t strong enough to drive analogue headphones reliably,” says the author.

On more than one occasion I’ve had to connect an iOS device to a sound system over that analogue connection. And I’ve seen many players connect iPhones to amplifiers for backing tracks.

Then there’s this clanger from Apple. According to Native Instruments, there are issues in OS X (and I assume macOS) that cause the dropping of audio signal, distortion and signal degradation.

Think about it – these are issues that will stop a concert.


Every year, we are treated to a new iPhone and iPad. Can you remember the last time Apple updated a Mac?

I’m the editor of Macworld Australia and had to look it up as it’s been so long. Heck, the Mac Pro, Apple’s premier device for professionals has all but been ignored for three years after a massive launch. The MacBook Pro has barely moved, save for a few processor and storage bumps.

Sure, there’s been the new MacBook, but that’s not the machine creative professionals, particularly musicians, will flock to.

The new Apple

It’s almost a decade since Steve Jobs delivered one of his signature ‘One more thing’ announcements, telling the world Apple Computer was no more, replaced by Apple Inc.

Everything Jobs said and did for Apple was carefully considered and the change in name signalled a seismic shift. But like the Earth’s tectonic plates, it’s been a series of small movements that has resulted in massive changes.

Apple is now a consumer services company. It’s hardware is about delivering outcomes, or services, to customers. The iPhone, Apple TV and Apple Watch are all lovely pieces of hardware. They are brilliantly engineered and manufactured using processes and systems Apple developed itself or worked closely with others to create.

The problem with the creative professionals who stuck by Apple through the dark times, when the company was just weeks away from destruction, is that they are just hardware customers. The rest of Apple’s ecosystem simply isn’t for them.

iCloud storage is limited. Apple has discontinued development on all their professional apps.

Short of hardware – and it’s easy to argue there are far more powerful and flexible hardware options on the Windows side of the coin – what does Apple actually do for musicians and other creative professionals?

The evidence suggests Apple is focused on products and services for end-users. HomeKit, HealthKit, tvOS, watchOS and iOS reach us during almost everything we do.

I simply don’t see Apple reaching out to creative professionals in the same way. I know they may only represent a small percentage of Apple’s customer base. But it’s the portion that ‘Think Different’.

And it looks like Apple has forgotten them.


4 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Terry says:

    Although I use a lot of Apple devices in the education sector – I couldn’t agree more. I am still trying to understand the logic for the dropping of Aperture. They did have quite a few professional ( and many amateurs such as myself) photographers using it. Not a “huge” customer base – but enough to go ” I’ll buy that Apple machine instead of the windows one”. Also the way the latest iWork’s has been down scaled for common use. They were nearly at the point they could rival MS office. Again – not a huge customer base ( because MS will always be the main) – but enough for some people to again go – ” I’ll buy the Apple machine”. Instead – people who are not wanting MS office are turning to Libre Office.
    Educationally – I could justify the extra expense of Apple products because of iWeb ( now gone) ; iMovie; Garage Band ( which makes you worry about the longevity of this software) and the ease of their software. Although the Apple laptops ( hardware) lasted for much longer than the windows equivalent ( I am still running that are 7 yrs old) – it does make it harder to justify to IT departments who argue – you can buy 3 windows machines for the same money. It does come down to the software – what software can this thing run that I can’t on a windows machine ?

  2. Phil says:

    I’ve been wondering the same thing, as we see the continued push to remove direct USB ports. Musicians on an MBP need them to reduce latency. Hubs don’t do it. My current MBP has 2, and they want to go to 1?
    Not looking good.

    BTW the link you have for the “this article” in the 9th para didn’t work for me. Wouldn’t mind having a look at the article.

  3. Nicholas says:

    I agree with Terry. I couldn’t believe it when Apple ceased their support of Aperture. I still haven’t found a worthy replacement.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Absolutely agree with you Terry. The day Apple announced it was abandoning Aperture, was the day I fell out of love with Apple, probably for good. Yes, I still buy Apple gear because I’m so invested in their walled garden ecosystem. However, I now buy much less of their gear and have long given up defending Apple the way I used too. With all their billions of dollars surely they could have employed the proverbial “two men and dog” it would have taken to keep it up to date. But no, they callously abandoned the tens of thousands of users and their millions of man-hours invested in their photography on Aperture. While Aperture still works, it has bugs that will now never be ironed out and it will eventually just stop working one day. While other apps may be better at image adjustment, there is simply nothing like Aperture out there for Digital Asset Management (DAM) in the Apple world.

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