The supposed problem of choice

2015 was a busy year for those of us in the Apple ecosystem. In addition to the annual release of new versions of both iOS and OS X and updated hardware across the board, this year marked the release of the Apple Watch, the 12-inch MacBook with Retina display, the new Apple TV and the iPad Pro.

Even before adding the slew of new accessories released, that’s a lot of stuff to keep up with. I feel like most news cycles this year have included something updated or new from Cupertino.

This all adds up to a broader product offering from Apple then we’ve seen in the past, and people have responded to it an a bunch of interesting ways.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, the company was making a lot of various — and sometimes competing — models of the Mac. There was overlap and confusion all over the place.

The fix to this was drastic. Jobs cancelled just about everything and introduced a simple 4-part product matrix:

Even with the addition of the G4 Cube (and later, the Mac mini) this simple grid would come to define Apple’s strategy for the Mac for years to come.

I don’t bring this up to say that the Apple of 2015 is the Apple Jobs returned to in 1997, but to set some background for how many of us thought about Apple’s products for many years.

With the grid of four main products, it was easier to decide which machine was right for you. Do you need a portable or prefer a desktop? Need all the horsepower you can get, or is budget a bigger factor? Depending on those answers, it was easy to walk into a store and buy an iBook, PowerBook, iMac or Power Mac.

Just looking at the Mac, that’s not as clear cut as it used to be. The Mac Pro is more marginalized than ever, allowing the high-end iMac to become the default desktop machine for a lot of consumers and professionals. On the notebook side of things, its just as confusing. While I need the power of a MacBook Pro when editing audio, lots of people with similar needs can get by on i7 MacBook Air easily.

While the iPhone line is pretty straightforward, the iPad line is still littered with old devices at lower price points.

When you begin to cross platform lines, it gets even more confusing. On a recent episode of 60 Minutes, Phil Schiller was asked about the proliferation of products from Apple. Here’s how he replied:

You need each of these products to try to fight for their space, their time with you. The iPhone has to become so great, you don’t know why you want an iPad. The iPad has to be so great that you don’t know why you want a notebook. The notebook has to be so great, you don’t know why you want a desktop.

Each one’s job is to compete with the other ones.

All of this adds up to the reality that the Apple that had a simple product line, and made things that all Apple nerds would enjoy is no longer in business.

Like some others, the inner nerd in me is uncomfortable with the problem of choice Apple’s given us. There’s part of our community who can’t believe someone would cool on the Apple Watch, or not be excited about the 12-inch MacBook. However, the reality is that Apple has grown, its audience has as well. The company must offer a wider range of products to sustain its size.

Consider the iPad. The Mini, Air and Pro lines are pretty different from each other in daily use, but the point is that there’s something for anyone who wants a tablet running iOS.

Ultimately, we have to be okay with that. I don’t think Apple’s widening product portfolio is a problem like it was in the 90s. Apple’s devices and software are still best-in-class, and that was the real problem with Apple when Jobs came back.

Not all of Apple’s products are for me anymore, and probably aren’t all for you, either. That’s totally fine, as weird as it may feel sometimes.