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Today's worst tech idea: the Wall Street Journal says Apple should kill the Mac

Apple's Phil Schiller should continue hawking MacBooks.
Apple's Phil Schiller should continue hawking MacBooks.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I have no doubt that Chris Mims's Wall Street Journal article making the case against the Mac will attract clicks from throngs of angry Apple fans. But however brilliant the piece might be as an exercise in trolling, Mims's arguments for Apple to cancel its most venerable product line don't really hold water.

The Mac is a popular, profitable, and prestigious product. It's usually a bad idea for a company to cancel a product like that, and this case is no exception.

1) Lots of companies make more than 3 great products

Larry Page, CEO of Google, a company with more than three successful products. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

"The world’s best tech companies can be the best at two things at once, maybe three," Mims writes. He then chooses the worst possible example to illustrate his point: "Google Inc. is search, Android and ad platforms, plus a long tail of commitments that sometimes feel like someone’s pet project."

Those "pet projects" include the world's most popular video-sharing service, the world's most popular web browser, and an extremely popular email service. They also include Google Docs, Google Maps, and Google Calendar. Google Maps isn't as profitable as Google's search engine, but it would be insane for Google to shut it down because it's only Google's fifth most successful product and Larry Page needs to focus more on the top three.

2) Maintaining old product lines is relatively easy

If Apple didn't have a PC business, it probably wouldn't make sense for the company to try to create one from scratch. But the Mac is highly profitable, and it should continue generating profits for the foreseeable future with minimal oversight from Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Indeed, while Apple hasn't killed off the Mac, it has taken Mims's advice to a limited extent: the pace of Mac innovation slowed noticeably around 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone. That's because Apple pulled many of its best engineers off of Mac projects to work on iPhone-related ones instead.

So there's no reason to think that continuing to sell Macs is particularly distracting. A company might only be able to focus on a few products at a time, but it can easily have others that are running on autopilot.

3) PCs aren't obsolete

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Mims dismissively describes Macs as "a last-century technology." Because mobile OSes are newer and there's more activity around them right now, a lot of people have made the mistake of thinking this means desktop and laptop computers are obsolete products. But that's a misunderstanding of what's going on.

The best way to see this is to observe that most of the world's internet servers run on Unix-based operating systems such as Linux. Unix dates back to the early 1970s, and in some ways it seems horribly antiquated. Yet that doesn't mean people are going to start hosting websites on iPads soon. Rather, Linux works well for certain specialized tasks like running a web server, and it will continue to be used for that task for the foreseeable future.

The same point applies to Macs. They're extremely well-suited to certain kinds of computing tasks — creating a spreadsheet, editing an image or video, writing a computer program, playing a complex computer game, and so forth — that you can't easily do with an iPhone or iPad. There's no reason to think iPhones or iPads are going to become good ways to perform these relatively more complex tasks anytime soon. So people are going to continue to want to buy PCs (from Apple and other companies) for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, if Apple didn't have Macs in its lineup, the company would be more tempted to add PC-like features to the iPad in an effort to appeal to more demanding users. That would be bad for iPad users, who value the product's simplicity and don't really need the capabilities of a full-blown PC.

4) The Mac is a strategic asset for Apple

Apple sells a lot fewer Macs than it does iPhones, but it's a mistake to conclude from that that the Mac platform is unimportant. That's because Mac users are disproportionately important to Apple's broader business strategy.

The most obvious example of this is that people use Macs to create iPhone apps. Controlling the Mac platform makes it easier for Apple to ensure that the process of developing iPhone apps is as good as possible, which will mean more iPhone apps get made.

Apple loves to create products that work seamlessly together. A recent innovation called Handoff, for example, allows users to continue a task such as a phone call from an iPhone to a Mac or vice versa. This kind of cross-platform innovation is a lot easier to do when a company owns both platforms.