Let me start out by saying I think Apple makes some damned fine products. Really rather fantastic, actually. There are, however, some serious problems with Apple products that have always kept me from buying them. It wouldn't be fair though to just write an article complaining about what I don't like about Apple's line. There are actually many things I do like, there just aren't enough to outweigh the things I don't like. This will not be an article about Macs vs. PCs. What this will be is an article about what I like and what I don't like about Apple products, based entirely on my own personal experience. I will try to cover them by sectioning them up into what I think are the Good things, the Bad things and the Ugly things about Apple computers. I'll warn you now that it's a little long, but I'm hoping you'll find it worth the read.
First, the Good
Even the staunchest, geekiest Windows fan has to admit that Apple puts out some really nice, often drool-worthy products.
The Software: OSX is possibly the finest piece of software I've ever seen. Certainly it is the best Operating System on the market. Its simplicity and elegance blows me away every time I use it. Need to uninstall a program? Drag it to the trash. It doesn't get any easier than that. It makes one ask Why doesn't Windows work that way? Because OSX is inherently designed better from the ground up, and always has been. I also love the fact that when you buy a Mac, you won't get 27 pieces of 30-day trial software (bloatware) that you have to spend half a day uninstalling (because you can't just drag them to the trash!).
The Hardware: I think there should be an investigation into Apple's hardware R&D department, because I'm really sure they're stealing stuff from the future. Apple products always look like they were just smuggled off the set of a blockbuster sci-fi flick. They consistently raise the hardware bar to new heights, making the rest of the industry follow. Apple standardized the mouse and USB. Their 24" Monitor defined what an artist's display should be, and every other monitor manufacturer scrambled to catch up. Slot-fed DVD drives, a feature rarely seen in the PC world, have been standard on many models of Mac for many years. Using an Apple product is akin to driving a BMW: You get the heated leather seats, the steering wheel audio and climate controls, the projection headlights. All the bells & whistles.
The iPhone: I was going to mention the iPhone under Software, and then under Hardware, but then I decided it really deserved a mention of its own. The iPhone has, quite simply, changed the face of the mobile phone, mobile computing and even the personal computing industry. Before the iPhone, smartphones were mostly relegated to geeks with their Windows Mobile phones, and the business people with their Blackberries. Then the iPhone came out, and suddenly you weren't hip unless you had some sort of touchscreen phone with an unlimited data plan. For many years, Microsoft tried to get people to carry a pocket computer around with them, and everyone figured it was just a niche that hadn't caught on yet. When the iPhone came out, it was immediately clear how miserably Microsoft had failed. The iPhone did nothing that existing phones didn't already do, but like the American auto industry, Microsoft (and others like Palm) thought they could dictate what the consumer wanted, and they were horribly wrong. Microsoft is still scrambling to catch up (and I have all but given up hope that they can do so). Once the iPhone became a phenomenon, more and more people started buying Macs, having been inspired by the quality of their shiny new iPhone. Apple's current market share is the highest it has been in a very long time, and I believe the iPhone is directly responsible for that. From its lovely user interface, to its sleek, minimalist design, the iPhone completely redefined what mobile computing meant and where it heading in the future.
The Ecosystem: When technology enthusiasts refer to a brand's 'ecosystem', they're referring to how seamlessly various different items by a single manufacturer integrate with each other. For example, Microsoft manufactures the Xbox 360, the Zune, the Windows Phone and Windows desktop operating systems. You would think that all of these items would speak to and interact with each other, since they're all part of the same family, but they don't. However, when you buy an iPhone, it integrates seamlessly with iTunes, and your Mac if you have one. The whole Mac/iPhone/iTunes (and now iPad/iBooks) combination creates one synergic ecosystem. A user of Apple's products can be 100% assured that if they were to buy another Apple product, it would work flawlessly with the items they already own. This is possible because Apple holds very tight control over their ecosystem, disallowing anything they don't approve of. This is their greatest strength, and, as I will explain later, their greatest weakness.
The Mind Share: 'Mind share' is a marketing term that refers to the development of consumer awareness and popularity. You can release a product into the market and, even if your product is more expensive or has less features, it will successfully dominate if you have enough mind share. For example, if I were to tell you to choose a digital media player to buy within the next 10 seconds, which one would you choose? How many brands did you even think of? You might have thought the names Creative, Archos, or Zune, but you undoubtedly thought of the name iPod. Even if you're like me and would never actually buy one, you still thought of iPod in your top 3. Apple's mind share is through the roof, and it's the one thing that other competing companies don't seem to understand (I'm looking at you, Microsoft). Apple's mind share is in fact so high that if you did buy a Zune, you're just as likely to get "What's a Zune?" as you are "Why didn't you get an iPod?"
The Revolution: I won't dwell too long on this, and I've already mentioned it, but I feel like I should emphasize the fact that for the last 25 years (and longer), Apple really has lead a computing revolution. Their TV commercial in 1984 with the woman throwing the hammer into the giant screen has become almost cliché, but I have to say, they've really delivered on their promise. Without their constant innovation, the computer industry would resemble the Telecom or Power industry, with only one real provider (Intel/Microsoft), moving at a snail's pace and charging us whatever they felt like.
Then, the Bad
Even the most die-hard Apple fanatic would agree Apple does have some serious flaws, many of which have held it back from gaining dominance in the market.
The Software: As lovely an experience as it is, OSX does have its significant drawbacks. As a Windows user, I am used to being able to tweak even the smallest system setting, to make my hard-bought machinery work the way I want it to. Apple makes this much more difficult in OSX, and it's on purpose. Apple knows its customers aren't likely to care about changing that stuff, so they bury it deep in the system, if they make it available at all. You might think it's a good thing, but I don't care for it. In addition, waiting for software to be released for OSX is an exercise in patience, and if it isn't made by Apple, Adobe, Microsoft or a handful of others, it probably wasn't written for the Mac, but ported code from the Windows version, and it probably will do unexpected things from time to time. If you're looking for the greatest flexibility and selection in your software, or you like playing video games, OSX is probably not your best choice.
The Hardware: I have already stated I think OSX is the best Operating System on the market, and I stand by that. It's sleek, elegant, stable and just plain well-engineered. I've said to my friends many times that if Apple would just release OSX as a stand-alone OS that I could install on any machine, I would probably switch in a heartbeat (aside from certain program compatibility issues). I have built my own PCs for almost 20 years now. By doing so, I save money and am able to built a machine to exactly suit my needs. Apple will not allow me to install their OS onto a machine I build. Now, they have a very good reason for doing this; by maintaining strict control over what hardware runs their OS, they can assure themselves (and you) that their customers are receiving the best results possible. It's a problem for me because Apple just doesn't offer the hardware combination I like, and they don't allow anyone else to build Mac systems. I applaud them for sticking to their principles, but their principles are what's really keeping me from using their products.
The iPhone: Again, I think the iPhone deserves its own honorable mention. By redefining what the smartphone meant, they basically made it impossible for any other smartphone to be taken seriously (the Blackberry being a notable exception to that rule). My Windows Phone is actually considerably more capable than the iPhone. There were already thousands of free Windows Mobile apps out there when Apple opened their App Store. Now when I whip out my smartphone in a meeting I get looks of pity, because people think the iPhone is where it's at, never mind the fact that my Windows Mobile devices were playing MP3s before the iPod even existed. This is, of course, a direct result of the mind share I spoke of earlier. Is it really Apple's fault that the iPhone eclipsed every other phone on the market? No, that was the fault of the manufacturers of those other products. I do, however, blame Apple for making people think my smartphone couldn't possibly be as powerful as their iPhone.
The Price: Everyone knows Apple products are inherently more expensive than comparable products by a different manufacturer. Macbooks cost more than Windows-based laptops with the same capabilities. iPhones cost more than most smartphones. The iPod costs more than any other media player on the market (again, with similar capabilities). Now, I'm well aware that saying Apple products are too expensive is like saying BMWs are too expensive - you're arguably getting what you pay for. The problem with that argument is that it goes both ways. I'm not buying an Apple product for the same reason I'm not buying a BMW: It costs too much. I can get an Infiniti for cheaper.
The Aesthetic: Just a quick blurb here to mention how much I dislike glossy white. Seriously, the only things in my life that are that glossy white are Imperial Stormtroopers and a few porcelaneous bathroom fixtures. Neither of these are things I would want my gadgets to remind someone of. I know what they're doing: They're trying to make your Mac look like a household appliance, but I still prefer to have a black rim around my monitors, and a chassis that fits in better with my home theater equipment. This is, of course, another personal preference, and I know not everyone feels that way, but by not offering any other options, Apple is once again alienating a good portion of us geeks.
The Control: I've already mentioned it, but it definitely bears repeating. Apple's way of maintaining quality control is by ruling their brand with an iron fist. It gives them great strength because they do in fact offer a quality product, but it also assures that they retain a very small percentage of the personal computer market in the U.S., and barely a blip world-wide. If Apple were to just let their little eaglet leave the nest, I think they would see it develop into the majestic eagle it could be. Just imagine for a second if Apple allowed Dell or HP to start making Macs. Their market share would start growing exponentially. More importantly, if they allowed me to install OSX on the machine I'm writing this on, I probably wouldn't be writing this at all.
And Now, the Ugly
Even if none of the Bad things mentioned above were true, there are still a few reasons why I don't buy Apple products, and they mostly involve the attitude of Apple consumers.
The RDF: No discussion of the ugliness of Apple can be had without discussing the Reality Distortion Field. The RDF is a theoretical bubble that surround Steve Jobs - and by extension Apple itself - that distorts reality just enough that anyone will believe anything he (and it) says. When he says something will revolutionize an industry, he's usually correct, even if what he's introducing isn't actually revolutionary. The classic example is the iPod. MP3 players existed long before the iPod, and when the iPod was released, suddenly people knew what an MP3 was. The iPod held less, had more restrictions and cost more than most other players on the market. At the time, there were many better brands to choose from. But, when Steve said "you need this", people believed him without question. I knew people who didn't own computers and didn't know what an MP3 really was that were convinced they needed an iPod. That's the RDF in full effect. I believe the RDF is a substantial contributor to Apple's current mind share in the U.S., and is directly responsible for just about every other ugly thing about Apple products.
The Attitude: I won't go so far as to say Apple users are arrogant, but I will say they sure seem to be a prideful sort. Gods forbid you mention anything to them about how their Mac or iPhone isn't all it's hyped up to be. They don't want to hear that as far as pure processing power goes, my hand-built PC (that was much cheaper) beats the highest-end Mac hands-down. They don't want to hear that my Windows Phone does all the nifty things their iPhone does and more. When confronted with these ideas, most Apple users will present you with a look and attitude that implies they know better but will humor you because ye know not what ye say. Did I mention I've been a graphic artist for 20 years? You have no idea how many times I've heard that real artists use Macs, as if they give you some feature or advantage over drawing things in Windows. Well, I gotta say it's just not true and that attitude drives me crazy. Saying that for true artists, a Mac is better than a PC is like saying that for true drivers, the Honda Accord is better than the Toyota Camry. It's just absurd, and I believe it's another example of the RDF at work.
The Culture: When I talk about the Apple culture, I'm not talking about the VW-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, Segue-riding, Apple-logo-displaying people. No, I'm talking about the new "There's an App for That" culture. There's this idea iPhone users get that their iPhone is the most important thing in their life. Have a conversation with an iPhone owner, and you'll be sharing it with all their Facebook and Twitter friends too, barely making eye contact with them the entire time. Ever drive in traffic with an iPhone owner? Let's just say they're not really driving at all. iPhone owners find their phone so essential that it's more or less fully integrated with their life. I have a friend who got a star gazing App, and suddenly she was into looking at the stars. When I mentioned I had a similar program on my phone that could also do this other cool thing, she replied "Well, mine can't do that, but you know, I have this other App..." She wasn't interested because her iPhone didn't do that. I made a joke that there will eventually come a time when, if there isn't an App for that, it just won't be worth doing. I think that time came the next day. There are more and more of these type of people every day, and Apple (and the RDF) really had a large part in encouraging this type of behavior, though it is certainly no longer exclusive to iPhone users. The Apple culture has led our American society down an ugly, self-centered path, and I will have no part of it.
As I stated at the beginning of this way-too-long piece, I do like Apple computers and Apple products. It's just there are too many things I don't like. Some of them I dislike intensely. I think my issues with the way Apple does business are legitimate concerns, and I believe if Apple would just lighten up about a couple things, many of my complaints would go away.
Oh yeah, and I'd love it if they would stop telling everyone they're better than everyone else. They're just not.
#2's Pencil: This is an opinion piece based on my own personal experiences. It is not meant to reflect on any specific person I know. I know many of you use Apple products, and I acknowledge the risk of alienating many of the friends I have made here, but please try to remember that I don't actually know any of you, and therefore the opinions I state here do not (and cannot) refer to you. I also acknowledge that a similar piece could have been written about [Windows] PCs. Please keep this in mind before coming after me with your iRocks and iTorches.