In light of this week’s WWDC, I was inspired to write this article.
If you had suggested to me a couple of years ago that not only would I be writing this blog post on a Mac, but that I’d also own an iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, I’d have laughed. More like scoffed. I had spent many years picking up on any suggestion that Apple ownership was akin to brainwashed fandom, and on occasion, I sought out articles and opinion to support this, such was my feeling at the time. I always saw my opinion of Apple much like saw BMW cars. I couldn’t fault the quality, or the engineering but I didn’t like the look of them and I thought their owners were tossers.
So here I am, in June of 2012, and something has changed. I still think BMW’s are predominantly owned by sheep-like numpties but I have to own up to being won over by the boys from Cupertino. And it is some spectacular turn around, as I’m often reminded by friends. But what prompted this turn around and why was I so vehemently opposed to the Apple brand and its followers?
For years, I was a Windows user through and through (I still am) and as for my mobile experience, I was a lover of Symbian, the first true smartphone OS made popular by Nokia. Whenever I looked at Mac’s, I saw an expensive, yet stylish alternative that offered nothing too much more than a PC. Sure, they had the “cool” factor. People who did cool jobs, like music production or desktop publishing, graphic design or computer animation, had them. They swore by them and said nothing compared to them. And when it was just Mac v PC, that was fine. But when Apple launched the iPhone, that’s when I really turned against them. I had owned Symbian based devices since the launch of the Nokia 7650 and had reveled in the wonder of owning what were clearly the most advanced range of mobile phones of the day. Friends and family would marvel at the things I could do with devices like the Nokia 6600, or the N73 and especially the N95. So when Apple jumped up and said, “Hey, here’s our new phone and we think we’ve done smartphones the right way”, I, and pretty much the whole Symbian world, jumped right back and said “Oh no you haven’t”. For example, the camera facilities on the first iPhone were truly laughable. Poor in low light, no flash and low quality optics. My N95 had Carl Zeiss glass, a very good flash and sported 5 mega pixels. My N95 would pair up over Bluetooth to my in car Hifi, for the purposes of hands free calling and music playback. The iPhone wouldn’t. I could go on. But, I did appreciate that they had brought a new paradigm to the market. Touch screens were very cool indeed. And what the iPhone did do, it did very well indeed. But I still rallied against it.
The biggest issue I had was the smugness of their marketing and also that of their users. All of a sudden, people who had been scared of smartphones bought an iPhone and suddenly became experts, and those people then sub-consciously claimed to be cool by association with their little black device, when, not 5 minutes before, they had called people like me nerds for loving our Symbian phones. I got sick of people coming in to the office, wielding an iPhone and getting excited about an app that turned your voice into Alvin from the Chipmunks or replicated a zippo lighter. Overnight, the masses had accepted smartphones just because Apple’s marketing team had convinced them that parting with a large wodge of cash would make them very cool indeed. And of course that was another focal point for my venom. The Apple marketing machine. Undeniably brilliant and utterly convincing. You couldn’t help but admire their success the way you couldn’t help but admire the way Simon Cowell made his millions. Full of deep seated resentment, but admiring of the cleverness behind it.
But I kept on hating them. The brand, the users, the whole shebang. Yet there was one thing I had not done. And that was actually spend time with any of their devices to see for myself what the fuss was about. And I consciously tried to suppress that fact because I knew that any argument would be severely weakened by it. No, I was happy to champion the stuff I did know about and pick up and use any bit of information or news that sought to have a go at Apple, their products, users or business leaders. They were fair game in my eyes. And I’m ashamed of that. Maybe it’s my age, and I have matured a bit more to realise how terribly blinkered and arrogant that stance was. Not just about Apple, but about other things too. I’d like to think that a lot of my arguments were based in a reasonable amount of fact, but the simple truth is, I shunned a brand and its users without even experiencing what all the fuss was about myself. And that is wrong. I wouldn’t dream of sitting here and writing a piece about Logic Pro because I’ve never used it. And I have an alternative that I get on with very well. But how could I credibly write a piece on that application without having spent time with it? The truth is, I couldn’t. But I did about Apple.
So what changed? Well, I had easily resisted trading up to an iPhone, deciding to faithfully stick with Nokia. But in the space of one year, two things happened that opened my eyes and my mind. In 2009, Nokia launched the N97. It was the first top end touch screen smartphone from the Finnish giants and was destined to take on the iPhone and wipe the floor with its shiny arse. Except it didn’t. It failed massively. Design wise, it was, and still is a lovely piece. I still have mine in a drawer and still like the way it looks and the way the QWERTY keyboard flips out from underneath. But inside, it was fatally flawed. Someone, somewhere in Nokia had decided, for whatever reason, be it cost saving (this is most likely) or just bloody ignorance, that having a small amount of memory was adequate. They also decided to leave off an interference shield from the GPS receiver and fit a lens cover that actually allowed particles in. The upshot of this was that the moment you tried to run a host of applications, just like the marketing said you could, the phone ground to a halt, and often just died. The moment you tried to get a GPS lock on the navigation functions, you either couldn’t, or it positioned you about half a mile from your actual location. And every time you opened and closed the lens cover, it did exactly the opposite of what it was meant to do, and scratch the glass. It was an unmitigated failure. It was a monumental ball dropping incident by the then market leader in the world of smartphones that not only did it open the door for Apple, but also Android. From that moment on, Nokia were playing catch up. And they still are to this day. They’ve now dropped Symbian, finally realising that it had lived far longer than it was able to and jumped into bed with Microsoft, who now deliver Nokia’s premium OS offering with Windows. Steve Litchfield from All About Symbian wrote an excellent article about what Nokia got right and what Nokia got wrong. Read it here.
The second thing that happened was that I was commissioned by Fairlight Instruments to help them with the launch of their iOS Fairlight apps and to carry out this work I would need not only an iPhone, but an iPad. So, my “payment” from them was an iPhone 4 and an iPad 1. All of a sudden, I had an opportunity, nay necessity, to use Apple products in anger for the first time. And given that for almost a year, I had suffered using the abomination that was the Nokia N97 (and subsequently a Nokia X6), I was chomping at the bit to see if the iPhone could replace my love of all things Symbian.
And, of course, it did. Very much so. Yes, I missed the total level of control I had over the device that I had experienced with my Nokia’s. But I soon realised that that in itself was a good thing. I had been bogged down in far too much detail and hadn’t really enjoyed the device. The amount of times I had installed an app and then immediately deleted it because it either borked the device or was just plain lame was untold. Far from being controlling, I could still acquire apps with questionable motives, but I could be safe in the fact that they wouldn’t necessitate a complete reformatting of the device. And as for the iPad, it didn’t take long at all for me to totally get the benefit of a tablet, be it Apple or otherwise. However, because it was Apple, the level of integration with the iPhone made it even more appealing. And I actually found myself using it in many practical ways, and not as I had feared, using it to play games or watch videos. I started to use it to replace paper, making notes and utilising very neat ways of gathering and organising information into convenient places that could then be accessed, via the cloud, on my phone or desktop. It all started to make a lot of sense.
And so, my eyes were opened as to why people raved about these things. I still maintain that iPhones pre 3GS were poor by comparison to their competitors, but by the time I got into them, they had come a long way. So when I had a bit of spare cash after a birthday, the acquisition of an Apple TV failed to cause any eye lid battering! It plugged in, hooked up to my iTunes account and integrated with my iPhone and iPad to allow me to do some very useful things.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, another large and significant addition to the Apple family arrived in my household. An iMac.
Whilst having a conversation with a work colleague, I found out that the company had an iMac sitting in a store room, gathering dust. I inquired about it and found out it was a 2008/9 model running a Core2Duo 2.8GHz processor and 2GB RAM on a 24″ monitor. When i asked if it was something I could use at work, I was told no. So I asked how much they’d want for it and was told that they’d look into the possibility. Shortly after, I received the news that I was to be made redundant from my job. That, I thought, would probably put paid to any chance of me acquiring the iMac. But, as it turned out, I was told I could have it for £500. I did some sums, and decided I could afford it. So, that’s what I did.
But why? Why get a Mac? Was I just getting suckered in to the “cult of Apple”? Well, since my other Apple devices had become important tools in my life, I figured the iMac might also do the same. And I had been considering changing my PC, either by upgrading or replacing it. So I was in the market for a new computer. But, of course, this wasn’t “new”. However, it was better than my PC’s spec. And the one thing you do buy into when you buy Apple products, is the Apple paradigm. The way each device works with all their others. And does it well. The appeal is great, I have to admit. Once you dive into that way of doing things, the Apple proposition becomes incredibly compelling. It is then that you realise the true genius of Steve Jobs; how he saw all his products combining to provide an overall experience.
I got the iMac home and begun to explore. I’d never used a Mac before so it was all new and I was incredibly surprised as to how easily I picked it all up. Within minutes, I was installing applications and hardware, and that was when the first massive realisation struck. I’ve spent decades installing applications and hardware on Windows PC’s. It can often be a pain. For example, when it comes to hardware, you install a driver, maybe an application too, and then, and ONLY then, do you connect the device. If all goes to plan, it’ll go off and find the driver, and then install. You will then, quite likely, have to restart the PC. With the Mac, I was just plugging stuff in and it just appeared and was instantly accessible. No messing round. And as for applications, well, most are delivered as disk images, which you mount and then just drag and drop a folder into another folder. That’s it. Some do have an install process, but it just pops all the files into one or two places, rather than the Windows way of peppering your hard drive with files all over the shop. I installed Reason (an application that you get both PC & Mac versions for the price of one) and it took less than 30 seconds. I went to install my controllers and they just appeared, configured themselves and made themselves available. It was nothing short of a revelation!
Even migrating my 25,000 song iTunes library from my PC to my network storage and then linking up to my Mac went damn near flawlessly. And then yesterday, I upgraded the OS to Snow Leopard (10.6) from Leopard (10.5) and after an issue with a dodgy install DVD (bought direct from Apple), I got it on, and couldn’t believe how everything just worked right after it was done. The whole experience is slicker, more efficient and more satisfying than a PC. But it’s not all roses. For example, I’m typing this on the Apple mini keyboard that comes with the iMac. It’s Bluetooth, which is convenient, but it’s not very comfortable to use. And where is the bloody DEL key? Or the hash key (yes, I know… ALT+3… what a palaver!) It has its quirks, and a few times it has refused to boot, or crashed. But no more than my PC. And yes, I still have a PC. Four of them, all told. And one of them a nice new i5 laptop running Windows 7 Pro 64bit with 4GB RAM. A very tidy machine and certainly getting lots of use. I am not shunning Windows machines just yet, and probably never will.
But here I am, the man that scoffed at Apple and all that sailed in or with her. And now I’m really enjoying my Apple experience, and can easily see me continuing the journey with them. Tomorrow, the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference takes place and this time, more than ever, I will be glued to the keynote and looking to see what is coming out of Cupertino this year.
I know that I’m very fortunate and that, in time, there will have to be significant investment on my part if I’m to keep on the Apple bandwagon. The cost of ownership is not lost on me. But I am on board and am very much enjoying my experience.
I was wrong. I was arrogant, blinkered and very wrong. I am not, however, a convert. I see, appreciate and definitely use both platforms. My partner runs an Android phone and it has some cool stuff going for it, and I’d consider one for sure, but I have learned to never judge something until I have fully immersed myself in it enough to be able to compare it fairly.
Apple isn’t better. It is different. It does just work. It has plenty it can improve upon. It isn’t the best way, or the only way. It’s just a very good way. And a way that I personally like very much now.