Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Loss of Mac Exclusivity

Everywhere you go these days, there's an Apple piece of kit somewhere to be seen. Whether it's an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air or even just a plain old iMac - you can't move for one of Jonathan Ive and Steve Jobs' beautifully geek-chic offspring staring at you smugly with its little Apple logo. They're in cafes, restaurants, and cool clothing shops. You see them on trains, buses and planes. Schools use them. Universities use them. Even boring blue-chip companies use them. Not only that, but a disproportionate number of characters in the movies use them as well.

In case you didn't realise, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has pretty much done the miraculous and cleaned up. Apple is king. It may not be the largest company in the world, but it ain't far off. It's cool, sexy and making a shedload of money despite the recession. Apple has a firm grip on the music industry, and has helped to revolutionise the way human beings consume, share and create media content.

If you'd told this to a Mac geek ten years ago, he/she'd pretty much laugh at you.

A lot.

And then walk away nervously.

You see, the spirit of the Mac has always been that of the underdog. Not mainstream. People who weren't in the know saw Apple computers as strange and alien - incompatible, so therefore mostly useless. Macs used a different Operating System to everyone else, so worked differently. There was a lot less software for Macs, and what was available didn't work with the PC alternatives anyway.

Macheads didn't mind those problems, though. They were happy to put up with the inconveniences because they believed their way was better. Macs hardly crashed (not quite true), didn't get viruses (largely correct) and had a longer lifespan than other computers (I think that's pretty true, also). Sure, they were more expensive - but at least you had a reliable machine that would serve you well for a good 5 years before you had to contemplate an upgrade.

Owning a Mac was like belonging to a secret club - one that was friendly and inviting, but one that required a commitment to the Way of Apple: accepting the computer's shortcomings and learning to live with derogatory comments from PC users and non-techie people alike. Owning a Mac was worth the pain because it took you to a higher plain of computing.

Well, sort of.

Mac owners used to spend a great deal of time bemoaning the mass market products that were the alternative to Apple ones. Namely, Windows PCs in all their beige plastic glory. Windows (or Windoze, as Mac addicts jokingly called them) machines were laughed at as being unreliable, clunky and lacking any aesthetic properties. Macs, on the other hand, were quietly uber-stylish - self-importantly smug as they hummed away on people's desks.

By the early 2000s, though, Apple computers were creeping into the mainstream. Steve Jobs had come back to save the company from ruin and had turned things around dramatically. Apple had a broad range of cool computers, and was making its mark as the creative professional's tool of choice. It wasn't, however, impacting the computer market as it would have liked. Windows PCs were still the dominant platform with the Mac having less than 10% of the worldwide share. Apple needed to up its game and be seen as a serious choice. It needed a saviour.

And lo - the saviour was born...

The iPod.

It changed everything.

People looked at it with a sense of confusion and awe. What was this thing? You could play music on it? But where did you put, like, y'know....the CD?

MP3 players had been around for years, but Apple knew how to do them better. As is common at Apple, they took an idea and Apple-ised it. They made it sexy, but most importantly they made the damn thing work. Alongside the iTunes application, where people could get hold of their favourite music at the click of a mouse, Apple turned the tables on the big media companies - just as they were slowly beginning to realise that the internet was going to permanently change the music industry.

This little white hunk of plastic and metal opened the floodgates - slowly but surely, people began migrating to Mac computers via the iPod. It was known as the 'halo effect': get people to buy one Apple product and they begin to fall under the Apple spell and want to buy more. They get seduced by the sexy styling, nifty interface and tech-kudos that only Macs have.

So now, after the iPhone and iPad hitting the mainstream and doing better than the iPod it seems everyone owns at least one Apple product. For goodness sake, even my mother has an iPhone! (in fact, she got one before I did!!). Apple has managed to remain cool despite huge success and occasional PR disasters (cracked iPhone glass, anyone? weird antenna issues?).

In conclusion, I'm a little saddened at Apple's success. I can no longer enjoy being a little bit smug about owning an Apple. People no longer go 'What's that? An Apple com-pew-tur?', they go 'Oh yeah, I got an iPad 2 for my birthday'.

What I'd like to point out is that people like me took the plunge way before the masses began following like robotic sheep. I had to endure the pain and anguish that came with buying a Mac. I was a loyal and faithful Mac Geek.

The question is - after all I've said, am I going to abandon the Mac?

Well, no - not really.

Windows is still, in my opinion, a bit rubbish. Linux is beyond most normal people with social skills. Google Chrome is a young upstart with a long way to go. There is nothing else to choose from.

I'm going to stick with the Mac until something better comes along (which probably won't). I shall continue to pour my hard earned greens into Apple's coffers, and encourage friends and family to give up their Windows woes and convert to the Church of Jobs. Even though it pains me to do so.

Who knows, maybe Microsoft will one day be the underdog.

If that happens, I just might renounce my religion...

1 comment:

  1. See, I've never bought into the Apple hype. I think I've been put off by a) the pretentiousness and condescension of many Apple geeks (present company excepted), and b) I don't like the way Apple make you buy their products and their software. It was a long time before they opened up iPods to play non-iTunes MP3 files. There wasn't a USB port on the iPad. Etc.