My first Mac was an iMac, and not one of the cool flat jobs they sell today with Intel inside. It wasn’t a G5 either. It wasn’t one of those nice looking Luxo iMacs with the G4 processor and swiveling screen. Nope, it was a G3 dating back to late 1999. (I would have probably picked up my first Mac earlier than that, but I wasn’t the one deciding on what computer was in my home at the time.) It had a blazing fast 400 MHz processor, 64 MB of memory, and a 13 GB hard drive. It couldn’t burn a thing, and it came with that awful hockey-puck mouse that set the precedent for Apple designing bad mice. The iMac shipped with Mac OS 9.0.
Of course, my favorite Mac (and the one that would last almost seven years) was the PowerBook G3. Released in February of 2000, the PowerBook featured a 500 MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, and a 12 GB hard drive. It served as my primary machine long after the iMac would bite the dust. I upgraded the hard drive once to 30 GB, upped the RAM to 512 MB, replaced the DVD-ROM drive with a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, and didn’t replace the machine until its case began to fall apart. Most importantly, this was the computer on which I installed the Mac OS X Public Beta. It’s final software upgrade would be 10.4 Tiger before it was finally replaced with a MacBook Pro in January of 2007.
image by newtc_uk on Flickr
The point is this: I remember an Apple that traded at $5.00/share. I remember an Apple before the iPad, iPhone, or even the original iPod. I remember when iTunes first came out for OS 9 and its ushering in of Apple’s unfortunate fetish for brushed metal windows. I remember the painful transition from the old and familiar OS 9 to OS X. I remember the PowerMac G4 Cube coming and going as well as Apple’s portables languishing during the final months of the PowerPC processor when nothing better than over-clocked G4s could stay cool in Apple’s thin laptops. I remember when the iPod was a Mac-only media player and when FireWire was going to be the Next Big Thing. I remember the Intel transition, and, I have to admit, I still think of Apple’s products in terms of iBook, iMac, PowerBook, and PowerMac even though those names have now been dead for at least six years.
Rooting for the Underdog
I remember what it was like to see Windows machines leapfrog their Macintosh counterparts in price and performance, trying to defend my choice of computing platform in the face of a dwindling customer and developer community. There was a closely-knit core of Mac indie developers in those days before being an indie developer was cool. I remember how reviled the original iPod was among tech circles for its relatively modest specifications. I remember being actively made fun of in some of my computer classes for clinging to my aging Mac, and a part of me actually relished it. A part of me wanted to keep using Macs specifically because they were so unpopular. I liked supporting Apple because they were the underdogs. I like the counterculture feeling of owning a Mac.
This is why it feels a bit strange to still be a loyal Apple customer, for now they are among the most valuable companies in the world. They have $97 billion cash on hand, and they shipped over five million Macs last quarter (not to mention 15 million iPads, 15 million iPods, and 37 million iPhones). I can recall days when shipping one million Macs was considered a milestone for the company. This isn’t just me shaking my cane and yelling at kids to get off my lawn. It’s a tacit admission that Apple is now no longer the underdog, and there’s a part of me that doesn’t like that. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to share them with all of these new users who don’t remember HyperCard.
There’s also a part of me that’s ready to move on from Apple. I want another underdog to support. I was sincerely hoping to pick up an HP TouchPad during its fire-sale purely on principle. I’ve already spent some time with Linux as my wife’s netbook is running the most recent version of Ubuntu, and I went shopping recently with the express intent of picking up an Android tablet – specifically the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet were on my radar, though I was open to a Galaxy Tab or other tablet. Still, I walked out with an iPod touch. As much as a part of me wanted to jump ship and find a new computing minority to join, I found myself still gravitating toward Apple’s products.
More Than an Underdog
I didn’t get my first Mac for the sole reason that it didn’t run Windows. I went after it because I truly enjoyed using the Mac platform more than I liked Windows. My old IBM Aptiva running Windows 95 left me wanting something better, and the iMac was exactly what I was looking for. My PowerBook G3 is the single most reliable computer I’ve ever owned. I stuck with Apple through the difficult OS X transition because I genuinely believed OS X would be a superior operating system to Windows XP, and, eventually, it was. It even retained that superiority through the life of Windows Vista. Even today, the MacBook Air I’m typing this on is my favorite computer on the market today. I haven’t stuck by Apple only because of their underdog status; it’s also because I believe they make best-of-class products. And that makes them hard to abandon, for no one else’s user experience quite measures up in comparison.
Poor sales and tiny community? Sign me up!
Ubuntu is an interesting project, and I believe they are doing a lot of things right. Still, the system is very Windows-like, and there are several rough edges to the user experience that just don’t exist in OS X. Every Android tablet I tried compares unfavorably to the iPad in terms of how enjoyable and easy they are to use. Both the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet compare unfavorably to the iPod touch as e-readers, and the selection of quality software for either device pales in comparison to the rich selection of apps for iOS devices. This was another factor for my loyalty to the Mac – yes, the quantity of dedicated developers was small, butt the quality of software created by those independent developers was amazing. The iOS App Store offers millions more apps than used to be available for the Mac, and there is a great deal more junk available therein. The quality among the passionate, however, is the same.
Being Okay With Superdog
The iPhone, while not having the most impressive tech specs available, is a truly excellent device to use. The same is true of the MacBook Air, the iPod touch, and the iPad. Yes, Apple has their shortcomings and their moments of flirting with being as overbearing and as questionably ethical as Microsoft was in the 90s, but they make some of the most enjoyable gadgets you can find. That’s what brought me into the Apple camp to begin with – products that were well designed and a joy to use. That they were the underdogs in the tech industry was just icing on the cake. In the tablet space, Android may be the underdog, but it’s not as enjoyable to use as iOS. Desktop Linux may be intriguing and even superior to OS X in some ways, but it’s not as compelling of an overall experience for me as OS X. While I always enjoyed Apple being a smaller player in the technology industry, I see no reason to abandon using great products simply because they have grown to be the the most successful.
It’s always fun to root for the underdog, and, if I get a chance, I may still pick up an HP TouchPad for the sheer novelty of the product. I won’t rule out possibly owning a Kindle Fire or a Nook Tablet in the future, but Apple’s products still represent the perfect blend of form and function for me. The part of me that enjoys being in the minority will just have to suffice with bashing Twilight every chance I get.