The Mac can’t do it all — really?

Handpicked

I realise I may have fallen into the linkbait trap. I’m usually good at avoiding this kind of stuff, but this morning, when I spotted on Flipboard How I Moved Away From The Mac After Leaving Apple, a piece written by David Sobotta for ReadWrite, I kept reading because the article presented itself as a long-form writeup of what sounded like an interesting perspective on Apple — that of a former employee of the company and long-time Mac user.

Instead, I ended up rather astounded by what read like a rather shallow, subjective and somewhat embittered report from someone who — despite writing Take it from someone who knows Apple inside and out… in the very subheading of the piece — doesn’t seem to ultimately understand Apple much. I agree with Grant Hutchinson when he says that the article “just highlights the backwardness of entrenched industries and legacy systems… not issues with the Mac platform.”

I know: the article is about a subjective experience, and its subjective stance is clearly worded in the title itself. Still, I expected something with more depth than what can be summarised as “I had to enter more Windows-friendly environments for work reasons, plus I had back luck with the Apple hardware I bought, plus I didn’t like how Apple addressed my hardware problems, plus I never really had issues when I started using Windows, so yay Windows/Microsoft and boo Apple.” I mean, this is the kind of user experience tale I’ve heard many times back when I used to frequent online forums, mailing lists and the like. Back when the Mac vs PC wars were raging and the majority of opinions and experiences came from users who used their very personal anecdotes as a measure of a platform’s worth.

From Sobotta’s piece I expected a more balanced and in-depth analysis of the factors that may drive a user away from the Mac, for example. The article seems to present itself as a sort of cautionary tale, but, in my opinion, is too strongly tied to specific and circumstantial issues (to use Sobotta’s words) to have the exemplary value it probably seeks. It also fails to convincingly demonstrate what it announces in its premise — i.e. that the Mac “can’t do it all.”

Another minor thing, but still worth mentioning, I take issue with, is the way the author uses links to its personal blog in certain points of the article. There are parts in the article where Sobotta is vague, or makes certain statements that require further explanation. Indeed, he uses links to his personal blog as a way to better explain the issue he’s talking about, but often these posts on his blog don’t really explain matters. Furthermore, they are long posts which the average reader probably tends to skip. The result is that issues remain vague and certain statements remain largely unexplained.

For example, at a certain point Sobotta explains that, after years of using (and liking) iPhoto, “in summer 2011, problems with iPhoto caused me to pull the plug on my favorite Macintosh application, iPhoto, altogether.” Now, ‘problems with iPhoto’ is vague, but there’s a link to his blog (to be honest, I expected a link to some other site or discussion forum explaining what exactly those problems were, but I’m digressing) so maybe I’ll find an explanation there, I thought. After reading that long aside, however, the only thing I understood is that Sobotta had a library-related issue after updating to iPhoto 9.1.5. Even in that blog post things are described rather vaguely:

The last week of July 2011, I did a routine software update on the MacBook. It included iPhoto 9.1.5.

When I launched iPhoto after the software update, it told me my library needed to be updated. It started and never finished. Relaunching iPhoto got me nowhere so I searched the web for some solutions. I tried a few which did not seem to work. I even tried creating a new library, and iPhoto 9.1.5 still did not work.

Then I dug out my DVD and re-installed iPhoto 9 from scratch. I then applied the software updates and got the same non-functioning results.

The feeling I have after reading this is that Sobotta gave up rather quickly. And that he’s also quick at passing judgment with considerations like: What bothers me about the iPhoto problem is that it is just another glitch that is making me wonder if Apple is stretched a little too thin. (Just a few paragraph after the quoted bit.) By the way, in the same post he gives up on iMovie in much the same rushed way: I wasn’t one of the folks who hated the big change in iMovie. I got so that I liked it, but recently after several unsuccessful tries at uploading movies to YouTube from iMovie, I gave up on iMovie.

Back to the ReadWrite article, here are a few highlights that made me raise an eyebrow, to use an euphemism:

Fast forward to late 2012 — my office gets its latest technology refresh. The first product I buy is a first-generation Lenovo Yoga, the second is an I5 Lenovo desktop, and the third is a Mac mini, which is really more of a token Mac than anything else.

This belittling mention of the Mac mini is a bit unwarranted, I think. It may have been an underpowered machine back in its first PowerPC and Intel Core Solo iterations, but by the end of 2012 the Mac mini was already a rather powerful desktop Mac. Don’t believe me? Ask the guys at Macminicolo or Brett Terpstra, just to make a couple of examples off the top of my mind.

I ordered an Intel MacBook in 2006 and a 26″ I5 iMac in 2010.

I hope that 26″ is a typo…

By early 2010, my wife’s 12″ G4 PowerBook was so slow that even the Washington Post’s minimalist webpage wouldn’t load.

Sorry, sorry, but here is when I call bullshit, loud and clear. As someone who still uses his 12-inch PowerBook G4 purchased in 2004, I have to say that, sure, by today’s standards it is certainly a slow machine and I’d never use it for video conversion or other CPU-intensive tasks, but in 10 years of use I never had issues with… websites. There may be the occasional rendering glitch due to Safari not being updated past version 5.0.6 on Leopard, and YouTube videos stutter (less so if you specify Safari on iPad as user agent), but “so slow” that a webpage “wouldn’t load”? Give me a break.

I had no intention of buying my wife a premium-priced Mac with an outdated processor (the Intel Core 2 Duo) but around that time I saw a special at Staples for HP laptops with the new Intel processors. […] The two HP laptops together cost less than $1,500 and both computers showed up in a few days, even though Apple folks maintained the processors weren’t shipping in any products any time soon. It would take a few months before Apple could announce similar products — which, of course, were also priced much higher.

The Intel Core 2 Duo processor may very well be outdated today in 2014, although my 15″ MacBook Pro with a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU is still quite powerful at many tasks, whether simple or demanding, but in 2010 it was certainly not. I understand the need for some ‘future-proofness’ when buying a new computer, but if Sobotta’s wife was still using a PowerBook G4 in 2010, I deduce that CPU performance was not at the top of her list when choosing a new computer.

Then there’s that remark about Apple laptops being “priced much higher,” which is really becoming rather old.

The Apple addict I am, I eventually relapsed in the fall of 2010 and ordered an I5 iMac […] but that particular computer is when the wheels really started coming off the Apple wagon.

The iMac and I never hit it off. I had to buy the huge 26″ model to get an I5 processor and I hated the positioning of the SD slot right under the DVD slot.

Again with that 26″. I’m starting to believe it’s not a typo after all… Also, the fact that Sobotta hated the positioning of the SD slot doesn’t make it a lesser machine and isn’t an inherent shortcoming, but obviously just a personal peeve.

When I went to buy a travel laptop in late 2012, I could not find a Mac that had an integrated SD card for under $1,000. So, I bought an I5 Lenovo Yoga for $999 (which comes with a bonus—a touchscreen), as well as a $479 Lenovo desktop to run all of my photo editing tools and applications like Lightroom and Picasa.

What Sobotta did there is something I witnessed other people do. They don’t want to spend, say, $1,000–1,200 for a Mac, but they spend more on two cheap Windows PCs (or a PC and an Android tablet) and still feel they made a cost-effective purchase. Sobotta didn’t want to spend more than $1,000 for a Mac, but ended up spending $1,478 for two PCs when probably the more cost-effective solution was to purchase a 13-inch MacBook Air for $1,199 — the price of the entry level 1.8 GHz Core i5 mid-2012 model with 128GB of flash storage and equipped with an SD slot. It didn’t have a fancy touchscreen display (to do what, exactly?) but could have run applications like Lightroom and Picasa equally well.

But if you’re looking for a Mac for $1,000 and then end up spending $1,478, I guess that money isn’t really the issue here. A different story would have been if Sobotta was looking to purchase two computers, had a $1,500 budget, and concluded that he couldn’t buy a laptop and a desktop Mac for that price. That would have been more understandable.

I still use the Macintosh for certain things but I have to admit being a Mac user has become too much trouble.

Again, a bold remark, linked to a post on Sobotta’s personal blog. Another long post that ultimately doesn’t explain why being a Mac user has become too much trouble. What he says there basically revolves around this statement: Even with a history of good experiences with Apple’s high end systems, my experience with the iMac and MacMini leaves me a little skeptical of the new Mac Pro. Here and there you can find mysterious remarks such as: I have not been happy with OS X and its default world of iCloud for a while. (What does “its default world of iCloud” mean, exactly? He paints a picture of OS X as if it weren’t possible to use without iCloud, which is not strictly true.)

My most recent Kindle book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year, was written and compiled in Microsoft Word on my Lenovo desktop running Windows 8.1. The images were all catalogued and edited using Lightroom on my Windows desktop. I still needed my Mac for a few things — I resized all my images on Pixelmator and edited the filtered HTML for the Kindle using TextWrangler — but many of these things could have been easily done on Windows.

Actually, I’d like to point out that this workflow could have been more efficiently carried out on a Mac in its entirety. A Mac can indeed run applications like Microsoft Word and Lightroom, in case you were wondering.

Towards the end of the article, Sobotta admits that

Many of the issues I’ve experienced are specific and circumstantial…

Then proceeds to make a sweeping generalisation:

The other issue with Apple, to me, is its attitude. I would’ve felt better about my failing products if Apple was willing to repair the problems. […] What’s worse is that Apple’s poor attitude towards hardware issues rubs off on its customers.

Again, since he had hardware issues with his Macs and had a problem with Apple’s attitude (it would have been interesting to know more about this: maybe I missed it but why was Apple unwilling to repair the problems? What happened, specifically?) — he talks about this ‘poor attitude towards hardware’s issues’ as if Apple had such attitude by default, everywhere, with everybody. Which is not the case.

Amidst the series of problems that ensued with nearly every Mac I purchased over the years, I still hung to Apple’s platform. But for some reason, there are a number of Mac users out there that will blame you for the problem, regardless what it is, and heap shame upon you for suggesting the world’s richest company should solve a hardware/software problem that you caused. It is radically different mindset from the worlds of Windows or Linux, where most people tend to relate to your problems and end up blaming Microsoft, or perhaps the hardware manufacturer.

This is another generalisation and — again — has nothing to do with Apple as a platform. It’s neither a software-related issue, nor a hardware-related issue, not even an ecosystem-related issue. Honestly, the perceived mentality of the users of a platform shouldn’t be a factor in deciding whether to keep being a user of such platform or to leave it behind.

Maybe I just know too much about Apple and its products to be able to enjoy the taste these days.

If I have to be blunt, judging by what I’ve read in this article and the linked blog posts, the impression I’m left with is that Sobotta doesn’t know that much about Apple, doesn’t really get how Apple operates, fails to explain why “the Mac can’t do it all,” and why today “being a Mac user has become too much trouble.” All this in a piece filed under the Infrastructure category. It boggles the mind.

The Author

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