I’m still with the Mac, unfashionably

I still love the Mac. Judging by the tech sites and blogs I usually read, I seem to be in the minority as of late. There are tech guys who have managed to mostly or exclusively use iOS for work and leisure, and seem awfully proud of it. I was not aware that there was a competition, though, and I’m not quite sure what they have ‘won’ — and what I have ‘lost’.

There are people who got a Mac only recently, just when iOS started getting real traction, and these folks evidently found iOS easier to deal with, they had no real computer preferences or habits deeply ingrained, and jumped on the iOS bandwagon because probably it was a better fit for whatever their workflow is, or because the touch interface has some subliminal ‘instant gratification’ factor that makes using Mac OS X appear ‘difficult’.

Then there are those — as I observed previously — who seem to put the Mac in a bad light just to reinforce how great a decision they have made in leaving it behind to go all-in with iOS. And then there are those long-time Mac users who both use iOS and Mac OS X proficiently, who are quite comfortable with both platforms, recognising each platform’s strengths and drawbacks, but still feel the need to write how, when travelling, their iOS device is essential, and the Mac is the ‘add-on’.

And then again there’s the inevitable commentary on how the Mac is neglected — sloppy software, eternally-awaited hardware updates on the horizon (hopefully, and hopefully they’re going to be significant, and hopefully Apple won’t screw things up after all this wait, etc.). The increasingly frequent remarks on how iOS is ‘the future’ — oh, the hardware is so portable and powerful, and the software… the software, well, it still has a few things it needs to get right… and the iPad, well, Apple should really issue a proper iPad-customised iOS to take advantage of all the ‘pro’ stuff you can do on an iPad Pro, but all in all it’s just so great and it’s the future so it must be better, etc. While the Mac, well, the Mac — haha — is the Cinderella of the household, it’s on its way out, it’s today’s Apple II to iOS’s Macintosh. It’s on borrowed time.

If you don’t know my writings, and where I come from, you may think at this point that I’m an iOS hater. Absolutely not. I’ve been using iOS devices since 2008 and currently, even though they aren’t the latest and greatest, I own an iPhone and an iPad, and use them a lot during the day. I enjoy iOS a lot. And I enjoy the Mac a lot. I’m not an iOS hater, but I am fed up with this recent silly trend of bashing the Mac, whether blatantly or subtly. I feel an air of ‘Mac OS versus iOS’ in the debate that I truly dislike. And I still don’t understand why, for some, there has to be a winner between the two. For some it seems that the Mac has now exhausted its possibilities, that it’s time for it to step aside and make way for iOS the whizz-kid. To some, using both platforms and taking advantage of their respective strengths seems unfathomable. The propaganda of the iOS-lovers doesn’t worry me because I’m afraid of what will happen to my preferred platform; it worries me because every now and then regular, non-geek people fall for it, try to go iOS-only too, and things don’t always turn out as anticipated.

(I’ve already talked about all this by the way, in less sarcastic and exasperated tones, when I wrote The Mac is just as compelling).

Apple, too, is worrying me. These delays in Mac hardware updates, which kind of delays are they? Are they the Wait and see what we’ve been working on all these months delays, or are they the Our focus is almost exclusively on our hottest products and the Mac is becoming a hobby delays? Or somewhere in between? The impression I have, as of late, is that Apple has really too much on its plate, and can’t keep up with everything. Take this oft-quoted bit from Steve Jobs:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

I may be wrong, but I don’t feel this still reflects Apple’s approach. There’s an air of more is more in what Apple is doing today. Instead of saying no to the hundred other good ideas, Apple’s attitude seems more like Eh, no need to be so hasty with that ‘No’ — let’s keep our options open. And when Apple actually says no to something (the headphone port in the iPhone 7), it feels both like saying no for the sake of saying no, and an unpopular choice.

Back to the Mac: I’m anxiously waiting for new Macs also because I think they may represent — now more than ever — how much Apple itself still believes in the Mac, how much the Mac still means to Apple. As for the software, if I may, it’s time to rethink that yearly update cycle. Having a mandatory new version of Mac OS X every year is not necessarily the best way to show you’re still caring, Apple. This self-imposed yearly update cycle makes less and less sense as time goes by. Mac OS X is a mature operating system and should be treated as such. The focus should be on making Mac OS X even more robust and reliable, so that Mac users can update to the next version with the same relative peace of mind as when a new iOS version comes out. Mac OS X updates should be more in tune with the hardware and its slower update cycle.

Instead of thinking about new features to add every year to make OS X interesting (features which may end up breaking stuff that previously worked, which in turn becomes another problem to fix in subsequent minor updates), why not embrace the slower pace and take some time to fix what’s broken even if it’s not an exciting feature in and of itself? This of course doesn’t mean there’s no more room for innovation or new features in OS X, only that OS X doesn’t need to be handled like iOS. iOS has enough engineers and internal resources to get to the yearly update in good shape. OS X struggles in comparison. Then software quality suffers, and then of course people think it’s all about iOS and the Mac is the old, neglected platform that has little more to offer. Compare this with the long, steady flow of Mac OS X minor updates in the Tiger/Leopard/Snow Leopard era. Six years (2005-2011), only three major versions, those that are usually considered the most robust, by the way.

The Mac is still a relevant, versatile environment. It doesn’t deserve the bad light it’s been put into lately. I could have written this piece sitting (uncomfortably) in a coffee shop, on my iPad connected to my Apple Wireless Keyboard and propped up by the well-designed Incase Origami Workstation. I could have written it in iA Writer and then passed it to WordPress. But I would have felt quite limited by the 9.7-inch screen, by the mixture of keyboard/touch interaction with the device and its apps. And since while writing it I would have needed to check on other things, like I’m doing now, on the iPad it would have been a constant switching from app to app (and thankfully since iOS 9 you can do that like on the Mac, by hitting Command-Tab). But I wrote it on my Mac, in MarsEdit, with a big editor window open and a rather big preview window set up side by side — all this on the external 24-inch display connected to the MacBook Pro, while having Twitter and Safari open on the main MacBook Pro display. And writing on a full-size keyboard. At my desk. In a comfortable position. What can I say? I have done previous tech survival experiments, but the Mac is still the only platform that doesn’t make me feel limited.

Coda

Am I bashing iOS in return? No. Again, read my previous The Mac is just as compelling, or at least the “Final observations” section. I’m as heavy an iOS user as I am a Mac user. Both platforms have their conveniences and uses. I can’t wait to be able to upgrade to a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, as I’m sure I would be able to do more when out and about than what I’m doing now with my good old third-generation iPad. I also agree that iOS has now a series of desktop-class apps. I’m not disputing iOS’s value or importance. I’m simply annoyed by this The Mac is not relevant anymore attitude, which I find defeatist, questionable, and misguided. This idea that the Mac represents the past burdens you have to get rid of in order to achieve the iOS-only nirvana. That things have to be moving sequentially (progress is going from the Mac to iOS, is iOS ultimately replacing Mac OS) instead of in parallel (both Mac OS and iOS can evolve concurrently, and everyone’s happy).

iOS-only is a choice, a particular setup that works, and works well, for some people; it’s not an achievement in the gaming sense of the term. These people are certainly tech-savvy users whose job — luckily for them — allows them to streamline their hardware setup to the point that a Mac (or any other traditional computer) isn’t needed anymore. But then some of these people make this assumption: Since I don’t need a computer anymore, and can work with just my iPhone and iPad, lots of other people can do the same, and we can all leave computers behind. Sorry, tech pundit, but we’re not there yet.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!