How I (Almost) Left Apple
My first experience with a Mac occurred when I was a teenaged engineering co-op student at General Motors. A young engineer was very excited to show me the little machine, exclaiming in a conspiratorial voice, “Oh, if you haven’t ever used a Mac, you’re in for a treat!”
She was right. It was very different from the clunky DOS machines I’d been forced to figure out previously, and seemed almost too “cutesy,” what with the little trash can icon and that mouse thing that you slid around.
Fast forward a handful of years and Terri, the undergrad engineering student who would become my wife, had a Mac, too. She, like the other lady, swore by it as well. It was the only computer we had in our house during the first few years of our marriage, until we graduated to a “grownup” machine that crashed and had fatal errors. There was comfort in this, however, because at least it was compatible with the junk we had to use at work (Macs had long since disappeared from at least my area at GM).
Then, in 2009, my assistant was trying to fix some viruses on Terri’s computer (a Japanese Windows laptop) as we all left the house one day. Four hours later we returned to find him still at it. Incensed, and having heard enough stories about the wonderful iPhone and the prevalent MacBook, I ordered him to halt his exertions, looked at Terri and said, “We’re going to the Apple store right now!” And just like that, we threw out all Windows equipment and the clunky cell phones we were using, and converted in one swoop to Apple products across the board.
Joy. Relief. Amazement. Those were the dominant emotions.
Imagine computers that stayed on and were ready immediately when you opened them? How refreshing to operate devices that were intuitive and behaved exactly as you expected them to. And what about the fact that they “just worked” and had no errors or interruptions for forced software updates you neither wanted nor approved? And all this on top of the amazing leap forward in technology and usefulness the iPhone brought to the world.
Yes, in good ol’ 2009, this is what Apple delivered. It was wonderful. It was unexpected. And in the world of new products, it was practically a black swan.
My satisfaction was so immense I went so far as to put an Apple sticker on the back of my car. Further, I exclaimed in a speech somewhere that I was an Apple customer for life.
But the happy endings in movies are only final because the film stops. In real life, big victories are necessarily followed by something else. In rare cases, they are followed by more victories. But more often than not, they are succeeded by periods of mediocrity, complacency, and diminishing returns, or worse, downright decay.
And so my Apple love affair, perhaps like real love affairs, began to lose it’s warm fuzzies. Don’t get me wrong; we cruised along for years and years. I got a lot done using my iPhones and MacBook Pros without ever having to be interested in the details of technology, without being forced to learn minutia required to run them, etc. I was the typical user of a tool who didn’t give two hoots about the “how comes” and “what fors” behind how the tool itself worked. Although I have formal training as an engineer, I had moved on from being interested in the details behind the technology and lived my life much more focused upon what the tools could produce in people’s lives than the inner workings of the tools themselves. I was the proverbial user of a shovel who didn’t care about how the spade was forged.
But (and you knew there was a but) ever so slowly, things began to slide. What was once totally acceptable because the technology was so advanced now became more and more annoying. It was one thing for Apple to lock us into their proprietary stuff and charge high amounts of money for the privilege when the performance was leading the market. It was quite another when they continued to use draconian tactics on technology that seemed to fall behind the competition.
Worse, the “it just works” factor was fading. It didn’t always “just work” anymore. There were more and more quirks, snags, and hangups than there ever were before.
For Apple products to have been as excellent as they were at the peak of my love affair with them, somebody somewhere (and most assuredly a whole lot of somebodies) had to be doing a serious amount of very hard work. That kind of attention to detail does not happen without massive effort and care.
And that was what it felt like Apple had lost the most. Their products didn’t seem to care as much. They weren’t as nearly perfect. They weren’t even keeping up with the copycats anymore, who had touch screen laptops and detachable screens — all really nice features that Apple refused to produce. Instead, we were subject to missives written by corporate communications experts informing us about “what a computer is” so that we would not expect nor want features we had come to expect and want.
It began to feel, at least to me, that the spunky upstart rascal company, that had seemed to care about me, the customer, had grown so big that it instead became a bully. Instead of busting its butt to thrill me with its products, it was now pushing me around and locking me in.
Then I was triangulated by three individuals whom I respected from different areas of my life. Each of them, over the course of the same few months, pontificated to no end about the joys of their Windows Surface machines. They showed me the features, the software, and the ease of use. I compared them to my MacBook Pro and had to admit, the competition had eaten a long way in on Apple’s once huge lead in product innovation.
So in a bold move I got Terri a new Surface Book for Christmas (and just to make it a joint effort, and to give her comfort, I bought myself one at the same time. That’s just the kind of guy I am.) Yup. We were switching to the Windows world. We’d had enough and were crossing over. (But in a rear-guard maneuver, I decided to hold off on switching to Android phones just yet. For the time being, at least, we’d keep our iPhones).
Our friends nodded in approval. People pitched in to help. Terri (bless her heart) put on her game face and went along with the project. She too had grown sort of tired of the bullying from Apple.
We figured out how to switch over our photos, our music, and other things. We thrilled at the One Note software and wondered where it had been all our lives. We loved the touch screen and how it detached. It wasn’t easy switching over, but who thought it would be? After all, it was a bit like we were leaving a cult. Some of the old habits would certainly die hard, right?
For six months we kept up the effort. We tried hard to be thrilled with our new Windows world. We really did want to be amazed and astounded with how far Apple’s competition had come. We really did want to be free from the tyranny of what had become the world’s largest company.
But now it’s time for the second but.
After all the hopes and efforts, we had to admit, we were really no better off than before. We had merely exchanged one set of hassles for a new set. And along the way we had lost cool features like a computer that is on immediately upon opening and iMessage on our laptop screens.
I won’t bore you with further details. I’ll just tell you that we were beginning to wonder if maybe, just maybe, we should have stayed put in the Apple sauce, and not taken that leap through the Windows.
Somewhere in this sea of wandering, I found myself daydreaming about Apple buying Tesla, so that Elon Musk could become its CEO and Tim Cook could become Tesla’s COO. After all, if Apple needed rejuvenation in the innovation department, Musk could provide that! And if Tesla needed operational maturity and excellence, Cook could provide that! And through all of it, I could get back my beloved, perfectly intuitive, exceedingly pleasing Apple products like the ones that had thrilled me in 2009.
I was going to Tweet something along these lines when my Windows machine decided to forcefully shut down right in the middle of it for a software update.
So I got out my iPhone and ordered the new iPad Pro.