I’m just not much of a Mac fan anymore
In 2006, the Mac Mini had a shiny aluminum case, a beautiful UI, and BSD in its veins. It was an impulse buy born of frustration with Windows and ugly, flimsy plastic computers. The experience was foreign, exotic, yet familiar to a long-time UNIX geek like me. Most importantly, the operating system was designed to stay out of my way and let me focus on my work. I rejoiced in little details like the single menu bar at the top of the screen instead of wasted vertical space in every window. The Mac rendered fonts differently, making small text more legible. And it was stable; no blue screens of death or weird driver issues. It just worked, just like they said.
Owning a Mac in those days bought membership into a community. We had our own blogs and message boards, our own podcasts and films. We embraced a mythology of Jobs, Wozniak, and the folklore of the company’s early days. We valued good design, dependable software, and magical user experiences.
I never got to go to MacWorld Expo, a week of tech talks, software demos, bands, parties, and fun. It was our Lollapalooza. Steve Jobs himself kicked off each year’s event with one of his famous keynote presentations, showing off new products from the folks in Cupertino. I experienced it through podcasts and blogs, many coming right from the show floor.
A couple times a year, MacHeist gave us a mystery to solve: a trail of hidden pages on Mac web sites. Actors in video clips chewed the scenery while they outlined each next phase of our mission to earn free software. It was a puzzle with ciphers and obscure references that spilled over into the MacHeist message boards and Twitter. I’d make a night of solving MacHeist even if I didn’t need another free recipe manager. It drew people together.
Today, MacHeist is a shell of its former self. It still pulls together bundles once in a while. But independent app publishers can’t offer deals when the everyday price of an app has been driven down to almost nothing. MacWorld Expo lost its steam after Apple stopped coming. Apple forums were victims of the general exodus to social media. Apple itself is now so big that the mainstream is our community. The church potlucks are gone, but we have a McDonalds on every corner.
Worst of all, it feels like Apple has lost its mojo. I have weird issues selecting text in iOS. Apple’s own Mac apps show semi-modal dialogs that get pinned to a different Space than the app itself or disappear under other windows yet stop their parent app from running. AirDrop works when it wants to. Siri is unpredictable, and still hasn’t found her way to the desktop. Don’t get me started on the new AppleTV’s ups & downs.
There was a time in the 80s and 90s when Apple and Microsoft owned computing. Then each went through their own dark ages. Apple emerged from its own when Jobs returned to the company and it overtook Microsoft. Today, Microsoft is bringing the passion and competence that once made Apple so attractive. It may be time for Apple to step back, regroup, and find that spirit that made them special.
I still use my MacBook Pro as my primary computer. My iPhone is my main phone. But they’re just devices, and ones I don’t feel I can trust. It’s almost 2016, and I’m looking across the fence to see if the grass is any greener on the side I left a decade ago.