If you have been using Microsoft products (Windows, Office etc.) for a long time like I have then you will have accrued similar grudges. Grudges about stuff that didn’t work right, mostly. Stuff like insanely long boot times, blue screens, cryptic error messages and such. What did it for me was Microsoft’s failure to acknowledge the mobile world in time. I was probably among the first (and few) people to try Windows Mobile back at the beginning of this century (does that make me sound old?). It was a disaster, also because the hardware wasn’t ready for it, crashed quite frequently and had only sporadic reception. So after an era of PDAs (if that means anything to you) I skipped future iterations of Windows Mobile by using Android once it emerged, only to find myself struggling with third party software to synchronize my calendar, address book, to-dos, notes and such. Plus the smart phone I bought (Samsung) was buggy which became even less bearable when the manufacturer didn’t care about my problems (where have we heard that recently?). So in summer last year I bit the Apple, and was promptly evicted from the paradise I didn’t know I lived in.
Apple products, as you may have experienced by yourself already, are very nice to look at. Aesthetically designed, sleek, shiny, and all around cool. Given my mix of travel and office time I decided for a lightweight MacBook Air which I combined with a Thunderbolt display, keyboard and mouse, plus an iPhone. Listing every single detail I had issues with would make this blog the longest I’ve ever written, so I will try to summarize. If you are pondering a switch then feel free to connect with me, and I’ll be more specific.
There is a gap between the perceived quality of the hardware and the actual quality. My first iPhone had several issues causing it to fail altogether after some time. My second one works fine. The standard Bluetooth keyboard is flimsy and, like the mouse, devours batteries. The MacBook air will neither connect to a projector without an adapter nor is it easy (or inexpensive) to find a remote control that will handle PowerPoint presentations. Plugging in memory sticks will produce random results ranging from “unable to read” to “read only”, and you get a stern-screened message if you unplug any such device without ejecting it beforehand. All these features are things I rely on at conferences and meetings which I do a lot of. And I couldn’t.
On the upside, provided that you’ve bought into the Apple culture with an iPod, iPhone and such being able to just connect them to anything in the house is fun. Since Apple products have uniform connectors (ignoring their recent move to a new format for now) it is easy for manufacturers of cars, stereos etc to provide connectivity. Other phone makers are on the move to standardization but it will take a few more years for this to be reflected in the market.
On the software side, customers seem to have accepted that what Apple makes is crap. So they buy third party programs to overcome whatever shortcoming they experience. I went with many of the default applications in the beginning and have to say I enjoyed how seamlessly they synchronized between phone and computer, something I had issues with all along while trying to get Outlook to talk to my Android phone. In today’s world with Windows 8 running on both sides this is of course not an issue anymore. The Apple standard apps (calendar, address book and notes) are indeed pretty basic but I managed. Not having widgets on phone nor computer anymore was odd. The MacBook has an extra screen designed to hold widgets but I always found that lame and ended up not using it.
I kept using MS Office (except for Outlook) and after 9 months of trying I still have a hard time remembering all those keyboard shortcuts which can be hidden under either “control”, “option” or “command”. There are some context menus but they are a lot less useful than in the Windows versions. A rather big issue was file organization: in default mode, Apple’s “Finder” will list the entire contents of a folder alphabetically – including subfolders. In Windows Explorer, subfolders are always listed first which makes finding a document quite simple. On the Mac, you can switch to “by type” mode but that will also group the rest of the files by type. My file names are combinations of Project Name / Date / File Description and I don’t discriminate by the software they were created in. Which forced me to adjust to the software rather than the other way around. Last not least, MS Access will not run on a Mac, and the performance of FileMaker Pro – which I bought and tried – is no match for it. Since nobody else in the business world uses FileMaker in the first place I was forced to run MS Access on a separate machine on my desk. Not good.
My biggest quarrel was, however, the way in which every single program’s top level menu is placed on top of the screen rather than staying with the program window. So to access specific features you have to look in places outside of the program – if you work on two screens like me this may easily mean that the feature you’re looking for is on the other screen. I’ll never get my head around that.
I still maintain that iTunes is the worst piece of software ever written but I’ll leave this topic out since it wasn’t part of my current Apple experience.
I could go on for hours about minor things; what often happens is that someone will come along and say: “did you try this?”, hop in a circle three times, and it’s done. But I just expect things to be more obvious and intuitive, especially from the inventor of the iPod. The single most important reason I can think of for buying Apple hardware is the available support from the many stores you find all over the country, and in fact all around the world. As it turns out, however, they’ll help you only so far before asking for more money. And since it’s Apple you don’t really have anywhere else to go to.
With all that said I still have no regrets having tried – while having used Microsoft powered products since DOS 6.0 checking out a Mac had always been on my bucket list. So now it’s out of my system and I am going back with a great sigh of relief. And the residual value of my Apple gear will easily cover the cost of my new equipment.