When I first heard Apple was making a Big Announcement on September 9, I thought it was great that a Cupertino-based company was honoring California statehood day.
It was more like state of the Apple ‘hood day.
There was no escaping the hype, before or after (some headlines referred to it as “Apple Week”). Yet for the past decade-and-a-half, I’ve refused to be seduced by the polished produce, having come close to technological poisoning once by drinking Apple-flavored Kool-Aid.
I won’t put all my tech into any one basket again. Because it could repeat.
Before Apple partisans begin the inevitable attack: My first computer was an Apple IIe, then a Mac SE, LC, Performa 6400, PowerBook 1400CS, and Quadra 605. My first (non-journalism) job was in marketing for the Apple Programmers and Developers Association and A.P.P.L.E. Co-op, and I was a consultant to Apple for several years on developer and marketing issues. I wrote for MacWEEK, MacGuide, and was briefly publisher of Call-A.P.P.L.E. and Macintosh Horizons magazines.
But I’ve learned to embrace practicality and choice above hype and cool. Because 15 years ago, in 1999, Apple had nearly melted down after losing market share and software developer support, and almost took tech loyalists like me with it. It was only the return of Steve Jobs and the introduction of the iMac (which, at the time, I called an “Internet Appleiance”) that started the slow reversal of Apple’s fortunes.
The iMac, I wrote, reflected Apple’s transition into a consumer electronics company, and, “Apple should give up on the illusion that it’s still in the traditional PC business” – to much Apple fan derision (that’s not new, either). The iMac was followed by increasingly successful iPods, iPhones and iPads.
At the time, I decided to technologically diversify. You, too, might take pause before going full-Apple, even with Apple now at a comparative pinnacle. Why?
Vendor lock-in hazard. Apple has done a brilliant job, following the one-time loss of broad developer community support in the pre-Jobs-return days, in vertically integrating. Though Microsoft Office for Mac still remained in 1999 (due to an Apple-Microsoft legal settlement), Apple pursued creating its own software products that took advantage of the unique hardware and OS capabilities of its growing number of platforms, going beyond mere feature parity with Windows products.
The downside of strong vertical integration is vendor lock-in and switching costs, both financial and cognitive. Want that cool Apple Watch? Better not give up your iPhone 5 for a newer Android device; instead, keep it or buy an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, since that iPhone is required. Vendor lock-in extends to proprietary connectors, file formats and iOS-only apps. (Cross-platform file transfer, which used to be a huge Apple-Windows headache, was saved by the Internet in the same decade as the iMac’s introduction.)
It’s not that Apple invented vendor lock-in. IBM did it with mainframe hardware-software-service bundles, and many others have attempted it with varying degrees of success. Apple has turned it into a consumer-friendly art form – as long as you’re happy with that particular style of art, and trust that it will remain in vogue as long as you want to publicly display it.
Use trumps device. In the early days of personal computers when consumers would ask if they should buy an Apple or Windows system, my immediate response was always, “What do you plan to use it for?” And then, “What applications exist for that, on that operating system?”
The same advice holds more true today because as platforms and form factors have proliferated, software apps and functionality aren’t equally distributed. Without the right software and features, even the shiniest hardware can be a useless brick.
A textbook case? Los Angeles Unified School District’s one-time plan to purchase only iPads for all of its students, followed by dawning realizations (two of several) that the digital curriculum it had chosen was not complete, and an integrated keyboard made more sense for writing assignments.
Tech is not steady state. Technology advances are not linear. Fifteen years ago cutting edge was ISDN connectivity (“high-speed” Internet at 128K), CD-ROM storage and 64MB RAM. Looking forward from 1999, it would have been hard to imagine 2014’s 50MB Internet speeds, cloud storage and multiple GBs of RAM – for the same price, or less, in smaller or mobile devices.
As human beings, we are unwaveringly awful in projecting the near-term future, typically overestimating social change and underestimating technological change.
Apple, like Microsoft, infrequently originates a completely new technology. But it is a master at refining and popularizing one. In the next five – let alone 15 – years, an entirely new hardware-software-services ecosystem could develop that will very likely upend incumbents (Google is trying hard, and we’ve seen once before how Apple performs without Jobs). No one company has a lock on the future. So loyalists lose and the flexible win.
The result, for me, has evolved into a variety of computing devices that work together as much as I desire, thanks to the inherent benefits of wireless technologies and Internet protocols, without having to buy into any one company’s vision of what I should own. At the moment, I have a ThinkPad T430 laptop, Google Nexus 5 mobile phone, Kindle Fire HDX tablet, and iPod Nano 6th Generation audio … thing (add a wristband, it’s the original Apple Watch). For those keeping track, that’s Windows 7, Android, Fire OS (sort-of Android), and iOS-ish. Plus a Raspberry Pi for play.
I have created my own ecosystem. It’s eminently practical, fully personal, and — critically — not subject to annual updates for fad or fashion.
It’s not that I hate Apple. It’s just that I’ve already seen the danger of loving a technology, or an individual company, a little too much.