Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why I'm not an Apple Fan (but it's okay that you are) PT 1

This will be part 1 in a series.

By splitting this into multiple posts, I hope to encourage dialogue. If you've got a counter argument against something I've written, please feel free to share it in the comments. I welcome discourse, and the opinions presented herein are solely my own.

I have a confession:

Image: OpenClipArt.org
I have a deep, dark secret to confess: I'm not an Apple person. I've worked with many different platforms (PC, Apple, Linux and Android), and I've found a way that works for me. Way back when, I started with an Apple II E. Then a Macintosh Classic. I now have two computers running Windows 7, a netbook running Chromium OS, a few routers running Linux, an Android smart phone and an Android tablet. I have them all set up the way I like, and everything works well for me.

Now that I'm teaching in a 1:1 program using MacBooks, I'm getting used to using OS X once again. I've had plenty of experience using Apple products (my first computer was an Apple II E way back when), and I've burnt through more than a couple MacBooks in my day. I'm perfectly comfortable using the Apple platform - it's just not my personal preference when making purchasing decisions.

A disclaimer before I rant...

There are plenty of people out there who love Apple products. I get it. They're renowned for their software design and for their incredible marketing. I hear it all the time from colleagues and friends: "Apple stuff just works." Yes, it does. They've got a polished product that plays nicely with other Apple stuff. I've even got an Airport Express that I use to stream music to my stereo. Their innovation and implementation really can't be beat from a usability standpoint.

I've heard all that before, and you'll get no argument from me.


On a personal level, there are several reasons for why I prefer other platforms when making personal purchasing decisions. I'll explain a few here:

Apple is a closed ecosystem.


Image: OpenClipArt.org

Apple products work very nicely with other Apple products. Chances are, if you're running an all-Apple household, things work very well. However, getting Apple to work well with non-Apple can be tricky, and in many cases, I believe that people will likely prefer to just stick with Apple. I have many frustrating stories of my experiences trying to get Apple stuff to work well with my other devices. Backing up to non-Apple hard disks, connecting Apple wireless clients to non-Apple networks, managing Apple hardware from non-Apple hardware... The list goes on and on. It's just plain unpleasant to try to integrate a "cross-pollinated" household. In my own experience and my own opinion, Apple appears to prefer that their users stick exclusively with Apple products, and I understand the motivation. They want to ensure their customers have a good experience with the product.

I've experienced "engineered obsolescence"


Image: OpenClipArt.org
I have an older Airport Express. For those unfamiliar with the product, it is used as a wireless access point, but can also serve as a connection for wireless printing and streaming music through AirPLay. A great concept, and I absolutely love what it can do. However, it is old. I bought it in 2004, it runs 802.11b/g, and it's been used quite a lot. I no longer use it as an access point - its sole function is to stream audio. Apple has, with its recent updates to the Airport Admin Utility, disabled administration of this device. I'm not sure what the justification is, but having an old piece of equipment appears to be enough of a problem for Apple to actively remove the utility that allows it to function. I have no argument against this! I get that companies must eventually discontinue support for old devices. However, cutting off the ability to manage a device that's old just strikes me as engineered obsolescence - the purposeful rendering of a piece of hardware as obsolete based on its age. There is no link on their website to obtain the utility to manage an old device. I've still been able to use it, but not without carefully applying a workaround.

It's all "locked down"

Image: OpenClipArt.org

Anything you want your Apple to do with other Apple stuff, there's a good chance it'll do it. Little configuration, easy to implement, and everything's up and running. But if you want to get your Apple stuff working with non-Apple products, chances are you'll have to jump through a few hoops to get it to do what you want. That's not unheard of - getting things to talk to one another when they're from different manufacturers can be challenging no matter what platform you're using. However, I've found that Apple stuff tends to be even more finicky than all my other tech products.

And then there's the matter of my personal alignment with the open-source philosophy. Apple is, to me, the antithesis of open-source. They keep a very tight leash on what's allowed. This means that the quality control is high, but at the sacrifice of freedom to innovate. It can be difficult to develop products for Apple if you're not licensed (and it's expensive to get licensed). This effectively reduces the number of people actively developing new ideas on the Apple platform, and to me, that's an outdated business model.

To conclude part 1, I offer this nugget of wisdom: if you're looking for something that will work as advertised, and you're not too concerned about going beyond what the manufacturer has envisioned, then by all means, go with an Apple product (if that's your choice). I promise I won't hold it against you.

However, if you're like me, and you want to explore the potential of what your hardware could do, rather than just what is can do, then you might want to consider an alternative.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series...