On (Not) Loving Apple Like a 4-Year-Old

20121211-214832.jpgIt has been said, quite fairly, that I am an Apple fanboy. I have preferred to think of myself as more of an enthusiast, a devotee, and when I plant my tongue firmly in-cheek, I declare myself forever beholden and grateful to (and submissive to the infallible will of) The Steve, peace be upon him. But however you describe me, it's fine. I do have a great affection for the Apple brand and evangelize many of its products (indeed, I was once employed to do so, donning the Blue Shirt and White Lanyard), and I probably do so with a slight tinge of irrationality. I accept that.

But I'm not blind to the company's weak spots, I am not averse to calling it out when it makes mistakes, or worse, when it is guilty of what I see as ethical or moral lapses.

Al Franken has an analogy he uses for politics that I think is apt in this context. In his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, he writes:

You see, [conservatives] love America the way a 4-year-old loves her Mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad, and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world.

I think I used to be an Apple conservative, and didn't know it. But now I'm an Apple liberal. I can fully appreciate and enjoy the things that the company does well and the ideals that I feel its brand represents, while being unafraid to criticize it when warranted.

I bring this up because lately I've had a lot of my own complaints about the Apple universe, and when I've aired them, I often get mock gasps of horror that — my god! — Paul is saying something bad about Apple!

But look, for a good, long stretch, you have to admit, Apple was nailing it every which way. Let's say, from the advent of the iPod, up until about when MobileMe came around, it was doing almost — almost! — everything right. The iTunes Store, the switch to Intel for Macs, OSes like Tiger and Snow Leopard, Garageband, the iPod nano, boom, boom, boom. And of course, the 2007 introduction of the iPhone, probably the most important piece of consumer technology since, what, the television?

And then they dropped MobileMe. Nice idea in theory, crummy and half-baked in practice, and that's when it was actually running on all cylinders. And who thought that this was a good name? “MobileMe”? Sounds like something Microsoft would have trotted out, and then, red-faced, tried to pretend they never came up with.

To my mind, Apple has gotten a little too Rube-Goldbergian for their own good. Yes, since MobileMe, they launched the iPad, which is a wonder and defines a whole new industry, but that is mainly an offshoot or cousin of the work already done on the iPhone.

Look what I'm talking about. iTunes, the desktop application, is a disaster. It'd be one thing if it was a niche, pros-only product, but it's the hub of every device they make, and need to be easily usable and understood by literally hundreds and hundreds of millions of people. It's crucial, and it's an unwieldy, slow, incomprehensible app that doesn't even work much of the time. I remarked on Twitter today that the iTunes.app of today is like if Devastator and Voltron had a baby, and then that baby had another baby with an enormous communist bureaucracy.

There's lots more. iCloud works successfully, syncing everything it should, and leaving be what it should leave be, what, most of the time? A lot of the time? iTunes Match is slow and buggy, and leaves you no control over how your device fills its storage. And there's the stitched leather in the apps. There's the shoddiness of Game Center. The Apple TV that sometimes turns on when I activate it. Maps and its missing or melted cities. An iPad mini released with an eye-scratching low-resolution display. Siri in perpetual beta. The awkward semi-melding of iOS into Mac OS X that dumbs down what should be a sleek, powerful operating system.

Apple IDs. For the love of all that's holy, Apple IDs.

The vast majority of these complaints, by the way, were very much already in or approaching crisis mode when The Steve was still corporeal on Earth (peace be upon him).

I don't want this to be so. I miss the Apple I was introduced to in 2003 and 2004 when I bought my first iPod and then my first Mac. They really did “just work” in ways that blew my mind after having been tinkering with Windows since the early 90s.

And Apple still makes the best hardware, hands down. The full-size iPads, the iPhone, the latest MacBook Pros and the MacBook Air are freaking revelations, sublimely designed and constructed objects of technology and art that make real Apple's mythos.

The software is getting creaky. The services are mixed at best, a disaster waiting to happen at worst.

I am encouraged by Tim Cook's recent moves to change up his executive team and make the Apple hive mind a little hive-ier. I suspect a glut of moving parts and protrusions are a big part of the problem, and I'd love to see a further simplification of the product line, and of the products themselves. When I moved away from Windows, I knew I was giving up a lot of control, but I did so knowing that I would have to “work” less to do what I wanted to do on my devices, because Apple would have made most of the right choices for me. I appreciated that.

I don't feel like they've been successful with that goal lately. When they've taken away control, I've not gotten simplicity in return, I've gotten frustration and roadblocks.

So forgive me, Steve, if I have offended your Industrial Designedness. But like the Al Franken liberal who loves his country like a grownup rather than like a toddler, I want my country, as it were, to live up to its mythos in all it does. That's the kind of partisan, the kind of fanboy, it should want.

11 thoughts on “On (Not) Loving Apple Like a 4-Year-Old”

  1. I don’t agree 100% with your assessment, but as an admitted Apple fanboy, you are much closer to the reality of Apple than most.
    Personally, I have (and had) a wide variety of hardware and software ranging from Apple products (desktops, iPods and iPads) to PCs (DOS/Windows 3.x thru Windows 7) to Android devices (tablets and phones) since the 80s. Apple (for me) has done a great job keeping Microsoft and Google on their toes but has been given a bit too much credit for innovating where they have mostly been tweaking or improving. Mostly that is a result of Apple’s true specialty…they have the best PR department on the planet.
    Like any of the other technology giants, I want to see Apple improve and continue to challenge the others. I want to continue to tell people that they should choose whichever product they want because, in reality, the differences are much smaller than the hype would suggest.

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  2. As soon as I read the first line, I thought, “Oh boy, here we go!”I’ll say this, that iPhone sure upped the competition. True, the cracks are showing.
    “And Apple still makes the best hardware, hands down. The full-size iPads, the iPhone, the latest MacBook Pros and the MacBook Air are freaking revelations, sublimely designed and constructed objects of technology and art that make real Apple’s mythos.”
    That’s it, the gloves are off! That’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it though? Some of us value the software that is important for productivity, and some people by electronics for the looks – and the more expensive, the better the look, in their eyes.
    Personally, I buy computers for their technical prowess, like being able to upgrade parts and software. I couldn’t care less what it looks like, as long as I can customize it to my exact liking.
    Must have been excruciating for Apple to go x86 LMFAO!
    Youtube Mac killed my inner child

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  3. But, Paul, you certainly have the proper attitude. There are the problems that you recognize, and accepting the reality of a situation is the only way to get better. The3 best graphics/flash developer I ever worked with only used Macs. Lot’s of them, really.

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  4. … the Apple I was introduced to in 2003 and 2004 …
    Oh look, another FNG has figured out Apple has some problems. Tee hee hee.
    Take it from someone whose first computer was an Apple II+ – the company’s culture has a wide streak of backstabbing, from within the executive suite to customer relations. From arbitrarily shutting down a big swathe of independent dealers to dumping over-hyped software with no replacements or up/side-grade path, Cupertino shows no loyalty and recognizes no obligations to its customer base or its own employees.
    Apple’s trademark is highly designed products with crucial hidden flaws (they still – after 24 years – have never gotten font management right on the Mac, just for one example). It’s just as well that they’re turning into a toy company: they just don’t have what it takes to produce reliable tools.

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  5. I’m also a long time Mac user, ’86 Mac Plus. I’ve been using Windows at work since 1994, and Bootcamp on my last two iMacs for games.
    I LOVE my iPhone, largely because the interface on celphones before Apple were god-awful, and the features replaced all my other old digital devices. I don’t hate android, but I’ve never used it and see no particular need to switch. I’m not terribly interested in the iPad.
    I’m much more ambivalent about desktops right now. I need “home workstation” desktops for games, 3d animation and video work, but the only models Apple really offers there are the top-end 27″ iMac (no internal expansion or upgrades, overkill screen, expensive), and the Mac Pro (2 years out of date). That lack of hardware selection, combined with the trend towards sealed hardware and walled garden software, has made me consider switching.
    Unless Apple releases a good replacement for the Mac Pro in 2013, I’ll probably jump to Windows or Linux.

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      1. Not really. The big issue for me is the graphics card. The Mac Mini doesn’t offer any graphic options outside the intel integrated GPU.
        Honestly, the iMac is pretty decent for me, but what I really want is one of the following:
        1) A CTO 21″ iMac with user-accessable RAM and the graphic card options of the 27″.
        2) Something a little more like the Cube, Shuttle, or HP’s Z1 AiO workstation, where I can get at and upgrade the video card.
        3)An Apple branded ATX Motherboard.
        Option 3 is ideal to me, but may never happen. Imagine If Apple released a single standard ATX or MiniATX board with the same ports you’d see on an iMac, Mac capable firmware, and a basic parts warrantee. Apple-certified dealers could then make Apple clones and offer warrantee based on those systems. Apple wouldn’t have to worry about licensing, because they’re just adding after-market parts to the Apple board. You couldn’t make a mini, laptop or iMac from an ATX board. Controlling the Motherboard options would eliminate a lot of the instability or support concerns with the OS developers, and could spark demand for more Mac-compatable components.
        That said, Apple hasn’t done that since the Apple I. So I’m not holding my breath.

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  6. Paul,
    sure individual apps/products have flaws (and others strengths) but my main complaint is the control-freakery, the intentional lock in and (as leftwingfox says) the walled garden.
    The idea that Apple can take a 30% cut of anything you want to purchase via an iPhone is an outrage.
    Remember the 1984 add? Apple was supposed to set you free, but know (along with Google and FaceBook) it has become a big brother.
    You allude to it a bit but can you address it head on?
    P.S.
    +1 for this: “They really did “just work” in ways that blew my mind after having been tinkering with Windows since the early 90s”
    +1 for this “The awkward semi-melding of iOS into Mac OS X that dumbs down what should be a sleek, powerful operating system.”

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  7. Every single time I have had the displeasure of using an Apple product, it has been incredibly, unusably obtuse. I have utterly no idea why anyone would want to use Apple anything besides that it looks pretty. I extra have utterly no idea what the hell an iPad (Or really any tablet for that matter) is good for.
    A lot of new computer technology, particularly the shit pioneered by Apple, is shiny, hyped-up garbage that looks really cool but ultimately does nothing worthwhile. Apple products do not in the least live up to their own hype, and only seem usable because a large portion of the population has Stockholm Syndrome. OS X might not have many viruses written for it, so you don’t really get them, but Windows doesn’t get viruses if you’re not an idiot either. Give me a nice, functional Windows OS that I have to remember not to click anything offering free penis pumps on over a sleek, shiny Mac OS that I need an Ancient Master of the Apple Way to teach me how to use and can’t do the tiniest goddamn smidgen of customization on without the Apple Cops shoving an iNightstick up my ass, and that I had to pay several times the actual value of the actual hardware it’s installed on to get because the case looks pretty any day of the week, month, year, century, millenium, or any other amount of time up to and including until the heat death of the universe.

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