It 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.