In 2007, I wrote a column entitled “I hate Macs.” I call it a column. It was actually an unbroken 900-word anti-Apple screed. Macs, I claimed, were “glorified Fisher-Price activity centers for adults; computers for scaredy-cats too nervous about learning how proper computers work.” In 2009, I complained again: “The better-designed and more ubiquitous they become, the more I dislike them. . . I don’t care if every Mac product comes with a magic button on the side that makes it piddle gold coins and resurrect the dead. I’m not buying one, so shut up and go home.”
The lady doth protest too much. A few weeks later, I buckled and bought an iPhone. And you know what? It felt good. I was hooked within minutes of switching it on and sliding those dinky little icons around the screen. This was my gateway drug. Before long, I was also toting an iPad. And after that, a Macbook. All the stuff people said about how Macs were just better, about them being a joy to use. . . It was true, all of it. They make you feel good, Apple products. The little touches: the rounded corners, the strokable screens, the satisfying clunk as you fold the Macbook shut – it’s serene. Untroubled. Like being on Valium.
Until that is, you try to do something Apple doesn’t want you to do. At which point you realize your shiny chum isn’t on your side. It doesn’t even understand sides. Only Apple: always Apple. Here’s a familiar, mundane scenario: you’ve got an iPhone with loads of music on it. And you’ve got a laptop with a new album on it. You want to put the new album on your phone. But you can’t hook them up and simply drag-and-drop the files like you could with, ooh, almost any other device. Instead, Apple insists you go through iTunes.
Microsoft gets a lot of stick for producing clunky software. But even during the dark days of the animated paperclip or the infuriating “.docx“ Word extension, they never shat out anything as abominable as iTunes – a hideous binary turd that transforms the sparkling world of music and entertainment into a stark, unintuitive spreadsheet.
Plug your old Apple iPhone into your new Apple Macbook for the first time, and because the two machines haven’t been formally introduced, iTunes will babble about “syncing“ one with the other. It claims it simply MUST delete everything from the old phone before putting any new stuff on it. Why? It won’t tell you. It‘ll just cheerfully ask if you want to proceed, like an upbeat robot butler that can’t understand why you’re crying.
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No one uses terms like “sync“ in real life. Not even C3PO. If I sync my DVD collection with yours, will I end up with one, two, or no copies of Santa Claus the Movie? It’s like trying to work out the consequences of time travel, but less fun, and with absolutely no chance of being adapted into a successful screenplay. Apple’s “sync“ bullshit is a deception that pretends to make your life easier, when it’s actually all about wresting control from you. If you could freely transfer any file you wanted onto your gadget, Apple might conceivably lose out on a few molecules of gold. So rather than risk that they’ll choose – every single time – to restrict your options, without so much as blinking Reality Crazy.
Sure, you can get around the irritating sync issue, but doing so requires a degree of faff and brainwork, like solving the famous logic problem about ferrying a load of foxes and chickens across a river without it all ending in feathers and death. And even if you find it easy, it’s a problem Apple doesn’t want you to solve. They want you to give up and go back to dumbly stroking that shiny screen, pausing intermittently to wipe the drool from your chin.
Apple continually attempts to scrape even more money from anything conceivably pass through iTunes‘ tight, leathery anus. Take ebooks. Apple’s own iBook reader app may be nauseatingly pretty. Still, it’s not a patch on Amazon’s Kindle, which, far from being just a standalone machine, is a surprisingly nifty cross-platform “cloud“ system that lets you read books on various devices, including the iPhone and iPad. It even remembers what page you were on, regardless of whichever machine you were reading it on last. (It does that by “syncing“ – but we’ll forgive it that, because a) it happens seamlessly, and b) you never, ever lose any of your purchases.)
Now Apple, typically, is no longer content to let people read Kindle books on their iPhones and iPads without muscling in on some of that money themselves. So they’ve changed their rules in a bid to force Amazon (and anyone else) to provide in-app purchases for their products. In practice, this dull sentence means that Apple wants a 30% cut each time a Kindle user buys a book from within the iPhone Kindle app.
So 30% less for authors and publishers, and 30% more for the world’s second-largest company. And that’s assuming they’ll let any old book pass through the App Store: given their track record, chances are they’ll refuse to process anything they consider objectionable. Still, if they start banning books, never mind. Winnie the Pooh looks great on the iPad.
Every Apple commercial makes a huge play of how user-friendly their devices are. But it’s a superficial friendship. To Apple, your nothing. They won’t even give you a power lead long enough to use your phone while it’s on a charge, so if it rings, you have to crawl around on your hands and knees, like a dog. So I no longer hate Apple products. In fact, I use them every day. But I never feel like I own them. More like I’m renting them from Skynet.