Not just hate: despise.
Actually, I can remember an even stronger word from SAT vocab books. Here it is: execrate – a word for what you feel when someone you trusted, even loved, has betrayed you profoundly.
Until now, hating Apple was my deep, dark secret. The rest of the world seems to be in love. You’re supposed to love Apple these days. It’s a requirement. I checked with the media.
In my case, admitting all this is a professional liability. I’m a career technology consultant; I’m supposed to be impartial. “Technology agnostic” is what we call it in the biz. But even we professionals can have our emotional baggage.
It all started in 1984, in high school, when I got my first Mac. How I loved that little machine, with its boxy body, post-card-sized screen, and pebbly, putty-colored skin. Suddenly computers, which had previously seemed so cold and alien, were cute, approachable, even vaguely human. Owning a 1984 Mac was like having your own personal R2D2.
Over the next ten years, I would own a grand total of six.
Then Apple hit the skids. I felt like the child of parents making really bad decisions and being stubborn about them. Apple’s addiction to producing hardware married to an operating system put the company at the competitive mercy of the Evil Windows Borg. Soon, Apples were disappearing and you could not get along in any corporation unless you learned Windows.
Windows? Come on! Why couldn’t the anti-trust judges see through the cheap ruse of Microsoft having ripped off the Macintosh OS? And why didn’t Apple do something? Any screenwriter worth his salt could have easily dictated the most righteous plot: Underdog Apple would retaliate by concocting a brilliant plan to best the borg beast. But somehow Apple missed that storyline.
The switch to Windows was painful. How painful? Remember Windows 3.0? The only thing worse than that Frankenstein mashup of DOS and a graphical user interface was Windows 95. You had to install thirteen disks—and a lot of the time the process would fail on disk twelve and a half. And how about the Windows mouse? “Right click”? What the hell is a right click? Then all the close buttons were in the wrong place. I had to re-learn file naming: Eight plus three. No spaces. No special characters. File extensions. File extensions were very important. For me, that was the absolute limit. If, as we were constantly being reminded, these new machines were as powerful as the computer that got us to the moon, why couldn’t it tell the difference between a document and a bitmap without my help?
The patient developers at the educational software company where I worked helped me through my grief. There would no longer be open-Apple anything. Fumbling along in Windows with my pitiful Mac skills, I felt like a city slicker recruited to work on a hardscrabble dude ranch. Eventually, though, the saddle sores went away. I even got to like it. What choice did I have? It must be said: Windows was there for me, like the guy who shows up after you’ve been dumped.
Imagine my surprise and pique when Apple came roaring back with those pelvis-gyrating iPod commercials. It was sort of like the storyline I had hoped for all along—but too little, too late. The iPod was “revolutionary”! An MP3 player? Revolutionary? Hadn’t they been around for like 10 years already? Oh well, okay. The scroll wheel was cool.
For support of my Apple cynicism, I had always turned to the techies and developers among my colleagues. Software guys, hardcore geeks who prefer their gadgets and programs complicated, were the most stalwart of Apple critics—that is, until the oughties. Now they wanted Macs, too! They said the operating system was better. Well, duh. Of course it is. We’re talking Apple here. But that is so not the point. The point is that when the ex-boyfriend shows up, glamorous and gym-pumped with a rippling six-pack, you are supposed to defend Mr. Reliable, the one who picked you up off the floor when you were dumped.
But Apple was back and it was hip and “subversive.” But are you really “subversive” if you have high price tags, slick commercials, retail outlets that look like futuristic movie sets, and fawning media? I sure hope the folks responsible for the Apple 1984 commercial—the one that positioned the original Mac against Orwellian Windows—are getting good residuals on this one, because the image they invented stuck but good. These days, Apple is no more “alternative” than Target or Walmart. Yet we think they are. How Orwellian is that?
As long as I’m taking off the gloves here, let’s talk Apple’s reputation for quality. Recently, they can’t get something as simple as an antenna right. Antenna technology—how long has that been around? I seem to recall a guy named Marconi. Moreover: far from the company’s crunchy, free-thinking reputation, Apple is now the purveyor of one of the most closed and proprietary systems in the modern technology landscape.
And then there’s the way Apple has taken on the Kindle. Opening the Amazon box containing my first Kindle took me right back to 1984, down to the putty-colored plastic and smack-your-head simplicity. The Kindle does one thing and it does it right—in black and white, just like the Mac. Because, if we’re honest here, what the Mac did—what it really did—was to make word processing simple and available to the masses. For my money, the Kindle is the real keeper of the 1984 flame. And Apple has gone up against it with its ridiculous, heavy, status-symbol iPad. Incidentally, anyone who says he can type on the on-screen iPad keyboard is lying.
If you criticize Apple these days, you are regarded as the worst of bad sports. You are branded as someone who just doesn’t get the cultural Zeitgeist, the profound wonderfulness that is Apple. The business media constantly cries “buy-buy-buy.” They don’t even question the fact that the whole company seems to be poised on the shoulders of one (albeit brilliant, and visionary, but still singular) guy. If GM’s future hinged on such a strategy, would the press be so supportive?
Every Apple move screams “over-confidence,” from its commercials to the premature release of the iPhone 4. Yet it seems Apple can do no wrong. I remember a time when the company displayed similar hubris. And that storyline ended badly.
Anna Murray is a principal in technology-consulting firm tmg-e*media, inc. (www.tmg-emedia.com), and currently serving as Acting CIO of Time Out New York.