I’ve been in denial for a while, but it hit me so hard yesterday that I finally have to admit it: I’m an Apple fanboy. Once you hear my story, you’ll agree that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
My first job out of college was as a reporter for a small California newspaper company in the late 1980s. It was a Mac shop. All the reporters had regular Macs (tiny screens, massive keys on the keyboard with like an inch of key travel). But the editors used what at the time were “giant” screens to do page layout (in hindsight, they were probably only 17-inch screens, or something like that). When I got promoted to managing editor, I was thrilled because that meant I got to do the page layout and use the big screens.
The year was 1990. I used a DOS PC at home, and a Mac at work. I loved journalism, especially the writing of opinion columns. But I didn’t really give a flying rat’s behind about local NIMBY politics. I loved computers. So I decided to seek employment in the growing field of computer magazines.
For those of you under the age of 25, a magazine is a blog made out of trees
Anyway, I landed a job as managing editor at a tiny startup publication called Windows & OS/2 Magazine. At least, that’s what it was called for the third issue. The second issue had been called OS/2 and Windows Magazine. The first issue was called OS/2 Magazine. As you might have guessed, the “GUI” scene for DOS-based PCs was in something of a transition period.
Windows was exploding in users, heading by 1991 for the 4-million user mark, which drove big interest in our little magazine. So we were acquired by New York-based CMP Media, and relaunched the publication as Windows Magazine.
It’s hard to imagine now, but PC magazines were huge in the 1990s. Our own editorial staff grew from 7 people to 62. Circulation rose from 75,000 to 840,000. Our largest issue topped out at 420 pages.
During the 1990s, the only time I saw a Mac was whenever I ventured into the design and production ghetto of our editorial offices. That’s right: Windows Magazine was designed and laid out on Macs.
Besides that, I was deep, deep in the world of Windows. I wrote a monthly opinion column, as well as reviews and “how-to” articles about Windows. During my time at Windows Magazine, I probably wrote maybe 1,000 “tips” for tweaking, optimizing and surviving Windows. My talks and panel participation at trade shows was all about Windows. Bill Gates even quoted me in one of his books. I was about as much of a “Windows guy” as you could get.
As the Internet began devouring the print computer magazine business, I left in 1999 to help launch a mobile startup company that also had a strong editorial component, which was unceremoniously crushed when the dot com bubble burst in 2000. After consulting for a while, and editing an IT-focused publication, I started writing opinion columns and blog posts full time. Still almost entirely focused on Windows, mobile computing and consumer electronics.
Many Windows users don’t switch to Mac because they have an outdated belief that application choice is too limited and that Macs are too expensive. That might have been true for a lot of people in the 1990s. But nowadays, people mostly use browsers, e-mail, office applications and a few other common applications that are widely available. And Macs aren’t that expensive. PCs look cheap when you go to the Dell web site and see the “Starting at….” Price. But once you add the amount of RAM you’ll need, a decent hard drive, upgrade the processor to something better and pick the bigger monitor, you’re probably going to pay at least as much as a comparable Mac.
In my own case, I never really considered switching to Macs, or even using them part time, for three reasons.
First, I’m lazy. My skills, knowledge and habits around Windows were so deeply ingrained that the idea of learning how to use a Mac sounded like a chore.
Second, while I can fix a Windows PC no matter what’s wrong with it, I wouldn’t know what to do if something broke on a Mac. I didn’t like the idea of hauling the thing down to an Apple store and throwing myself at the mercy of some “Genius.”
Third, I had encountered so many hardcore fanboy haters in my career – responding to my various columns with death threats, crazy, over-the-top personal attacks and aggressive libel aimed at damaging my reputation by raising questions about my professional integrity – that I just had a bad feeling about joining the “other side.” Ninety-nine percent of Apple fans are very nice. But, man, the insanely insane hardcore fringe is really something special.
The Gateway Drugs
After trying a long list of horrible music players, I started buying iPods for myself and my kids maybe five or six years ago. They made me an Apple customer for the first time in my life. They gave me a reason to spend time in Apple stores and the Apple web site, both of which I found appealing.
The year 2007 was a milestone in the history of computing. That year, Microsoft shipped the first-ever major multi-touch product, the Surface table. Steve Jobs announced the iPhone early in the year, and Apple shipped it that summer.
I’m a huge fan of MPG computing (for multi-touch, physics and gestures). I thought both Microsoft and Apple would then aggressively pursue MPG systems, Apple from the bottom up, and Microsoft from the top down. But only Apple did so. Microsoft slept.
Although I was floored by the elegance and design discipline of the first iPhone, I didn’t buy one. I was enamored at the time with my BlackBerry Pearl, mainly because of its size (similar to a box of Chiclets), voice quality (superior to any iPhone), battery life (a week on a charge) and laptop tethering, a feature I used heavily on business trips.
A year later, Apple rolled out apps for the iPhone, and the App Store. I was completely floored by the combination of iPhone user interface, App Store experience and the endless possibilities of all those apps. I bought one, loved it, and in fact have upgraded to every new version of the iPhone.
The perfect out-of-box experience with the iPhone, the elegance of the whole experience of using an iPhone, re-set my expectations for how consumer electronics and computers should function. I started looking at the out-of-box experience of buying a Windows PC with a new contempt. The crapware. The stickers. The anti-virus software problem where the cure is worse than the disease. The flimsy hardware. It’s not so much that I despised Windows PCs, but that it felt like Microsoft and the PC makers despised them, like they all have no respect for their own platform.
When the iPad came out – forget it. I did something I never thought I’d do. I actually waited in line for hours outside the Apple store. This product was the biggest consumer electronics home run I’d ever seen in my long career of covering the industry. Apple actually came out with a product that’s so good that it can’t even be copied or emulated to any significant degree. Even now, well over a year since it shipped, there is still no such thing as a “touch tablet market.” There is only the iPad, and a smattering of irrelevant failures. I won’t go on about the iPad – my views on it are well known from the many columns and blog posts I’ve written about it. The iPad = good.
Then, about three weeks ago, something happened that altered my worldview a bit. My main PC, a Sony VAIO laptop, burned itself out. Literally. It overheated, despite a fan that sounded like a jet engine. It still works, but can’t connect to the Internet. Normally, I would have trouble-shooted the problem, fixed it or bought a new laptop. I also have older PCs around that I could use. But this time, my son was about to leave on a very long trip abroad and offered to let me use his 27-inch iMac. I was too busy to deal with the Sony, so I just used the Mac.
I’ve found it so easy and enjoyable to use – beautiful screen, silent operation, incredibly elegant industrial design, etc., etc., — that I haven’t even bothered to troubleshoot the laptop. I don’t even want to look at it.
I’m familiar with basic Mac keystrokes and the keyboard from the iPad. I have learned to trust and admire Apple from my experiences with the iPhone and iPad. In other words, I’ve been primed and conditioned for years to switch to a Mac by Apple’s mobile gateway drugs.
I went ahead and bought it from my son, who will get the new hotness upon his return. I’m pretty sure my own next purchase will be a MacBook Air.
Even after all this, I was in denial. Until yesterday.
I was at a restaurant next door to an Apple store, and decided to drop in and look around. I was fondling the iPod nanos and pondering the selection of wristwatch bands, and decided on the spot to start wearing an iPod as a watch. After all, it made sense because I’m such a podcast freak, and also want to use the pedometer function to measure long hikes. It’s practical! Yeah, that’s it. Practical.
Then it hit me: I’m not only an Apple fanboy, I’m a pathetically devoted one. I’ve got the latest iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iMac and now I’m fricken wearing an iPod wristwatch? Wow.
Other companies could do extraordinary things in the future. Apple could falter. If all that happens, I’ll be happy to switch again. I have no unreasonable loyalty to Apple. I’m just a satisfied customer.
But my story should be a cautionary tale for the entire industry. At this particular moment, Apple has struck upon a devastating strategy for taking control of the consumer electronics industry and mainstream computing: Build simple, elegant, functional and beautiful devices at all points in the consumer electronics chain. The cheap little devices like iPods and iPhones charm people, and build trust and affinity for Apple, predisposing them to choose Apple for the bigger-ticket items.
If Apple can turn the editor of Windows Magazine into a fanboy, no one is safe.