Wednesday, March 07, 2012

[Tech, Rant] One Bad Apple

One Bad Apple: I have worked diligently to keep myself free of Apple products and the entire ecosystem. This has not been an arbitrary or capricious act of defiance. I am not a big fan of Apple interface designs. They are visually and stylistically striking, but below the surface they strike me as very rigid and limited. For example, iTunes Music Store is a complete disaster. It is so busy putting flashy, resource hogging graphics in my face that I can't efficiently find the music I want. I buy MP3s almost exclusively from Amazon.

(As a side note, this problem is not exclusive to Apple, but the entire internet. You land on a page and it takes forever to load because it's trying to pick up 500k of graphic ads from 10 different sites while running God-only-knows what javascripts in the background, when the only thing valuable to you is the 5k of text information that you have to search to find because it is swamped by the bling. Infuriating. Notice that apart from my books there are no graphics on this site. There's a reason for that.)

I also had a bad experience with the one Apple laptop I ever owned. The CMOS went south after about a year. I was able to diagnose this myself just from investigating things on the web. When I brought it in for repair, I informed the asshat techs of this but they didn't listen to me and claimed to fix it by re-installing the OS (or however they described it) and charged me $50. Naturally it went dead again a couple of days later because IT WAS A CMOS ISSUE. I'm still bitter about this.

Perhaps most importantly I never got used to Apple's way of doing things. Perfect example: Most of what I do is work with text in one way or another. In Windows you have both a backspace key and a delete key. The backspace key does what you would expect: removes the character to the left of the cursor. The delete key removes the character to the right of the cursor. There is simply no way I am going to be able to survive in the world without these functions. Well, on Macs, the delete key operates like the Windows backspace key, which is a minor issue, but there is no key that operates like the Windows delete key. There is a keystroke combination that does, but keystroke combos are a pain and should only be used for oddball tasks, not basic in-line editing. Now I know there are machinations that allow you to get around this somehow (maybe keyboard remapping of some sort) but why make me go to the trouble? Or more properly worded, why would I pay a premium for a Mac to go to the trouble. This, like the one-button mouse, is just the Apple Way, and if you are one of the faithful, it is axiomatically correct. Except it's not, is it?

Tangentially, I'm not one of those dirty hippies who goes around seeing corrupt corporate evil everywhere, but Apple is pretty cutthroat in some of the legal battles they engage in, even with small time violations of perceived property rights. There is clearly the underlying, unspoken belief in that company that you, the customer, must yield to them for your own good.

But there is simply no denying the success they have had. Back in 1999 I got into a debate on some internet board (back when I was idiot enough to do that sort of thing) and argued that Apple would be out of business in five years. That was before the iPod was even a gleam in Steve's eye, so I feel justified in my prediction. I mean, who knew? Now they are looking at something like trillion dollar market cap. It's making them harder to ignore.

At the moment, I can easily ignore iTunes. Like I said, I get my music and other media from Amazon. But what if iTunes e-books catch on. Right now my books are available as e-books on Kindle only. Will I be forced to accept iTunes at some point?

For now my Zune players are serving me well. I have a 1st gen 30 gig that holds pretty much my entire music collection, and a 2nd gen 8 gig that I use solely for running. Both have been solid, but they won't last forever, and I do lose out on beneficial recent developments in battery life. Zune players have been discontinued. If one or both fail, will I have recourse besides the iPod? I suppose I could load stuff on my Windows Phone, but it couldn't hold my entire music collection, which is a luxury I appreciate when travelling. I would also be hesitant to use my phone as a workout aid. It's one thing to sweat into a hundred dollar MP3 player. It's another to sweat into a $400 phone.

The iPad has no viable competitors at the moment. For now, I have no need but I can see the attraction of them and they are starting to crop up at meetings at work. Hmmm.

I feel fairly safe on the phone and laptop front. I'm really liking my Windows Phone. And Windows 8 is coming for laptops, if I ever feel the need to replace my beat up old HP. (Microsoft's plan to keep Windows and Windows Phone tightly locked is looking like it might pay off.)

But Apple still looms large, casting a giant shadow over my technological needs. It's getting harder, not easier, to stay clean.

(At the WSJ, a recent op-ed on Apple as an investment has some simlar sentiments.)