Longtime Apple-watching pundit and fan Andy Ihnatko made an interesting observation last week. Ihnatko, in the third installment of a three-part chronicle and explanation of how and why he came to abandon the iPhone after five years usership, replacing it with a Samsung Galaxy S III running Google’s Android OS, says that the iPhone and its iOS ecosystem simply no longer suit him, noting that over the past ten years, Apple’s been moving its product and development focus farther and farther away from the traditional Apple user and fan, and toward a demographic that for example doesn’t care that it just bought a $1300 desktop Mac (or for that matter a $1,500 laptop) whose RAM and hard drive can’t be upgraded.
“With every move and every update,” Ihnatko says, “Apple increases the appeal of its products to mall consumers. These consumers want the document they created on their notebooks to miraculously show up on their desktops and their phones as well. They don’t care about sharing it with others. They want desktops that are sleek and beautiful. They’ll probably buy new ones before they’ll consider upgrading the computers they already own. They don’t want to have to figure out why a feature that works with 29 of the apps they’ve installed doesn’t work with the other six; they’d rather do without that feature entirely, no matter how powerful it is.”
What appeals to this new customer cohort Apple is courting, he says, are features like iCloud, the 2012 iMac, and having a simple mechanism for sharing photos to Facebook and Twitter.
It’s hard to gainsay that this strategic marketing shift has been working out well for Apple. If you count full-size tablets as PCs, which market research firm Canalys does — unlike most of its competitors — one in six PCs that shipped in Q4 2012 worldwide was an iPad, with tablets accounting for more than a third of total PC sales.
Now, not all iPad users are “mall consumers.” I’m a greybeard Apple user veteran (literally and figuratively) and while I’m composing this column on an iPad right now, as I noted here last week, it’s not without frequently wondering whether I would be more satisfied and less frustrated using a Microsoft Surface or even an Android tablet.
Andy Ihnatko certainly makes the Android option sound intriguing. He says he’s still an Apple fan, although based on his profuse praise for the Android platform and the flexible versatility it enables, you could be forgiven for inferring that his profession of Apple fandom is largely sentimental.
Andy Ihnatko is of course not the only high-profile “Apple person” to defect to Andoid or other non-Apple platform. Guy Kawasaki — an Apple employee back in 1984 when the company rolled out the original Macintosh, and Apple’s official evangelist during the rough patch the company weathered in the mid to late ’90s, switched to Android about a year ago, and has become a diehard Android advocate, who no longer uses any iOS products at all — unlike Andy Ihnatko, who still has an iPad. Samsung sponsored Kawasaki’s recent book: “What The Plus!: Google for the Rest of Us”, and last month he accepted an advisory role at Google-owned Motorola, rumored to be working on a mysterious iPhone challenger tentatively code-named “X Phone.”
Kawasaki, who declares in his latest book ‘APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur How to Publish a Book,’ that “real men use Android,” told ReadWrite Mobile’s editor-in-chief Dan Lyons that he “fell in love with Android on the smartphone, and then I got a Nexus 7 and started using Android on the tablet as well. To me the great irony is that Apple’s slogan was ‘Think Different,’ but today if you think different you’re looking at Android.” He insists that he switched simply and honestly because he just thinks Android is better.
“Another thing I like with Android,” Kawasaki continued, “is they don’t have some stupid proprietary cable. I can go to any hotel front desk and if I’ve forgotten my cable they always have a micro-USB around. I can use my Nexus 7 and it’s on the same cable as my Samsung Galaxy S3. What a concept! A standard cable.” Many iPhone and iPad users, pining wistfully for open connectivity, can identify with that sentiment.
A sizeable cohort of longtime Mac users are staying aboard for now, but resisting Apple’s morph into a mass-market consumer entertainment company in other ways, for example foot-dragging Apple’s imposed lockout in OS X 10.7 Lion and later of applications containing Power PC code. According to NetApplications, 28.2 percent of Mac-based browsing sessions are still on machines running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard — the last OS X version that supports Power PC applications via Rosetta emulation. Indeed, more than a few veteran Mac-heads are still running actual Power PC hardware under OS X 10.5 Leopard or OS X 10.4 Tiger. How long these folks (I’m one of them on two machines) can continue shunning Apple’s imposed obsolescence, and what proportion remain loyal to the Apple platform when the day inevitably arrives that stuff wears out or Internet support ends, remains to be seen.
One of the things I loved about the Mac platform when I switched to using it in 1992 was how it made doing the things I wanted to do on computers so much easier and more enjoyable, with the hardware and software both staying out of my way to an amazing degree.
I can do some of the same sort of stuff 21 years later on the iPad, but one is constantly conscious of hardware and software limitations inhibiting workflow and requiring clumsy, kludgy workarounds — things like the lack of user access to the file system, the inability of apps to talk to each other and share files, and total lack of support for real multitasking, all conspire to make getting even simple things done an exercise in frustration.
In Android, Andy Ihnatko notes, apps hand off to one another. In Apple’s iOS, they struggle to escape their sandboxes. For production oriented users, much of working with computers involves moving information between multiple apps. Ihnatko observes that most of the things he does even with with a smartphone involve using one app to obtain a scrap of data, pushing it to another app to work on it a bit, then sending or sharing it using a third app. Likewise for many of us using iPad, and he observes that almost anything that involves one app working with another app is much, much easier on an Android device than on an iOS device.
Ihnatko says his heart breaks a little whenever he tries to do these sorts of things on his iPad, finding himself wishing he had encountered that page while on his Android device, where the task would be simple, instead of the iPad, where it’s needlessly difficult.
And unfortunately a similar dynamic is being gradually introduced to OS X, with crossover iOSsification touches like dumbing down the user interface with features like the application switcher, hiding access to the system and user Libraries, more emphasis on full screen application views, shrunken or gone missing scroll bars, and elimination of scroll bar arrow buttons. How long will it be before more limits on file system access are imposed?
It will be very interesting to see what changes are made in OS X 10.9 (Lynx?), and if any productivity-improving advances are made in iOS 7 later this year.