Is it too late to switch to the Mac?

After a quarter-century using Windows, I’m finally getting a Macintosh.

Wait, does “Mac” even stand for “Macintosh” anymore? Or is “Mac” more like “KFC”—an abbreviation that eventually supplanted the original name? You’ll have to forgive my ignorance; my last Apple computer was the venerable Apple IIGS of the late 80s and early 90s. Since my early teen-aged years, I’ve computed exclusively on Windows PCs—everything from beige, bargain-bin boxes to high-end portable workstations. I’ve never owned a Mac.

Oh, over the years, I’ve occasionally lusted after the Mac’s build quality, thriving indie software community, and visually consistent interface. And yes, as an iPhone owner, I’ve often wished for a computer that played nicer with my smartphone. But despite the Mac’s attractiveness, switching always seemed financially or professionally impractical.

As my career has shifted into more creative fields, however, the Mac has become a more reasonable option. Among machines geared for creative power users, Macs still cost more—but not dramatically more, relative to comparable PCs. My new 15″ MacBook Pro should arrive within the next week or two.

In some ways, it’s an odd time to shift platforms. I’m swimming against the current; bloggers, podcasters, and creative professionals have grown increasingly frustrated with Apple’s stewardship of the Mac. Some have openly speculated whether the Mac will eventually be deprecated in favor of an iOS-flavored replacement.

So, before making the leap, I considered the risks in terms of both software and hardware:

Switching to Mac software: am I moving to a ghost town?

Depending on who you ask, the Mac ecosystem has either reached maturity—or it’s gone completely stagnant. Whatever your perspective, it’s hard to deny that Apple invests more engineering resources in iOS than macOS these days. Yes, the Mac still gets new OS features (e.g. Mojave’s welcome Dark Mode), but these updates are relatively minor compared to those introduced for Apple’s flagship product, the iPhone.

Third-party software development on the Mac has slowed, too. The Mac App Store may not be a ghost town, per se, but it’s not exactly a bustling metropolis, either.

As a new switcher, the Mac’s decline as a developer platform bums me out. But it’s not all bad news. Most big software houses (including Adobe and Microsoft itself) support Mac and Windows with equal gusto. And the Mac remains a better platform than Windows for indie-developed productivity apps and creative utilities. UIKit’s upcoming release on the Mac (slated for 2019) will likely widen this gap, as devs port over projects that were previously iOS-only.

One particular indie app is almost enough, all by itself, to make me switch to Mac. I’m talking about Omnifocus, the to-do tracker that maps most neatly onto the Getting Things Done productivity method. The app really is that critical to my workflow these days. I’m pumped that I’ll soon be able to use it without hacks or workarounds.

Switching to Mac hardware: did I miss the “golden era”?

The Mac’s software ecosystem may be languishing, but it’s Mac hardware that has Apple bloggers most alarmed. Longtime developers are openly criticizing Apple’s irregular Mac releases. Last year, lamenting the state of the Mac Pro, Sebastiaan de With wrote,

[Apple] let the Mac languish, with a lack of updates to the hardware making it increasingly difficult to use the Mac for demanding work. …. And year after year, without any word from Apple, the professional desktop Macs got older without updates. Four years passed. Four years. An eternity and a half in computers. Creatives started to leave. Most of my friends that are in 3D, film and other creative industries have switched to PCs. And more continue to leave.

The Mac laptops haven’t escaped criticism, either. Power users frequently deride the current Macbook Pros for their shallow, unreliable keyboards and irregular update cadence.

I share their worries. I’ve only typed on the new “butterfly ”keyboard style once or twice (in Apple retail stores), but I’m not a fan of its “clicky” (rather than “clacky”) feel. Plus, I find the Touch Bar (Apple’s little-loved touchscreen function row) distracting and somewhat pointless. Finally, I resent the fact that my “new” machine will have year-old internals. But I don’t have much of a choice—I need a machine now, not “whenever Apple gets around to refreshing its laptop lineup.”


Despite all the concerns and caveats, I’m excited. My very first computing experiences as a kid happened on Apple-designed machines. Adopting the Mac now, thirty-odd years later, feels like coming home.

I’m just hoping the house doesn’t come down around me. ■

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No place for the iPad?

Yesterday, Apple released its second quarter earnings, blowing away most analysts’ predictions with record, unprecedented iPhone sales. News about the iPad was less stellar, however. Year-over-year, sales of Apple’s tablet continue to decline: from 19.5 million sold in Q2 2013 to 16.4 million in Q2 2014 to 12.6 million this past quarter.

Still, Apple CEO Tim Cook waxed optimistic about the iPad during the earnings call:

When you look at the underlying data, it makes you feel a lot better than the sales do. Things like first-time buyer rates; the latest numbers from the U.S. are like around 40 percent, and when you look at China, they’re almost 70 percent. These numbers are not numbers you would get if the market were saturated.[1]

Cook also cited the iPad’s stellar “customer sat” numbers, along with its potential for growth in the enterprise.

No one’s in a better position to predict the iPad’s future than Tim Cook. He has all the data, and he’s widely-acknowledged as an operations genius. Still, sales are obviously a critically important metric. The simple truth? The iPad—along with entire tablet market—has stalled. Fewer and fewer iPads are being sold, when the world had supposedly entered the “post-PC” era. That drop-off matters. It means something.

Tellingly, Cook acknowledged that the success of Apple’s other products has contributed to the iPad’s downturn. “We’re clearly seeing cannibalization from iPhone and, on the other side, from the Mac,” he confessed.[1]

Here’s the way I’d frame that: the iPad has literally lost its place in users’ lives. It’s not the best computer for any context.

On the one hand, I can use the tablet as a PC replacement. Pair it with a wireless keyboard, and it makes a servicable blogging or email machine. But a laptop does that job faster, more comfortably and more efficiently.

Similarly, while I could use the iPad on the couch or in bed, the smartphone’s a better fit for that use case. When I’m reclining, I need a light, one-handable device; the iPad’s simply too bulky to hold while lying down. And as smartphones have grown in size, they’ve minimized the iPad’s one major advantage: screen size.

So the iPad’s being squeezed on both ends: traditional PCs make better workhorses, and large-screened smartphones make better casual handhelds. Unless something changes dramatically, I can’t justify upgrading my iPad Air 2 when it reaches the end of its life. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an amazing machine—a marvel, like something straight out of science fiction.

But I almost never use it.

  1. Tim Cook, in Apple’s Q2 2015 earnings call. Transcribed by Jason Snell.

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iPad ergonomics

iPad ergonomics
Top half courtesy of Safety & Health, University of Western Australia. Via Sciblogs. Bottom half courtesy Peter Belanger/Macworld.

As the iPad cannibalizes the traditional PC market, more knowledge workers are relying on Apple’s tablet for getting things done. One unfortunate side effect of a tablet-based workstation? Deplorable ergonomics.

Most ergonomic guides recommend you mount your monitor at (or just below) eye level. That’s tough to do with iPad docks currently available.

On the other hand, you could argue that the iPad is ergonomically superior to laptops. With the iPad, it’s at least theoretically possible to raise the screen higher (even if few people do it). A laptop locks the screen at keyboard height.