Friday, June 24, 2011

Apple Products Suck

The iPod was a revolutionary design, when it first came out.  But the vaunted user interface breaks down when you put 12,000 songs on it.

Apple is a cult, let's face it.  People buy Apple stuff for the same reason they buy fancy cars - so they can flaunt the devices (which are very distinguishable, which is part of the deal) and say "I'm better than you!  I'm smarter than you!  I have an Apple!  And you have shit!"

Now, let's get one thing out of the way here, first.  Anytime you try to talk rationally about Apple products, some Apple nutjob will respond with, "Well, Microsoft Sucks!  You must like Vista and want to have Bill Gates' love child!  You're an idiot!"  Which of course plays into their "I'm better than you!" argument.

Yes, Microsoft products suck.  They are the General Motors of the computing industry, and that is not a compliment.   Their software is clunky, slow, bug-ridden, and badly designed.  And no one "loves" Vista or any M/S operating system.

But then again, professing emotional loyalty to equipment is, well, sort of stupid.  And people do it all the time, getting the Harley-Davidson logo tattooed on their arm, or even a Chevy or BMW logo.  They want to identify with a corporate brand, which is about the height of brainlessness anywhere.

As I noted before, while you may wear a hat that says "CHEVY" on it, the President of GM doesn't wear a hat that says "MERLE" (or whatever your name is) on it.  You may be a "fan" of a corporation (huh?) but they are not a fan of you.

And if you think people who walk around with NASCAR logos all over their clothes are dork-brains, let me clue you in - your fascination and loyalty to APPLE is no better.  And just as dork-brained.

You have to look at products not for the hype or the cache or the style statement, but for the functionality.  And in the case of APPLE, a lot of their products are very expensive, difficult to use, and well, really unnecessary.

Let's review their product line and see what I am talking about.

iPod - award winning interface that breaks down at 80GB or higher.  I have an iPod, because frankly, there are darn little other choices.  Like Microsoft's monopoly grip on the PC O/S, the iPod has a form-factor monopoly on the MP3 player.  If you want to have an MP3 player and have it interface with your car, your clock radio, your BOSE sound system, your new surround sound system, or whatever, you have to buy an iPod, as it has the ubiquitous iPod interface cable that has become an industry standard.

And a proprietary standard as well, which tells you about APPLE's real motivations - not to be an alternative to Microsoft's monopoly practices, but a wanna-be who would do the same thing, if they had the market share.  And in the case of the iPod, they do.  So don't think Apple is all sweetness and light - they want to be just like Microsoft, if they could.  In fact, their closed operating systems and machines are far more monopoly-oriented than Microsoft.

I have noted before, the market hates a monopoly or proprietary technology, and people will go to inferior technologies if they are available.  VHS trounced BetaMax, 35MM trounced Polaroid, PC trounced Mac.  All it would take is to come up with a public domain MP3 player design to kick the rug out from under the iPod monopoly.

The problem with the iPod is that if, like me, you put 12,000 songs on it, it becomes very, very hard to find anything.  You can create playlists, but that is very time consuming.  And unless you buy all your music from the iTunes store (another monopoly again) you have to put in and manually edit your song titles you burned from your CDs to make sure the titles, artists, and genres are correct (they rarely are).  And this is a chore for 12,000 songs.

Worse yet, the iTunes software is slow and clunky.  If you want to load your music on the iPod, expect to find 2, 3, 4, or more copies of the same song on there, again and again, or a whole host of "unknown artist" with "track 1" being the most popular hit.  I have to update my iPod, and I have been putting it off, again and again.   Last time, it took 12 hours to load all the music on there.  Ouch.

Throw in a proprietary music format, and a battery than can never be replaced unless you send it back to the factory, and well, you have a very difficult to use piece of machinery.

The vaunted "wheel" interface is sort of clunky, too.  You spin the wheel, trying to find a song, and if you want to go from A to Z, it stubbornly remains in list mode, scrolling through all 12,000 songs.  But as soon as you get CLOSE to the song you want to hear, it switches to alphanumeric mode, and zooms past it to Z.

It is a great product, but not as great as we all make it out to be.

iPad - great for amateurs, but for professional use, forgetaboutit!  I recently returned from the New York Botanical Gardens, where they were doing an exhibit on the gardens of Alhambra.  It was a great exhibit, but they sold the Sangria using "coupons" as in the Ron White Bit.  So I get in line to buy "coupons" and they are using an iPad with one of those stick card readers to accept money (even cash) to pay for coupons.

Needless to say, the line was around the block.  The iPad, as a cash register, might be useful if you are running a small gift shop and have one customer an hour.  But for real retail, it falls apart, as the various touch screens are too cumbersome to use in an intensive retail environment.  To top it off, it kept losing signal, so it wouldn't take credit cards.

Why someone at the Botanical Gardens felt this was necessary was beyond me.  They inserted an unnecessary gadget in the process and slowed everything down to a crawl.  As Ron White said, I don't like to party at any place where you can't just hand someone cash and they give you a beer.

And as we all learned, strippers don't take coupins!

The iPad, of course, is just a jumbo sized version of the iPhone, and such pads will be the wave of the future of course.  But like anything else, oftentimes these sorts of technologies become wildly inappropriate and often make things harder, not easier, as illustrated by the example above.  A cigar box with money in it would  be a simpler solution than selling beer with your iPad. 

But again, this is largely true only because the iPad is just a jumbo sized version of the....

iPhone - a gimmick that removes you from life.  Put down the iPhone and experience life! I was at the Post Office the other day and a fellow was dicking around with his iPhone.  "Are there two water parks on this island?  My iPhone lists two, and I can't find either one!"

Big city people.  You have to use your iPhone for everything.  I tried to explain to him that we live on an island that is seven miles long, has only ONE road, and of course, one water park.   Rather than try to find the simulacrum of the island on the iPhone, a better idea would be to pack the damn thing away and look out the window instead.  Even going the long way around, it would take 10 minutes, tops.

But that is the problem, technology can sometimes interfere with living.   This fellow was on vacation, but was convinced that the only way he could enjoy life, was through his iPhone.  And of course, these devices are prone to one problem - the same problem all computers have - and that is bad data.

You know by now that GPS systems are not Gods and are only as good as the database.  And on our island, the database is over a decade out of date.  Roads have been moved, cut off, eliminated, and you can spot the technically dependent people, as they are the ones lost all the time, scratching their heads and fussing with their iPhones.

Needless to day, when I suggested to the fellow that he put away the iPhone and just ask for directions, he got upset.  His device was the best thing!  And he would make it work, even if it took twice as long!  And of course, since the database was wrong, he would never get it to work.  Maybe Apple will build the second water park for him.

We recently visited another small island, Manhattan,  which although twice the size of our island, has slightly more than the 600 homes we have here.  And we were given a great tour by a friend of ours who admits that he is directionally challenged at times.  And we did very well - without an iPhone.  You see, in NYC, the streets are on a grid.  Get out of the subway and walk in one direction, and you quickly realize which direction is East side and which is West side.

And our minor detours were not lost time, but rather an opportunity to see stores and spots we never would have discovered if we have exact directions from an iPhone or other device.  Sometimes, spontaneity is a good thing.

While smart phones in general have their uses, the major feature of the iPhone is the "app" - and most apps are designed to sell you commercial services.  There are few apps designed with you in mind, but some new way to market to you.

And of course, these aren't cheap - to buy or to keep.  Most users spend $100 a month or more to be marketed to.  $1200 a year is not chump change, and with that money you could be well on the way to being a millionaire. could monitor your spending on MINT using your iPhone app, and convince yourself you are being financially astute.

iMac - the expensive computer than is expensive to fix - Mac people like to gloat about how much better they are than us poor PC people.  But in most cases, Mac people haven't a clue about how a computer works and that is why they bought a Mac - it has an interface a monkey could use.

Windows-based computers are no Swiss Picnic, but then again, they are cheap as dirt - like $500.  I have four of them, networked, so if one breaks, I can use another.  And yea, I back up all my data onto each one, so if one crashes, I just toss it and move to the next.

Macs, on the other hand, are staggeringly expensive in comparison - the result of their monopoly practice design.  And not only are they expensive to buy, they are expensive to maintain.

Consider the sad story of my Mac friend - whose hard drive crashed.  He mailed the computer to Apple, and $2000 later, they recovered all his digital photos.  I suggested a backup drive, which he finally did.

But that is the problem with Macs.  They break, you spend $330 just to sit down at the "Genius Bar" to get it fixed.  A PC, on the other hand, can be repaired by the user.  My Nvidia card crapped out (they overheat, which is a problem, but guess what video cards Mac uses?).  I bought a used on on eBay for $25 and slapped it in - back in business baby!

You kind of have to like a computer you can repair yourself - that is not in a sealed case.  My decade-old DELL laptop crapped out (drive died) and I bought a new drive on eBay for $40 - twice as large as the old one.  Put in the drive, re-loaded Windows and Voila!  Repaired laptop for $40.  A lot cheaper than the genius bar.  And let's face it, the people at Apple would just say "that computer is obsolete, just replace it".

If you know a little about computers, PCs are a lot cheaper and serviceable.  If you are computer illiterate, a Mac will pander to your ignorance, but at a very steep cost.

Ignorance is always a lot more expensive!

* * * 

So what does this all mean?  Well, Apple makes good products.  But for myself, I shy away from buying them, because they are too expensive and they are nearly impossible for users to maintain.  They cater to a crowd that is more style than substance and any product whose primary marketing point is style, has to be suspect.

Ask yourself why people were so obsessed with getting a white iPhone.  The whiteness of Apple products is one thing that sets them apart from other devices - and acts as a status symbol for the user.  People buy these for status, not practicality.

I will probably buy more Apple products - right now I am on eBay looking for some used iPod Nanos to put in my cars.  These can interface with the car stereo, through the proprietary Apple Interface, and I can put a subset of the 12,000 songs on each one (I keep my music files in WAV format, so I can convert them to Apple iTunes format on different computers and thus not be limited by Apple's stupid iTunes restrictions).

But beyond that, I don't see paying a super-premium for a computer or a cell phone, or a pad device that is harder to use, impossible to service, and basically is designed for people who hate computers.

UPDATE:  Janaury 2013:

I came across this quote on a technology blog which was criticizing Apple's new "Siri" digital assistant:

A long time ago, I made a compact with Apple. "You can control my entire technological life, from my computer to my phone to my stereo. I'll pay premium prices. I'll dive into your product ecosystem, and buy books and music and movies and apps from you. Even though they won't work on devices made by anybody else."

In exchange for surrendering control and submitting to that heftier price tag, I expect Apple products to simply work. That's all. If you use Apple products, I suspect you made a similar bargain.

Talk about making a Faustian bargain - a pact with the devil.   You basically hand over your wallet and also all control over technology in your life and then hope it all works out OK - leaving you with no options if it doesn't.

Sounds like a bad bargain to me.   The PC has its issues, but I have options at least - and control over my own destiny.

And for the cost of one iMac, I can afford to have a PC in every room of the house.   Perhaps that is why the Mac is so popular with childless couples and young 20-somethings.....

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