San Luis Obispo’s Apple Store looks like it swaggered in from Manhattan or Union Square to see the sights, then decided it liked the low-key vibe and settled down on the corner of Higuera and Morro streets to stay a while. All chrome and glass and gleaming white, it cuts an aggressively stylish figure among the earth tones and awnings, the brick and the clapboard and the wrought iron railings. A flock of red-shirted employees flit like predatory cardinals within its walls. It’s a store that proclaims loudly, “Here there be neither artisanal soaps nor craft beer with a side of buffalo wings, but Technological Lifestyle!”
Until recently I’d never had reason to cross its shiny threshold. Through the years I’ve worked with a variety of computers and attendant operating systems, from Epson and CP/M and VAX/VMS to MS-DOS and then Windows and all the flavors of UNIX on Suns and HP Indigos and even on Steve Jobs’ short-lived NeXTs. But my single brush with Apple came in the mid 1990s, when the multimedia consulting company I worked for at the time owned a single Macintosh computer. Back then the machine was considered inordinately pricey compared to Windows boxes, with an unpleasant development environment and crushingly expensive licensing fees, and the software engineers passed it around with all the joie de vivre of a sexually transmitted disease.
And once I was seduced by the likes of Myst and Quake and Hexen into the world of video games, I settled on Windows and never looked back. Sure, writing friends kept telling me that essential tools like Scrivener and Aeon Timeline had deep roots in Apple’s loamy soil, but both companies had bowed to the times and developed Windows ports that were almost as good as their cousins.
So what changed? Smartphones initially, I suppose. Microsoft hadn’t even begun contemplating the cellular market when my husband and I first took the plunge. Apple’s trendy iPhone was still very Apple in its price point and we had just begun to dip our toes into the Googleverse, so Android it was. In a short time I grew tied ever more tightly to the Google ecosystem. Mail was a no brainer. Not having to install and configure Outlook on every damned device I wanted to read email on? Sign me up! I had sneered at Google’s office productivity suite, so feature poor compared to Microsoft Office, but even with the casual use Docs and Sheets got when I was away from my computers I found myself wondering, how many features do I really need? I had embraced Scrivener as my primary writing tool, and so my allegiance to Windows slowly continued to erode.
Then the iPad entered our lives. I’m a devout Kindle girl, but my husband prefers multi-function devices and as tablet technology improved began eyeing them more seriously. Amazon’s Fire seemed like a natural fit, but after struggling for nearly a week with its bastardized, oh-so-walled garden version of Android he tossed it back in its box with a few well-chosen curses and an RMA and turned his attention elsewhere.
Dell’s Venue lasted longer, the toxic girlfriend who always knows when she’s crossed a line and slides her dainty, manicured toe just a millimeter back over it. It worked, most of the time. It didn’t run Chrome very well, and sometimes its wireless hardware seemed to just feel too tired to maintain a stable connection, but it wasn’t quite unsatisfying enough to break up with.
Until Windows 10. The upgrade caused the connection issues to manifest nearly constantly. The screen would never really turn entirely off so the machine was always in need of charging, and then wouldn’t really hold the charge anyway. So after a factory reset the broody device found itself consigned to a drawer.
Given his needs running headlong into the arms of Google seemed a natural fit, but twice bitten three times shy – as the saying sort of goes – he proceeded with considerably more caution and decided against a foray into the quagmire that is currently Chrome OS versus Android. That really left only one option.
And so the iPad cameth. And it was, truth be told, a tiny delight. Sturdy, reliable, configurable, with a champion battery life and unexpected perks like a Pip-Boy app for Fallout 4.
So when my previously reliable Lenovo Yoga also decided to treat the Windows 10 upgrade like some kind of bacterial infection that needed to be resisted with every nano fiber of its being, my husband gently suggested a radical cure. “You could consider…a MacBook Pro.”
I had to admit that I too was running out of options. The latest crop of Yogas were being more harshly reviewed than my old model, and even the thought of buying a new one dredged up ugly memories of copious crapware uninstalls and Lenovo’s baffling idea to scatter drive partitions like dandelion puff, whose undoing took more research and effort than I intended to deal with again. I wanted to like Microsoft’s Surface Book, but its rollout had not been without hardware heartache, and to add insult to injury the MacBook was actually cheaper.
That was how I found myself pulling open the heavy glass door of the haughty Apple store on a rainy Saturday morning. Just beyond the pair of burly security guards manning the entry Taylor Swift smiled a silent welcome from four dozen screens. As did what felt like four dozen employees. “Why are there so many of them?” I hissed to my husband. “They’re making me nervous.”
For reply he marched resolutely toward the MacBooks, a wet and slightly bedraggled wife trailing in his wake. A plump young man approached, asked us a few questions, showed us how to dismiss Taylor Swift in favor of a screenful of price and feature comparisons and found himself dismissed in turn. After that the occasional employee who tried to engage us merely broke upon our unforgiving shores, as we went about the business of assessing and deciding like a couple far more used to the blessed silence of the online shopping experience.
I tried out the keyboard and touchpad. I experimented with a few of the apps. I decided I could probably live with it. Then I stood to the side of an animated conversation between two employees, a slender young blonde woman and a slender young dark-haired man. “I know what I’d like to buy?” I said as they looked at me expectantly.
The mop-haired man faded into the background and the woman’s smile widened. “Was someone helping you before?”
My husband and I looked at each other. “Umm…several someones? First was someone named…Nick?” I neglected adding that I only remembered his name because he shared it with an ancient dachshund we’d adopted once upon a time.
She took a half stutter step back. “…Manager Nick?”
I shrugged helplessly, feeling a touch of embarrassment that between the bright red shirts and the wireless ear buds the rank and the file and the management frankly all looked rather alike. “I…guess?” If manager Nick helping a customer was a rare honor, I’m afraid it was lost on me. I couldn’t imagine why he would have singled out as a promising mark a middle-aged woman in a defiantly ugly dusty chartreuse and yellow Patagonia rain jacket who was probably failing to keep a certain bemusement and skepticism wiped off her face.
Your company has won the opportunity to attempt to sell me a laptop because you are the least unpleasant option out there! Congratulations!
I’ve had my MacBook Pro for nearly a month now and I have to admit…I’m really quite fond of it. It’s the sturdiest piece of hardware I’ve owned since my old IBM 486 – that could have doubled as a maul in a pinch – and considerably more attractive. My battery life is twice what it was with the Yoga. The keyboard makes me want to type on it, the trackpad doesn’t make me want to instantly reach for a mouse. When it comes to studying Spanish, I can use its built-in microphone instead of hunting for my headset, and access to international keys involves jumping through considerably fewer hoops than Windows. The companies that make Scrivener and Aeon Timeline were kind enough to offer a generous discount on a dual Mac/Windows license even though I was coming late to the game.
That isn’t to say it’s the Holy Grail. Compared to Windows I find the Mac fonts aesthetically less pleasing. The Finder is no match for Windows Explorer. Maybe someday hunting for menus at the top of the screen instead of on the window I’m currently using will seem less bothersome, but it hasn’t happened yet. Still, these are minor quibbles.
Which doesn’t mean that I’m on the road to abandoning my Falcon Northwest PC or my Nexus phone in favor of a whole-hearted dive into Apple’s oceans. In photography, having a Nikon body doesn’t mean you can’t and perhaps should dip into Sigma or Zeiss lenses. A woodworker who confines himself to only one manufacturer’s tools probably doesn’t always have the best tool for the job. And so it is now with computer technology, in our brave new interoperable world. When I attended my first conference on cross-platform development back in the early 1990s it was impossible to have anything but scorn for the gap between the promises and the reality. But here we are. And I’m kind of liking it.