Monday, August 15, 2011...10:48 am

Why Apple sucks (almost) as much as Microsoft now

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Freelance media life is always a bit precarious – not least because we have to keep up with technology out of our own pockets, not relying on a friendly employer to provide all our hardware and software.

So, any freelancer looking to replace their creaking MacBook in the past few weeks will have realised, with a bit of a shock, that Apple has decided to phase out the sturdy, relatively inexpensive, entry-level laptop.

That’s “relatively inexpensive” in Apple Mac terms, obviously. £700 or more is twice the price of a Windows laptop. But then you’d have to use a Windows laptop – and no one should have to suffer that pain.

What replaces the MacBook? Well – technically nothing. You get to choose from the “entry-level” MacBook Air – all light and thin and lovely, but with an 11-inch screen (down from 13-inch) and a massive 64GB of storage. Mmm. Oh – and no disk drive or ethernet port, if you need that.

To prove that less is, or at least costs, more, the lovely MacBook Air starts at £849 – more than the entry-level MacBook used to. Fancy a real computer? One that does at least what your MacBook did? Then you need a MacBook Pro – the silvery version, with bells and whistles.

To replace my MacBook – 13-inch screen, 4GB of memory and 250GB of storage that cost £897 inc VAT in February 2010 – would now cost £999 for the entry-level Pro (the nearest specification). It’s a hike of more than 11% – and it can’t all be down to the more expensive dollar.

The machine is a bit better (Firewire and a useful audio input, which I’ve been missing), but that’s not the point. If you wanted and needed the next version of the same thing, you can’t have it – there’s only more expensive, or not as good.

But, wait – there’s more pain. Upgrade your machine, and you’ll be getting the new Mac OS X Lion operating system. Which is super fabulous, apparently, but doesn’t now include a really useful feature that allows you to run your creaking old software on it.

Up until Lion, Mac users running versions of Office that were designed for older versions of the Mac hardware could still use the software on newer Macs. Not now. Lion has quietly dispensed with a feature called Rosetta that allowed the older software to work, so if you upgrade your machine – at higher cost – you’ll have to upgrade your software too. Thanks for that.

So – to recap. Apple has pulled the plug on its excellent entry-level MacBook, with little warning; and pulled the plug on its useful retro-software compatibility, with little warning.

And yet – Apple is now the most valuable company in the US, with its stocks worth more than former number one Exxon, and is making record profits. Can anyone see a pattern here?

Yes – consumer usage is changing. People want smaller, lighter gadgets, and we have less use for disk drives. Cloud computing and online apps mean it is becoming less important to run legacy software from your hard drive. Apple is clearly moving in the right direction as a business.

But perhaps you could give us a bit more warning that this is happening – so we can, you know, plan ahead.

That’s another key element in being a good business, not just a rich one – not treating your customers as cattle to be milked of cash in the way that simply suits you. Apple – you are starting to suck…

9 Comments

  • You’re not wrong with much of this. This link requires registration, but I touched on some similar points http://www.stylus.com/en/News–Analysis/2011/August/Analysis/Apple-What-Next/

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    August 15th, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Actually, registration with Stylus.com doesn’t get you access to the story, just the threat of contact from an “account executive” to sell you the Stylus.com service.

    Just so everyone knows…

  • In which case, apologies to one and all. I wasn’t sure whether there was initial general access, but Stylus is a business info site.

    The general gist was that Apple has gone from having an image of radical outsider loved by its customers to corporate big boy at best regarded with suspicion by its customers.

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    August 16th, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Ah – generally true of all companies. Google: “Don’t be evil”? Don’t make me laugh…

  • There’s no point in working hard to build a monopoly if you don’t intend to abuse it when you get there.

    Apple’s near monopoly in a number of important markets is starting to affect the way it’s top brass think. And that’s not good.

  • A couple of points for balance:

    Having had the chance to use my partner’s 11-in MacBook Air for several months I have to say it’s a pretty neat thing. Doesn’t seem slow, haven’t needed Ethernet in 8 months, and the remote shared drive facility works well for DVD/CD software installation. It weighs next to nothing, starts up instantly when you open it and reboots nearly as fast, has huge battery life (by Apple standards at least, though Windows-based acquaintances claim as much from their HD-equipped paving slabs). Yes 64GB isn’t a great deal of storage by today’s standards but it all depends what you need to carry around with you. If it’s your main machine, then that’s probably not enough; if you use it as an adjunct to a desktop it would perhaps not matter so much.

    Secondly, Apple is in a unique position in that it controls both hardware and software, which is why they can be made to work so well together and so reliably so much of the time. But to implement new cool things they do have to burn some bridges vis-a-vis backward compatibility. I have the same issues – I still use one app regularly that requires the Classic (OS9) environment and several that want Rosetta so I face the same dilemma. But what’s the alternative? The backward-compatibility issues that so hobbled Microsoft that even now the majority of the world’s PCs are probably still running Windows XP. Apple has never been a bargain-basement supplier (and I’ve been buying their gear since 1989) but it is a case of you get what you pay for.

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    August 24th, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Hi Michael. Interesting points – and, yes, I recognise Apple is riding the wave. It’s just the lack of notice that bugs me…

  • Get into linux. It’s better than OSX, faster and more secure and can be run on anything. Plus it’s open source, and not evil (like apple).

  • @Michael – I don’t disagree with much of what you say. But when you upgrade and then can’t use some existing tools it’s actually a case of ‘you pay for what you don’t get, then pay again to get it’.

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