Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why I Don’t Like Apple

I get accused of hating Apple quite often because I tend to be critical of their actions and their products.  That probably oversimplifies things a bit. I don’t necessarily dislike everything they do, but there is a lot that they do that I don’t care for.  I know that there are some people that aren’t going to like this post, but opinions aside, all of the facts I will present are well researched over a long period of time.  I won’t cite references, because it isn’t hard for someone to do their own searches and I don’t want to spend days creating this post.

Generally speaking I do like the hardware that Apple creates.  Their engineers are quite talented.  They manage to stuff a lot of functionality into some pretty small packages.  If the price on the MacBook Air was to come down a few hundred bucks I’d buy one, throw Windows 7 on it, and be mostly happy (I still hate Apple keyboards).  It would also be hard to criticize their industrial design.  The two biggest complaints I have with Apple hardware are (1) the price – their markup is about three times that of just about every other electronics manufacturer, and (2) their propensity to sacrifice functionality in the name of product design.  I’m not a big fan of form over function.  Having to navigate through menus to get to something that ought to be a hardware button is something that continually frustrates me.  Less really is less sometimes, not more.

My respect for Apple stops about there, though.  For the most part I don’t like their operating systems, especially from the point of view of a programmer, at all.  Their software development tools are positively primitive – missing many capabilities and functions that have been available for twenty years or more on Windows.  Since I have been programming for more than 30 years, I remember when development tools were this bad on the PC side and I’d hate to go back in time.

I bought a Mac a few years ago with the hope that I’d begin to be able to write some software for the up-and-coming market, but after spending a few days with Apple’s Xcode development tool I rather would have slit my wrist and done pushups in saltwater than done any serious development on the Mac platform.  To someone who has a background in web development (which is even more primitive) or no programming background at all, Xcode might seem okay, but to someone who has spent any time in a “real” development environment like Visual Studio or Embarcadero’s RAD Studio, Xcode is extremely frustrating and slow to use.  Things we take for granted, and have for many years, in our world just don’t even exist at all in that world.  And at the rate that Apple is developing Xcode, they’re actually getting farther behind rather than catching up.  It’s almost amusing to hear Steve Jobs and other Apple employees brag about things they’re adding to their development tools because almost without exception they’re things we’ve not only had for many, many years on other platforms, but have been through continual improvements in that time.

Since the Mac is a hybrid of BSD (based on Unix, going back to the 1970s) and NeXT (going back to the late 1980s), the overall programming API is a little bit of a mess because it has been rigged to do things it was never meant to do.  Not that Windows is perfect, because it certainly is not, but it has considerably more modern tools, especially if something like .NET is taken into account.   Bottom line is, on a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of how fast and easy it is to develop software, Windows would probably be an 8, the Mac would be a 4 (while web development would be a 3).  I just can’t bring myself to do it.  Once you’ve worked with a professional development environment, it’s very frustrating to try to use anything else, Macs included.  I gave up my attempt to create Mac software pretty quickly.

The other big criticism I have with Apple’s software is that it just isn’t designed for “power users” like me.  They create user interfaces that might work well for large consumer groups whose technical needs aren’t that significant.  For example, as a power user, I love to be able to navigate around using the keyboard instead of the mouse.  It is SO much faster pressing a couple keys than removing my hand from the keyboard, picking up the mouse, moving it to click on something, and then probably moving it back to where it was before moving my hand back to the keyboard.  I use keyboard shortcuts constantly, and the Mac just isn’t keyboard friendly.  It is true that many commands do have keyboard shortcuts, but they’re often three and four combinations that are difficult to remember, don’t make sense, and are inconsistent across different programs.  Not only that, but the menu bar is separate from the application window you’re working in, so using the mouse to select commands often means a lot of unnecessary movement.  The situation is much, much worse when running multiple monitors like I do, because no matter what monitor an application is using, the menu bar always stays on the primary monitor.  So in my case (with 6 monitors) I might have to move the mouse across three or 4 monitors to move between an application's window and its menu, and vice versa.  It’s very, very frustrating, and it slows me down in a huge way.

That brings me back to the pricing aspect.  The computer I’m running cost about $1700 to build (monitors excluded).  It is very fast.  While there isn’t a way to configure a Mac exactly the same, the closest I could get was to start with the base Mac Pro at $2499, and after adding an SSD, the memory, extra hard drives, and as many video cards as I could it pushed the price well over $5000.  And that’s for a slower machine.  To get closer to the performance of my PC, the Mac price is closer to $7000.  The difference between $1700 and $5000 is hard enough to swallow… jumping to $7000 is even harder.  Apple just doesn’t build hardware for power users like me if we don’t have a virtually unlimited budget.

The situation doesn’t change much with laptops, either.  The Dell laptop I bought about a year ago for $1400 just barely got an Apple equivalent with the introduction of the new MacBook Pro last week.  But it’s $2400, has half of the memory, and doesn’t play Blu-ray movies (and its warranty is much, much shorter).  And it wasn’t available a year ago.  Again, no affordable hardware for power users like me.  At the time I bought my Dell it was literally twice as fast as the fastest MacBook Pro, and it was a little over half the price.  The price/performance ratio just isn’t good on Apple hardware.

But I’m spending too much time on their products… many of the reasons I don’t like Apple have to do with the company and their behavior.  In the interest of brevity, I’ll make these in the form of a list.
  • Steve Jobs.  I don’t like Steve Jobs.  He might be a good salesman, but he is not a good person.  He is mean, vindictive, spiteful, extremely egotistical, and I could probably justify saying he’s greedy too.  He has been known to be verbally abusive to his employees.  He was kicked out of Apple in the 1980s for these very reasons, among others.  He’s just not a good person.  And on those occasions I buy Apple products I feel a little guilty putting any more money into his pocket, and rewarding him for his behaviors.

    • Steve Jobs is just a salesman.  He will tell you anything he has to to sell products, even if it is an outright lie.  He isn’t on a mission to bring good products just for the sake of making good technology available.  He’s trying to make money, just like every other salesman.  He isn’t magical.

    • He truly believes he is special and not subject to following the rules.  For example, he routinely drives his Mercedes without license plates, and very often parks in handicap spaces.

  • Apple is too litigious.  It’s less commonly known now than it was years ago, but Apple singlehandedly virtually halted the development of the graphical user interface years ago because they went around suing every company that was producing a graphical user interface out of existence, at least until someone able to defend itself like Microsoft came along.  There were plenty of companies that were doing very useful and interesting things to move the GUI forward, but as soon as they started to get any traction Apple sued them until they had to completely neuter their products, or they fell apart financially trying to defend themselves.  The saddest part of it all was that Apple hadn’t even been the company to create the Graphical User Interface… Steve Jobs had been invited to a demonstration at Xerox PARC and seen it in action there then copied the idea on the Mac (and was devious enough to patent parts of it, unlike Xerox).

    We’re seeing some of those same types of behavior from Apple with their lawsuit against HTC, for example, over iPhone patents.  Apple has been able to secure patents for things that are both obvious and have been demonstrated previously by others, and is now attempting to sue others for using similar ideas.  It’s a dirty business practice that I find appalling. And you can bet that any portion of the suit that Apple wins, they’re going to go after every other phone manufacturer.

    Generally speaking, a company that likes to sue is a company that can’t compete technologically.  There are exceptions, but in Apple’s case, they certainly aren’t suing because they’ve had a lack of exposure to the public.

  • Apple is also very uncooperative with other tech companies.  They’ve said (and proved) time and time again that they are unwilling to license their patents to others.  Every company comes up with cool ideas, the difference is that Apple won’t share.  Virtually every other tech company out there cross licenses their patents with others.  It’s very much a “I’ll take my ball and go home” sort of mentality, and it creates a lot of resentment. 

    A few other examples of this:

    • Apple doesn’t (and probably never will) support Blu-ray. 
    • Apple doesn’t support USB 3.0.
    • Apple was very late to the game to support Express Card and SD cards.
    • They don’t allow anybody to produce products that use Apple designed connectors, like MagSafe.  They’ll sue you if you try, even if your product doesn’t compete against one of theirs.
    • They intentionally break devices that aren’t officially approved for use with Apple products, like the dock connector, even if they are fully otherwise compatible.  (Again, demonstrating spite.)

  • Continually making fun of other companies. Listen to any keynote from Steve Jobs and you’ll hear jabs at others.  It really seems like they’d rather make enemies than friends.  And it’s the sort of behavior you’d expect from bullies, or the insecure cool kids at school, making fun of others to make themselves look better, rather than just showing their good qualities and allowing others to like them based on those.  Quite a few of those jabs aren’t even based in reality, but rather a perceived reality that Apple themselves have created.  The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ad campaign is a classic example of that.

  • Outright lies to make sales.  Apple is all about telling you things that just aren’t true in order to sell their products.  For example, when the iPhone was released, Steve Jobs told everyone that nobody would need to create Apps because you could do anything that you might want to do on the phone in the browser.  And then when they announced apps a year later, they told everyone that it didn’t multitask because it would kill the battery too fast (despite the fact that virtually every other smartphone platform at the time had real multitasking and better battery life).  Two years later they announced that they were adding “multitasking.”  Or that the original iPhone didn’t have 3G because EDGE was “fast enough,” and 3G would drain the battery too much, then a year later they introduced the iPhone 3G and talked about how fast it is and its incredible battery life.  All of these things were completely untrue (their competitors were offering all of these things at the time), but for some reason they keep telling us things and many, many people believe them.  Then with the problems with the iPhone 4 antenna, as soon as Steve Jobs came out and said that there wasn’t really a problem everybody (except Consumer Reports) stopped criticizing them even though the problem is real and still hasn’t gone away (and even exists in the Verizon version).  Or, going back a few years when Apple still used the PowerPC chips in the Mac... they swore up and down they were faster than the Intel processors in Windows PCs, then when they finally made the switch they bragged about how going to Intel made the machines 2-3 times faster.  We’re really just being given Apple’s excuses for not producing products with competitive features.  And I’m not sure why anyone believes them, but they do.  Chances are, when Apple makes an excuse for why it doesn’t have a feature, it’s just that, an excuse, and any justification they give just shouldn’t be believed because it’s just hogwash.

    Another recent example: in the iPad 2 announcement, Jobs badly misquoted a Samsung executive to make it seem like the Galaxy Tab was selling more slowly than it really is, but few called him out on it.  He changed the single most important word in the sentence, which altered the entire meaning of the statement.  Again, a lie to make someone else look bad.

  • Apple doesn't pay their shareholders dividends at all, ever.  They've got over $50 billion in the bank, and they won't share any of it with the people that actually own the company.

  • General behavior of trying to do everything consumer and developer unfriendly they can get away with.  Trying to shut other companies out of creating development tools for the iPhone, or now charging 30% for in-app subscriptions, for example.  They keep pushing things well beyond where they ought to until legal action is threatened against them.  Sometimes you should do things just because they’re the right thing to do, not under thread of punishment.  It’s better in the long term for everyone.

  • Apple is generally anti-competitive.  If they offer a solution to a problem, they seem to go out of their way to make things difficult for their competitors.

    • Nobody can write programs which directly compete against the software included with the iPhone.  No phone apps, no browsers, nothing that can run any code.  They do this in the name of preventing consumer confusion, or security, but it’s really just a ruse to prevent their competition from getting a leg up on them.

  • Too much control over the way their products are used. 

    • You can’t develop applications for the iPhone unless you pay $99 per year to do so (this is the only platform where you have to pay to play… everything else out there has free [and generally halfway decent] tools available).  And only apps they’ve approved area allowed to run on the iPhone.  So someone like me can’t develop a cool program that I share with my friends without giving Apple money, going through the approval process, and putting it out there for everyone in the world to get to.

  • Apple contributes financially to political causes I don’t agree with.  I believe that companies ought to remain politically neutral.

  • Again, greed.  Apple charges too much for their products, just because they can get away with it. 

    • They get about $600-700 for every iPhone they sell, when there is only about $200 in parts inside.  Companies ought to have the opportunity to make a profit, but that kind of markup is ripping off their customers (even if it is indirectly through the carrier).  

    • Thirty percent of every sale in the App Store is way too high too.  Just for running apps through a quick one-time approval process and add an entry into a database.  Insanity.  They claim they just break even on App sales, but there is no way this is the case.  If they’ve paid out $2 billion to developers, that would mean they’ve collected $857 million for themselves.  Either they’re paying the employees that approve apps tens of millions of dollars per year or they’re lying to us.  Their costs to host the downloads isn’t anywhere near that high.  Tens of millions, maybe.  Hundreds, not a chance.

  • Apple can’t write decent software for Windows.  I do appreciate that they try to make things like iTunes, QuickTime, and Safari available on Windows, but their attempts seem to be half hearted.  All of their Windows products are memory hogs, slow, and buggy.  (Conspiracy theory: do they write bad Windows code intentionally to try to get people to switch to a Mac? Not necessarily suggesting it… just thinking out loud.)

  • Vindictive.  Their public railing against Adobe is just one example.  Apple has had it in for Adobe ever since Photoshop was released in a 64-bit version for Windows without an equivalent Mac version a few years ago.  Apple uses way too many opportunities to publicly condemn Adobe.  Some of that criticism could possibly be warranted, but this multi-year tirade has just gone way beyond reasonable.  (Adobe produces many products which complete against Apple’s, incidentally.)  It’s almost ironic considering that without Photoshop, the Mac probably never would have gained any traction.

  • Unfair media coverage.  We’ve historically liked to think that our media remains unbiased, but in the case of Apple all objectivity has gone out the window.

    • Apple manipulates the media to their liking.  If media organizations are overly negative or critical of Apple products or the company itself, it will quickly find itself excluded from companies invited to Apple events.  Big tech names like TWiT, CNET and Gizmodo have found themselves permanently uninvited to Apple events, and being given early access to Apple products because their review for some Apple product hasn’t been as favorable as Apple would have liked.  Since Apple news is big news and generates a lot of money for the media (through web page views and other exposure), they’re under pressure to be favorable in their “critiques” or they’ll find themselves on the blacklist.  This gives Apple an unfair advantage.  (Tip: if a company is granted early access to Apple products, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be biased, or it wouldn’t be given that product in the first place.)

    • Everything associated with an Apple product gets coverage from the media, no matter how big or small it is.  How crazy is it that we see entire articles on tech blog sites about the screws that are used in the iPhone?  A company as huge as Intel, Microsoft, HP, or Dell can release a huge new amazing product and not get even a fraction of the coverage as a case for an unreleased iPad.  Pure insanity.

    • The media in general doesn’t even pretend to be unbiased in their coverage of Apple any longer.  At Apple keynotes, for example, you’ll see members of the media applauding along with the Apple employees at the event at every “exciting” new feature.  Shouldn’t the media be there to report, not support?

  • Security.  Apple likes to claim that the Mac is the most secure operating system out there, but it, in fact, is the worst of the big 3.

    • Apple products have been the first to be hacked for the last 4 years running at the Pwn2Own and other security conferences.  Windows may be the most targeted, but if I was asked to hack into someone else’s computer, I would hope they’re running something made by Apple, because they are far easier to get into than both Windows and Linux.  Macs and iPhones might not be the target of malware software authors, but in a targeted attack they’re consistently the first to fail.  Given the opportunity, I would certainly ban Macs and iPhones from a corporate environment if any confidential information is being accessed.

    • Apple is terrible about patching known security holes.  Both the Mac and the iPhone are based on BSD, which is usually patched pretty quickly when security issues are discovered.  Apple tends to wait months, if not years, to include these patches in their products.

  • Despite claiming to, they don’t really support “open” standards.  Two examples:

    • They publicly claim support for HTML 5 but Safari actually has the worst HTML 5 implementation of any modern browser.  They’re being very selective about which parts of HTML 5 they actually support.  Every other browser, even Internet Explorer 9, does a considerably better and complete job.

    • When they announced FaceTime last summer, they said they were making it an open standard.  But they haven’t made it available to anyone, even 8 months later.

  • Lastly, Apple users.  Of course I’m not saying all Apple users are this way, but we very often see the following behaviors.

    • Immediate belief of anything Steve Jobs says without looking at it objectively.  (Steve Jobs is a salesman, not an unbiased tech expert.  His comments should be taken with a huge grain of salt.)
    • Quoting Steve Jobs, even when he is wrong.
    • Automatically assuming that just because Apple produces something that it is the best out there, without doing any research to find out for themselves.
    • Many, many Apple users are very smug about their purchases.  We’d rather not hear from your superiority complex.  Nobody else brags about their electronic tools (they are just tools after all), why must Apple owners?
So to summarize… generally nice hardware, but frustrating operating systems, very dated development tools, mean-spirited and deceitful CEO, greedy practices, too controlling, two faced public statements, smug attitude, and uneducated but boastful customers.  There you go.

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