This post is part of my “I’m Not a Mac” series, chronicling my migration away from Apple after many years as a Mac user–and back again. Find other entries in the “I’m Not a Mac” series archive.
What can I say? I’m a Mac user again. I know, I was surprised too. When I began this occasional series in 2009 to chronicle my migration out of the Apple ecosystem, I was fed up with not being able to use my Apple laptop and smart phone the way I wanted to use them. At the time, cloud services and remote data syncing were still works in progress, Apple’s i-monikered consumer apps were less powerful than the competition, and Google’s browser-based web ecosystem was on the rise.
All I wanted to do was have a single phone number, email address, and calendar that synced across all my devices in real-time without it costing me a fortune or requiring me to jail-break my iPhone. Google’s ecosystem offered all of that to me six years ago, and little by little I switched over. First from an iPhone to an Android phone, and then from a MacBook to Windows 7 where I stayed for four years before eventually moving on to Linux and then into the world of Chromebooks.
It wasn’t easy. Apple’s then-refusal to play nice with third-party services made the migration difficult, and there were elements of OS X I wished I could have brought with me. But buying laptops certainly got cheaper, and Google services provided me the data synchronization I had been looking for. A business need for Microsoft Office brought me back from Chromebook to Windows 8 last year, but through five years, six low-end laptops, and a cheap Chromebook, Apple just wasn’t on the horizon anymore.
Back when I was a Mac user the first time, for 13 years from 1997 to 2010, I had no fewer than 12 Apple desktops and laptops. Why nearly one new computer a year? In small part because of failed hard drives or inadequately powerful machines (i.e. I chose wrong)–issues that can occur an any platform. But mostly because I loved being inside the Apple ecosystem on my desktop, in my backpack, and eventually in my pocket, and found a lot of joy in Apple hardware and software.
When I switched over to Windows 7, I realized that the old-school messages that Macs were more elegant and easier to use than their PC counterparts so common in the 1990s and early 2000s weren’t really the case anymore. Windows has definitely come a long way. That made my migration easier.
And then my non-Mac laptops started breaking down. Discounting the poor little HP netbook I accidentally fell on top of, one by one my cheapie laptops started experiencing battery failures, hardware failures (a piece literally fell off my Samsung Chromebook), or in one case, simply dropped dead. Which is never a good thing when you BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to work, as I have for many years.
When you end up with a computer a year not because you like it that way but because they keep failing, it should tell you something. It told me in May to begin looking at Ultrabooks–the PC laptop category created by Microsoft and Intel to be “MacBook Air” killers after Apple entered the super-thin laptop market around the time that I left Apple. They were more expensive than the sub-$400 machines I’d been using, but they were powerful enough to actually, you know, work without sputtering. There were a few I coveted after watching and wading through dozens of online reviews.
I wish I could have found them in person to try them out. I was absolutely ready to buy. But try as I might–and no matter how badly I needed a new machine immediately–I couldn’t find many higher-end PC laptops on display in real life. (Yes, Best Buy and Microsoft Store, I’m looking at you.) Available over the web, sure. But who wants to buy a laptop whose key features are being powerful and light without being able actually to hold one in your hand?
That’s how I ended up visiting the Michigan Avenue Apple Store again after five years. I didn’t want a Mac. But at least I could experience MacBook Airs in action. It took two weeks and three visits before I was hopping on the CTA 147 bus with a brand-new 11-inch MacBook Air. Legacy Mac technology. Yet completely surpassing any PC I’ve used in the past five years.
I couldn’t believe I did it. I felt like an enormous hypocrite. But in a day I realized how much times have changed. My old gripes about dodgy cloud services, inadequate native software, and playing (relatively) nice with third-party ecosystems were put to rest. From iCloud to iTunes to the App Store, right on to the suite of onboard productivity apps, everything seemed to understand how interconnected we are these days. When your last memory of Apple is Google’s YouTube being kicked out of the App Store, that says a lot.
And there was something more I hadn’t anticipated. I instantly became far more productive at work and at home, and aware of an undercurrent of suck that that had pervaded my life since leaving Apple behind. For years, my adult ADHD has been handled by meds and management strategies that keep me focused and on track. But now I could see that feeling hampered by dodgy laptops for five years, all the time I spent watching beach balls spin, whining that the software on my laptops didn’t work together, and waiting for my machines to catch up to me was short-circuiting my attention span and shooting in the foot my ability to get things done.
If Windows and PC laptops had been dragging me down like that, I wondered what effect was living in Google’s browser-based ecosystem having on me. Considering how many platform abandonments (Reader? Wave? Buzz? Voice?) and sudden iterative changes (Gmail? Drive? Calendar? Photos?) I’ve experienced being all-in with Google, the answer was pretty much the same. Being kept on your toes for the next technology that you rely on to be officially deprecated–or left to wither away for lack of attention–is no fun and a sure-fire productivity killer for anyone who relies on their OS to keep their output consistent.
Of course, consumers of Google technology–who pay almost nothing for using that technology–aren’t Google’s customer base at all. Google’s in the advertising business. It’s customers are businesses and ad agencies, not you and me. Ever wonder why there’s almost zero way to contact “customer service” regarding your Google account? Now you know. For Google, neither you nor online community are the point. You’re the product. Keeping your eyeballs on the screen is the company’s main commodity. Helping you find an alternative to Reader or Voice was never going to be a priority.
People complain that Apple hardware and cloud services are expensive, but they’re aimed directly at the consumer and not beholden (ignoring–cough cough–Apple Music) to outside commercial interests. If you were Google’s real customers in the same way, you’d be complaining about the cost of Google services, too. You really do get what you pay for.
And that realization, along with the deep and frankly amazing integration between Mac OS X and iOS, sealed the deal for me–and for Ryan, who had long wanted an iPhone that I kept talking him out of. So we paid off our Android phablet contracts and purchased an iPhone 6 Plus and an iPad Mini 2 for each of us, as well as an Airport Time Capsule for fast wifi and automated MacBook backups, and an Apple TV. And I migrated my entire life in the cloud out of the Google ecosystem and back to Apple. (Meaning iCloud, iTunes, Apple Photos, documents, my phone number, my email address, the whole shebang.) Which was as much of a PITA to do leaving Google as it was leaving Apple five years ago–it isn’t as if Google makes it easy to hop ship, either.
Fully walking away from Apple took me 10 months to accomplish and in the end, killed my productivity and, by extension, creativity. From beginning to end, my unexpected full migration back into the Apple ecosystem–including the creation of a full-on Apple household–took just three weeks, and gave me back a productivity-enhancing, fully cloud-coordinated ecosystem that lets my ADHD come out and play while almost magically channeling me into getting things done.
I won’t second-guess myself in the past and don’t regret my original decision to leave Apple behind. I just wish it had taken less time to realize the scope of what I left behind. (I of course have a history with that.) But it took five years away to learn that Apple and I work incredibly well together. So from here on out, I’m staying happily put in the Cupertino camp.
When all is said and done, I really am a Mac after all.