Mac VS PC: it’s not 1995 anymore.

Let’s set the iPhones and iPads aside for a second and talk about real computers, shall we? Macs and PCs, and the unending arguments they’ve fueled. Fifteen years or so ago, I was firmly in the “Macs are PCs for the rich and snooty” camp. It’s not the case anymore. They’re still more expensive and they’re still a bit snooty, sure. But those are now just elements of my understanding of the Macs and the industry, not the central focus which defines them. I suspect many people would have gone through the same “transformation” in their hardcore computer nerd beliefs. Let me know if this article rings your bell as much as it does mine.

So what changed? A few angry readers will argue that we “used to be real geeks”, and that we’ve now sold our souls to the Great Steve in the Sky. For iDevices, sure, there’s probably a bit of that. But Macs are different: PC enthusiasts didn’t start recommending and buying Macs because they changed, they did so because the world has changed. Macs just came along for the ride…

So let’s count the ways the Mac VS PC fight today isn’t the one it was 15 years ago:

1) It’s the Internet, stupid.

First and foremost, the way we use computers has dramatically changed. It’s hard to imagine today, but back in 1995 our computers where incredibly limited machines, and their functions were almost exclusively work related. Word+Excel were what most people did. Today, “most people” use computers as email/Facebook/YouTube devices. Any machine will do that; Mac or PC, they’re both great at it, no argument.
So the difference between what one can or can’t do has dramatically much less validity.

2) The Digital Hub.

Same story: computers weren’t really part of our everyday life back then. Part of our work life, sure. But today you will actively manage your music, your photos, your videos and many more parts of your life on those things… Our whole lives have become digital, so we really can’t look at computers the way we did when they weren’t.
Remember the “hub for our digital lives”? Has the Mac become an incredibly awesome solution that will solve all your digital hub conundrums in a second? No. Are they a bit better than an out of the box PC? Yeah, I think so. And the average mom probably thinks so too.

The two points above could be summed up like this: the word “computer” was meant for a very different kind of machine fifteen years ago. Arguments we had then don’t apply anymore. For the then “work machine”, I would argue the scale was tipped in favor of the PC. For today’s “Internet and digital hub for everyone”, things have largely evened out.

3) Prices.

It might be an impression, but it seems to me that Macs used to cost two or three times the price of a good old Compaq PC. Four if you would take the time to buy the parts and build it yourself (which I used to do for all my machines). You think Macs are expensive today? Kid, you you should have seen it then ! 🙂
A current Mac laptop is probably about 40% to 80% more expensive than a comparable Windows machine. Still an much higher price tag, of course, but a lot let ridiculously unjustifiable. And yes, maybe I’m also not a starving student anymore, so that might be a bit on me as well…

4) Similar hardware.

Not only were they incredibly more expensive, their performance was also very questionable. I still remember Apple apologists explaining that “dual processor machines” where going to become an industry standard for all machine, just because Steve had said so (remember we’re talking dual CPUs here, not dual core). Of course Jobsie was only spinning their inability to get PowerPC CPUs up to the standards that Intel and AMD had set, and ended up hilariously switching to the competition that they had so strongly disparaged for years.
The point is, all computers now run on Intel compatible CPUs, and spec differences have faded away there too.

5) Specs don’t matter anyway.

Another point is the fact that specs don’t even really matter anymore. We’ve gotten to a point where all machines can do what most people need to do. Who cares if you’re packing 4, 8 or 16 gigs, or if your Core i3 doesn’t run as fast as my Core i7? They can all play music, surf the web and play HD YouTube videos, and that’s enough for most people. We used to worry a machine would be unusable for certain tasks… Now it’s not a concern anymore.
One more way in which the differences between Macs and PCs have faded away, in use cases this time.

6) Cross platform gaming and consoles.

Another big thing you could really only do on PCs was a certain kind of gaming. There used to be two types of games: PC games and Console games. While the divide certainly still exists to some degree, it’s been very much lessened in recent years. Today, most PC games are also available on consoles. There are a few more games on the Mac too, but many gamers will have a console anyway, so they’ll get what they need even without a Windows machine. Of course some people will always want to have a PC for certain games, but the decision is nowhere as clear cut as it used to be.

7) Industrial design.

It might be Jony Ive changing things or it might be my tastes evolving, but I wasn’t really super fond of Apple’s design until the Unibody MacBook. Those machines are a work of beauty, and I can see myself paying a premium for that kind of industrial design alone. That was absolutely not the case 15 years ago. Or even 5 years ago. And I believe that the design is actually something that has become even more apparent for most consumers: all other things being equal (all computers can fulfill the consumer’s needs), the Macs are shinier.

8 ) MacOS was crap. There, I said it.

I’m sure I’m going to get some flack for this one, but I did spend quite some time with MacOS back then, and it honestly made me miss Windows very very very much. MacOS was a breakthrough in 1984, but by 1998 it was a blind, lame, flee infested dog. And it took Steve Jobs’ despotic will to take it out in the back yard, shoot it dead, and replace it with an OS that would make the Mac software good again.
Side note: the same funny people who defended the PowerPC also defended MacOS pre-X. It still makes me laugh (and cry).


You get the idea: in my opinion, the fight back then wasn’t at all what it is today, and people who are still clinging to the conclusions they had formed back then are thoroughly out of touch with the current realities of the computer industry. As I said earlier, the word “computer” carries a very different meaning now; PCs are still cheaper, they’re still uglier, and they’re still a great choice for most people. But I believe that the Mac’s design philosophy makes for a much better “computer” than it did back then.

Indeed, the Mac was thought into existence with the goal of making a “simple” computer. The problem was that computers were performing complex and qualified work related tasks back then, so a simple computer didn’t make much sense. It was an answer to a question that hadn’t been asked yet, a fun theoretical design without a practical application. It’s only with the commoditization of digital and networked information from the past 15 years that the Mac’s true calling has sprung into existence. Now, everyone needs a “simple” computer, and the specifications gap has narrowed. It should be no wonder that Macs fare better today than they did yesterday…

PS1: It should be no surprise to anyone either, by the way, that they are now being brought closer to iOS: that was always what the Mac was supposed to be. Its ideal was a simple computer for people who don’t like computers. And there’s a whole lot of those people out there now. I’m ready to bet there’s even one of them inside the hearts of most of us “real PC nerds”. And he comes out for air every once in a while… 🙂

PS2: For the record, I’ll also add that I do own both a Mac laptop and a PC desktop, and the later is still my preferred go-to machine. I like the Mac well enough (the large multitouch trackpad for example is a work of genius), but my needs are better answered by the Windows machine at the moment. It also doesn’t hurt that I know these things inside and out, software and hardware; “normal” people usually don’t.

March 4th, 2012