Confessions of a Mac switcherMarch 2, 2011: 10:54 AM ET
The iPad halo effect on Mac sales is real, but so is the fact that Apple's flagship has come a long way under Steve Jobs.
There are certain things you don't admit out loud when you live and work in Silicon Valley, as I have for nearly 15 years. One of them is that you're a PC user -- by choice.
You see, Fortune is a Mac shop. (At least that's true on the "creative" side; the business folks need their PCs for whatever it is that business folks do.) But I didn't go for Macs. When I arrived in 2002 I politely insisted on being issued a PC laptop. Other than college and for a few brief years later, I'd never used a Mac. I didn't understand where anything was, applications I'd grown used to didn't work. It was too cute and too frustrating. Fortune granted my request, and for quite a few years I used a perfectly decent IBM Thinkpad, followed by an increasingly disappointing Dell Latitude.
I still use that Dell (DELL) for work. But a funny thing happened to this PC holdout. First I got an iPod, exposing me to iTunes, then, more recently an iPad. Along the way, Fortune made it more difficult for me to use my work computer for my personal needs for perfectly understandable reasons: The company doesn't want me plugging my personal devices -- which might well contain viruses -- into the corporate network.
When it came time to buy a computer with my very own money for the first time in years, the decision was simple. I'd get a Mac. I'd grown to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of my non-computer Apple (AAPL) toys, and I was believing the hype about the joys of switching. (Warning: This is the point where it's going to start sounding like a commercial. Alas, it's all true.)
I thought about the change for a while. I visited Apple stores now and again. What put me over the top was explaining to my father on the East Coast why his six-year-old PC laptop was working so poorly. First, I told him, it's six years old. Second, it's a PC. It's got all sorts of crap the manufacturer loaded onto it. (He bought the laptop at Best Buy. An industry insider told me a funny story about Best Buy (BBY). Because the retailer beats the PC makers down so brutally on margin, the manufacturers add all that disingenuous garbage to PCs that befuddle consumers like my dad so badly. Best Buy then has the gall to offer to remove the junk for a fee. I called Best Buy to ask their thoughts on the subject and will post their response, if any, when they call back.)
The junk is germane. Explaining this to my father, I realized it was time for me to buy my Mac. I spent about 30 minutes talking to a sales guy at an Apple store in Burlingame, Calif. That afternoon, a friend who is a Mac fanatic and I looked at Apple's online store on my iPad and quickly worked out the configuration I wanted. It was so simple, especially compared to the old days of buying PCs when I had all sorts "choices" that gave me a headache. For my iMac, I chose the smaller monitor, larger processor and Microsoft's Office suite to please my Excel-reliant wife. That was basically it. That night I repeated the process online, it being easier to type credit-card numbers with a keyboard. The ordering process took about five minutes. (I'm not the only one for whom the iPad appears to be a gateway drug. In Apple's quarter that ended Dec. 25, 2010, Mac sales were up 23% to 4.13 million units.)
I know this is a lot of buildup. But the best part was installing my iMac when it arrived a few days later. From cutting open the box to browsing the Web, about 20 minutes passed. Twenty minutes! My iMac isn't loaded with ugly stickers from various Apple partners. The desktop of my screen isn't lousy with icons for programs I'll never use. It's clean and gorgeous. When I installed one of HP's (HPQ) new wireless printers (the Envy 100), which printer chief Vyomesh Joshi had promised me would print documents from my iPad, the software installation process was a snap. Reluctant to insert HP's disk into my iMac -- years of installing disks loaded with programs I didn't want scarred me -- instead I simply went to a document I wanted to print from Safari, Apple's browser. My iMac detected the wireless printer, then installed the software I needed in three or four minutes.
Kudos to HP for building a beautiful printer -- and yes, it prints from the iPad using Apple's AirPrint technology -- but I was far more willing to trust Apple to install only what I needed to print than I was willing to allow a printer manufacturer to put its printer software on my precious new machine. That's a whole new level of a "halo effect" -- the situation where, in Apple's case, a consumer lusts for one product based on how great another product is.
I'm a whole three days into my Mac experience and couldn't be happier. I plan to start taking tutorials to teach myself things I don't know, like iPhoto. But I've already spent about a half hour in the Apple store at Union Square in San Francisco peppering a super helpful "sales specialist" with questions. He answered them all enthusiastically and patiently.
What are the chances I was going to get that at Best Buy? Or on Dell's help line?
What are the chances I'm going to buy more things from Apple?
Lest it seem I've drunk the Kool-Aid, I'm well aware that Apple is neither perfect nor that it always has my best interests in mind. I'm annoyed that the software on my three-year-old iPod Touch can't be upgraded to run iPhone software that most new applications require. Try explaining to a 4-year-old that Daddy's iPod is too old to play the game she wants. (Apple is adept at obsoleting older products so we scurry back from more. Just look at what they're going to do to my three-month-old iPad on Wednesday morning.)
I'm also honked off that Apple just allowed New York Magazine to provide free downloads on the iPad to its print subscribers but that I can't do the same with many other magazines, including one that's near and dear to my heart.
But I sure love my iMac. I'm not afraid to admit that.
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