Does it come in black?

I’m struggling.

For years now I’ve been one of those small minority that chose a different path. It meant  investing financially and emotionally in an alternative to the mainstream, contenting my inner rebel with the knowledge that I was eschewing convention and embracing the fringe instead.

For years I walked this line, until recently something changed.

Apple got really popular.

Where once I would smile inwardly when chancing upon someone else who held my beliefs, possibly in a coffee shop where both of us would be working behind the cool glow of our machines, now I find the proliferation of Macbook Airs and Pros somewhat disconcerting. In fact it’s almost a curious fascination when I see someone using a PC – a refreshing splash of black in the otherwise unrelenting sea of brushed aluminium.

Shouldn’t this make me happy? After all it means that my choice of hardware is being vindicated. Well, possibly, but I have to admit that in a perverse way it actually makes me want to move away from the big fruit and find a new underdog to champion.

I know. I’m an idiot. You don’t have to tell me, deep inside…I accept this.

The problem is that with technology playing such a central role in my life I feel that the buying choices I make reflect my own set of values. Whereas in the past I saw Apple products as excellent tools to create with (which I still believe strongly), and a company which fought against the behemoth of Microsoft to offer a product that was better to me in many ways. Now the sheen has lost its lustre as I find the popularity of the brand making the machines they produce seem more and more based on looking good rather than being built to last. (Regular readers will know my recent disappointment with the new iMacs, as chronicled here)

Before you leap to the conclusion that this is some kind of superiority thing, I can assure you that buying something expensive to differentiate myself from others has never been an option. Journalism is fun, but it really isn’t a well paid gig when you’re freelance.

In fact one of my main reasons for switching to Macs in the first place wasn’t their premium brand status, rather it was the amount of keyboard shortcuts the OS employed (I was recovering from a bad RSI injury) and the fact that putting together a home video on my old PC felt like doing battle with an evil warlord whose magic was old and very deep.

I purchased a refurbished iBook and set sail on the goodship Cupertino, very happy with this brave new world of computing. After a couple of years I upgraded to a shiny new Macbook, which proved a mighty workhorse, until a few months ago when age finally began to catch up with it. Now I stand on an ethical precipice. Do I replace my faithful servant with a newer model or make the leap to another platform?

Why would I change?

As we’ve already established, it’s because I’m an idiot.

Macs are great. They’re stable, fast, very pleasurable to use, and the iLife suite really is worth buying the machines for alone. The problem I’m having is that whereas in the past I felt like I was part of some kind of counter-culture, mainly due to the tiny sales figures of Apple machines  compared with Windows machines, now Apple laptops almost seem the norm. I love my iPad, it’s a constant companion, yet in my heart I find myself yearning for a viable alternative. I bought an iPhone last year for the first time – it’s great. The battery life is amazing, the camera is incredible, and the damn thing just works.

So is it some kind of perverse logic, or subconscious desire to bring pain upon myself, that I am even considering a leap into the unknown? Yes, that’s probably it. Well, some of it.

The thing is, to me, Apple products are still the best that (lots) of money can buy, but when you don’t have lots of money washing around your bank account the need for value becomes a more sharpened sword. I don’t want to buy a product that has a built in redundancy due to the low RAM allocation or curiously under powered hard drive. I don’t want to have to pay all my upgrade costs up front, rather than spread them across the years of ownership due to devices that can’t be opened by customers. At the heart of it though, if I’m honest, I just don’t want to buy something sensible.

When Apple released the original iMac one of the things that immediately caught my eye was the range of colours. Previously I had bemoaned the lack of spark that the relentless procession of beige boxed PCs had wrought upon the computer landscape. Now there was this spectrum of hope that put the fun back into using devices that, I believe, are still the greatest creative tools ever invented. Skip forward twenty odd years and this visual splendour has been replaced with the cold, stark silver of brushed aluminium. What happened? Did Steve Jobs get offered a job-lot of the stuff cheap from the digital community’s equivalent of Derek Trotter?

Where once there was colour and rebellion, instead we find uniformity and stock dividends.

So my quandary is such – I love OSX, have always found Apple laptops to be perfect for me, and over the years I’ve invested in various pieces of software that only run on the fruit flavour of machines. But the excitement of being part the alternative has slowly ebbed away as success has transformed the perception (and choices) of Apple. Strangely I feel more of a corporate customer than I ever thought possible.

When Steve Jobs famously gave his ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’ speech at Stanford I wonder if it ever occurred to him that his own company would have need of this wisdom in the coming years?

They’re still the best in terms of user experience and hardware manufacture in my eyes, but what I wouldn’t give for Apple to have some hungry fools in their design and decision making departments right now.

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