PEBKAC: Lions, and Airs, and iPads, oh my!

This column originally appeared in the July issue of About This Particular Macintosh.

In what may be a sign of an impending midlife crisis, I find myself, more and more, beginning sentences with the phrase, “When I was your age…” or some variation thereof. Maybe it’s because I’m the father of two young boys. Maybe it’s the past five years spent around high schoolers and college guys and gals through Bible studies I’ve led for a local church. Maybe it’s just that I’m forty and I’ve seen enough in my life now to see large distinctions.

In seventh grade, we spent about half a semester learning BASIC on the venerable TRS-80 computer. Then we switched to Turbo Pascal on Apple ][s. (See what I did there with the ASCII symbols in place of capitalized Is for the Roman numerals? That’s called “old school”.) When we finished our assignments, we could play Lemonade Stand or Oregon Trail. I died many a death of dysentery.

And if we weren’t playing games, we were taking what we’d learned and started working on our own text-based games.

The first computer to make its way into the household I grew up in was an Apple ][e, purchased used from one of my high school teachers. He’d bought a new computer from the same fruit company called a “Mac”. I still have a sharp memory of seeing the little all-in-one Mac running on the teacher’s desk at his home when we went to pick up the ][e.

That ][e was responsible for every essay paper my last year of high school and four years of college. Another vivid memory I have is printing out a paper on Salvadoran death squads for Dr. Mokeba’s poli sci class. (Dr. Mokeba was from Cameroon and immensely proud of their 1990 World Cup bid.)

I moved to a DOS-based machine, then Windows 3.1, then Windows 95, before coming back to the Apple fold in 1994 with the purchase of a Performa 6115CD. And I’ve never looked back.

What’s the point of this stroll down memory lane? So you have context for “When I was your age, we didn’t have touchscreen smartphones, iPads, or solid-state hard drives. We computed by swapping out floppy disks, and I mean floppy disks, not those hard, little three-and-half-inch jobs. And you could screw all your data by bending one of those big floppies between some textbooks in your backpack.”

In other words: the only constants in life are death and change. And if you keep your hand in the technology game, you know change happens quickly.

Arguably, the biggest news out of the tech sector last month [June 2011 –R] was what was revealed to developers at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5 look to be the best versions yet of those respective operating systems. Apple’s iPad is the tablet computing market right now. No other company is even close, mainly because no other company gets it. (HP seems like they have taken a cue from Apple’s playbook; the new WebOS-based TouchPad is likely the best bet from any manufacturer to take on the iPad’s dominance. This is because HP, like Apple, is controlling both the hardware and software experience.)

It’s not just other companies that don’t get it. One thing that hasn’t changed since I got into the tech game is that Wall Street know-it-alls still don’t understand Apple.

“They’re making the same mistake with the iPod as they did with the Mac.”

“They’re making the same mistake with the iPhone as they did with the Mac.”

“They’re making the same mistake with the iPad as they did with the Mac.”

Look at how there are more Android phones out there than iPhones. Sure, but how many different versions of the Android OS are scattered about through those phones? How many of those Android phone users can update to the latest version of the OS? (Not many.) User experience matters, and the iPhone’s is the best because Apple controls the entire experience, not just part of it.

Look at how there are more Android tablets out there than…oh. Wait. That one’s not holding up so well at the moment, is it? No to mention that a tablet is a vastly different type of device than a smartphone. Apple gets this. Manufacturers relying on Android don’t.

And where are those Android or other OS MP3 players, dominating the iPod? Oh. Right.

Apple hasn’t blown by both Microsoft and Intel in the stock market by being dominated, by responding to the whims of stock analysts, or chasing other companies. Apple sets its own agenda, pursues it, and pursues it as close to the perfection of its vision as is humanly possible. And it reaps the rewards.

I look forward to the continued change our favorite fruit company offers users, and the day when I can say, “When I was your age, we had to use our fingers to control our iPhone. We didn’t have any of these fancy eye- or brain-controls you kids have now…”

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