Monday, April 19, 2010

The venerable Allen Lee on Apple

This is a guest post by French Exit regular Allen Lee. I do not necessarily agree with the opinions expressed by the author, etc., insofar as the author commits to an opinion. (Burn.) I definitely agree that Apple's marketing machine is annoying, and the popular idea of "design" as white + Helvetica is ridiculous.

Yeah I asked Elisa and Martin to blodge on macs. I was spurred on by the recent flurry of press on the iPad, which is pretty widespread (the press) even over here in NZ media, even though I believe it is not yet avail here (the iPad) and will not be for some time.

I think I was mainly fishing for two things:

1. Some hating. Let's face it, with ElisaG and MSeay I had reason to look forward to a fun smackdown.
2. To learn something/food for thought. After Martin's recent tour de force on Ke$ha I was like, hey, he really knocked that one down, how about Steve Jobs and Apple Computer Inc?

Neither on our two-person expert panel seems amped to blodge. What do I think? I am guessing I am of roughly the same mind as MS and EG on this one. Apple products seem to perform at least competently, maybe better. They are overpriced. They are reasonably stylish. They follow a very closed/proprietary philosophy. Their reliability and build quality are overstated. Their "fanboys" are annoying. Their marketing is really annoying, and pretentious. Steve Jobs seems annoying, and pretentious. I vastly prefer Gates to Jobs. [Side note: Gates is smarter, richer, probably has a cooler wife, definitely has a cooler house, appears to have cooler friends, and runs a charity funded with like 40B of his own money, and oh wait another 40B of WarrenB's too, who is cooler even than BillG and hence much much much cooler than SteveJ. It's a landslide.]

The marketing seems to be the main thing. It is designed to polarize and brainwash. PCs are nowhere near as crappy and unstylish as Mac marketing would have you believe. I suppose this is common knowledge. Martin commented that Apple wants us to feel strongly and hence he feels obligated not to. That's pretty much where I'm at, and maybe that is one of the few interesting points to be made here. On their merits I think I would actually buy Apple products. But because the marketing and culture is so obnoxious that pushes me towards indifference, the only reaction that is anti-polarization. It seems to illuminate a certain personality characteristic as much as Apple marketing.

Another observation is that at least personally the reaction against Apple is a reaction against technology generally speaking and the wanna-be design/information age. People sitting around with Titanium powerbooks sipping coffee and writing content management systems think that they are somehow design/knowledge/information gurus but really let's face it, the whole let's-sip-a-latte-and-build-a-website-with-really-good-fonts is just pretty lame from like every angle. Typically, in practical instances it doesn't seem noteworthy from a technology angle, from an intellectual angle, from an aesthetic angle, from a human angle, from a sexual angle, from a coffee angle, I mean whatever. Please. Just some basic pedestrian shit dressed up to be 21st century. Oh brother. Am I just knee-jerk hating here? At least a little, for sure. And probably not even in an interesting or unique way. I kind of don't even know what I'm talking about. That's me, that's what I do. The whole design/info age ("TED", ha ha -- oh wait is that logo like 50% Helvetica and 50% Helvetica bold? How original! Oh my god what great fonts! They prob did it on a powerbook.) suffers from as much insufferable marketing as Apple although it is more subtle and diffuse. Maybe the only interesting point here is how Apple has wormed its way so intimately (but not explicitly) into my image of technology/information/design. Hold on while I stick my finger down my throat

Oh that's better. Like Martin put it, Apple's obnoxiousness forces me to mentally reduce modern tech gadgetry to "appliances." Like, computers and MP3 players and book readers are just appliances, and in the day-to-day their value is easily overstated. That is true of course, but it is also true that these are in fact really cool appliances in a lot of ways and that there is definitely some element of progress at work here. But Apple ruins it, because the culture is just so fucking annoying. So now I despise technology, gadgets, coffeeshops, black turtlenecks and anything shiny. Thanks guys you are the best! For the win. Just kidding about the coffeeshops one, unless there are a bunch of people using laptops.

Oh well this is probably not particularly sophisticated or interesting. That's why I tried to recruit Elisa and Martin. I mean did you see that post on Ke$ha? Holy cannoli!

Next up: Malcolm Gladwell! Talk about a gimme.


  1. I've mostly used Windows/PCs, not Apple much, partly just because of familiarity, also because (yeah) Apple stuff is more expensive.

    For several decades I managed fine with pen and paper, and a portable manual typewriter, and a telephone (landline). There are still things I can do more easily and quickly on a manual typewriter, or writing by hand, than in HTML or with MS Word. (Indents, for instance.)

    Also (one of the finest ironies I can imagine), once I started transcribing my poems from typewritten to MS Word, I found that they take up more space, i.e. more paper, with MS Word than they did typewritten. Now probably I could figure out a way to change the Word settings to compensate, but there again, something I could do easier with a typewriter than with Word.

    I'm no Luddite by any stretch, I love air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter, I watch T.V., etc. But I do find ways where the pretty technology with all its blinking lights still hasn't caught up with a bunch of metal keys and ink, or a hand, or an eye.

  2. Allen, I'm afraid I've never understood why people find Apple's focus on design obnoxious. They basically try to make products that don't look like complete shit. In the car industry, toaster industry, furniture industry, and wine rack industry this is known as "good business". PC manufacturers somehow concluded that clunky plastic laptops plastered with little stickers ("Windows7 ready!", "Intel Inside!", etc.) are aesthetically good enough.

    Also, Helvetica is one seriously amazing type face. I mean, if I was stuck on a desert island with one type face and one internet appliance....

  3. A focus on design is not in itself obnoxious. What's obnoxious is the positioning of itself as focused on design when the design is not really all that impressive. Not to speak for Allen. Again, this is not to say that PCs look better or even good, but to me Mac products tend to look cheap and dated pretty quickly (after a couple of years).

    There seems to be a hole in the marketplace for a truly well-designed and truly overpriced computer system. Middle-class people can afford Macs. Where is the Ferrari of home computers?

  4. There seems to be a hole in the marketplace for a truly well-designed and truly overpriced computer system. Middle-class people can afford Macs. Where is the Ferrari of home computers?

    That's like asking for someone to invent the Ferrari of parachutes. ("Sure it's expensive and needs constant maintenance, but I'm an aesthete!")

  5. Um, have you read the Neiman Marcus Xmas catalog? There's a Ferrari of almost everything.

  6. The last time I used a Mac regularly was in my first resume writing job. That thing was ugly and buggy as hell.

    How's the state of computer gaming on Macs these days? Because I remember it being nonexistent when I was growing up, which was reason 1 for me to have a PC.

  7. i used to play video games.

    then i graduated middle school.


  8. true fact! well i might have been closer to 15. it's a little hazy.

  9. @Lyle, I agree. I actually do refer to myself as a Luddite from time to time. I think this is part of the point as well. E.g. "the pretty technology with all its blinking lights still hasn't caught up with a bunch of metal keys and ink, or a hand, or an eye." Yup absolutely agree. But the technology company that tries the hardest to tell us that their technology has indeed caught up and will solve all your problems is Apple.

    @Seth. Like Elisa said there's nothing wrong with a focus on design. The problem is the marketing machine totally overstates the case. My $300 Eee netbook isn't ugly or clunky, has never crashed, and does everything I want it to do. I've used Apple shit too and yes it is often slicker but it's not a that big a difference.

    I think one part of it is that Apple just tries too hard, and that's universally annoying. It's so uncool to constantly try to be cool all the time. Gates? He's a big nerd but he doesn't give a damn about anyone else and that just rubs me the right way.