The passing of Steve Jobs this week has brought all sorts of interesting stories out into the open. Through the web and podcasts I've heard a lot of people talk about how they felt like they knew Steve and that somehow, it felt like he knew them too though they'd never met. I don't share the same sort of notions, however I'm a huge Apple fan and I know that my love of the company and the tools and toys that they create is tied to his identity in an inseparable way.
I've had a connection with Apple since I was in about the 3rd grade. We had a little room in my elementary school library where they had a few Apple IIe's. I learned a little tiny bit about how to play games like The Oregon Trail and Snakehit and I spent my fair share of time with floppy disks. This was my first experience with a computer
A few years later, my dad, who was a high school counselor brought his new work computer home for the summer, a brand new Apple IIc. I started playing more games on this machine, and started writing little stories and drawing with a paint program. There would be a lot of time spent using these early Apple machines all the way into high school at which point our school district started adding in some IBM compatible PCs. I kind of went back and forth learning to use Claris Works, Wordperfect, Paint, and other programs, but I always preferred the Apple machines for their ease of use and the higher quality of the keyboard, screen and basic components.
When I went off to college in 1993, I had a roomate that had his own computer, a Macintosh Quadra. This also corresponded with my first email account, bulletin boards and online chat. I still remember clearly, the sounds of that black modem with the flashy lights beeping and grinding as it dialed into the campus network late at night so that I could chat with a girl that was at another campus an hour away...for free! Those 7 digit codes that made long distance calls cheaper didn't really exist yet, so this was quite the boon for an 18 year old convinced that he'd found his long distance soul mate.
I typed a lot of papers and even did some online research on that Mac...although the World Wide Web was pretty much just libraries at that point.
Over the next few years, I studied music which included notation with a great application called Finale and more importantly I learned how to use Pro Tools in a recording environment. For me, this was a huge defining moment as this amazing tool, which has become THE top solution for digital recording was only available for Apple computers. I put in many, many hours late at night in both the recording studio and the Mac lab in our music building and the Mac became as familiar as any tool can be.
After I graduated, I went through a few dark years where I just didn't have the money to buy my own Apple computer and settled for a Dell Tower instead. I can honestly say that it amazes me how long I put up with that machine. The recording software was inferior, I was constantly dealing with spyware, viruses, the threat of viruses and constant maintenance. Being a music lover, I was always frustrated by the really awkward solutions that I had available for playing and organizing digital music.
At some point, I bought a Pocket PC to keep track of my schedule and address information. I fought that thing for close to 2 years as there was no decent way to sync that thing to my PC. I carried it, a cell phone that also didn't sync with my PC and a paper day planner as the calendar options weren't quite robust enough for my daily to-do needs.
In early 2006, I finally decided to end all this nonsense and I bought a Black Macbook. I have never looked back. I have never had any issues with this computer and it is still running quite well with an external keyboard, mouse and display as our desktop machine with an awesome kid friendly login profile.
January of 2007 was a pretty exciting month for me as I sold my pocket PC on Ebay and started saving up the $600 that I would use to buy my first iPhone. That June, I waited in line for 3 hours with a great client and friend who invited me to come experience the misty/rainy afternoon with him and we had a great time. I've been a hard core iPhone enthusiast ever since.
It is really crazy just how much the iPhone has changed the way that I communicate and process information. I rarely check personal email from my computer and I use it just as much as my computer for all other social networks and web browsing. In addition, there are games and creative apps that aren't even available on my Mac that make the iPhone a necessary device for me.
At this point this year, I've added two new devices, and I'll add a third next month. I'm typing this on a 15" Macbook Pro which is easily the nicest, fastest computer I've ever used. My son is sitting next to me playing a game on my iPad 2 which I use every day for reading, listening to music, browsing the web and a bunch of great creative stuff.
If there is one thing that really keeps me tied to Apple products, it is this-
They don't just work. They work exceptionally. Everytime. They are also enjoyable to use. It never feels like I'm using some clunky tool with an accessory bolted, glued or zip-tied onto the side of it as some jury-rigged solution. That is kind of how I always felt with the incessant searching for drivers, defragmenting of hard drives, incompatability of accessories and software management process. This thing I'm using right now is like a fine luxury sportscar with tons of versatility. Fast, comfortable, intuitive and powerful. Sadly, there are so few other things in life that meet these kinds of high marks and that is what makes the Apple experience rare.
You know how people always talk about things feeling like a part of you because they are so easy to use or fit so well? That is kind of what user interface design is all about. I have always felt that what differentiates good design, whether it be web, product, or software, is the designer's sense of how it will fit into an end-user's daily life. The best stuff generally doesn't require constant tweaking or troubleshooting. That just keeps you from creating and focusing on the stuff that really matters. That idea is really summed up well by Marco Arment here, and the one he references here. Here is a great little excerpt:
I'd rather get a computer that didn't require any maintenance and simply allowed me to do productive work. I'd like to have something to show for all of my clicking and typing instead of simply making information balloons go away. I'd rather write an article for this site than type my serial number again. I'd rather search the internet for interesting or entertaining information to read instead of looking for the solution to an obscure problem for which I only have a useless generic error message. I just want things to work.
The new Apple stuff that is just now being revealed like iCloud, Siri and OSX Lion are a blurring of the lines between user, the device and the thing that you are trying to do. In other words, we are moving towards a world where there will be little to no management of systems required of the end user.
Man I love where we are in the history of tech right now!