A response to What’s an Engineer to Do?
To fritter away a huge lead in the race. That’s what Apple’s doing. And Apple’s fans, like me, are so upset about it because we see the trajectory.
Apple in 2002 was facing an uphill battle, but they were going against idiotic PC manufacturers that didn’t care about build quality or design aesthetics, and OS vendors that didn’t care much about developers or power users. The hardware side was racing to make things faster and cheaper and the software side was really excited about lock-in and not much else. So Apple racked up a lot of geek cred by making decent hardware that looked good, was enjoyable to use, and basing the OS on something very geek/programmer friendly.
The industry has now had 16 years to copy from Apple’s playbook, and they have. Dell, HP, Microsoft—they all have good looking hardware that’s inexpensive and well spec’ed. When Apple’s was the best, geeks didn’t mind paying more for it—it’s the best! But geeks do mind paying more for middling or mediocre. Geeks do mind having to explain that Apple is somehow better despite being most expensive of all and somehow not having the best hardware. And frankly, I don’t think most of us care that much about 3 mm. (Does Apple have an anorexia problem?)
But the bigger issue for me is that I belong to that class of developer whose life is fairly portable. I could run IntelliJ on anything, Emacs on anything. I need Unix, I need sed and awk and sh and all that stuff, but otherwise, I’m not really wedded to the Mac—at work, anyway. But Microsoft has spent at least six years or so trying desperately to get us developers to give Windows a shot, and now there’s Bash-on-Ubuntu-on-Windows, the worst named Unix subsystem of them all. But I tried it out and it works out of the box.
So what’s keeping me with Apple exactly? In 2010, they have the best hardware, the best phone and the best laptop and the mini for my parents, everything’s in iTunes and life is great. In 2016, their phone has been getting worse for the last two years (the iPhone 6 is too big for my hands), I have the watch and never wear it because I don’t care about it, the new MBP leaves me cold, and I’m hearing nothing but negativity about the port situation. In 2010, where would I go? To Lenovo or Dell and get some thick ass brick that breaks on the way to the house and won’t run Linux? But it’s not 2010, it’s 2016. Windows comes with Unix, Dell and Microsoft have superb looking hardware. I’m thinking about ditching my smart phone and my smart watch anyway. What’s keeping me here? The dock is pretty?
Things are just starting to get wonky. Apart from the stupid touch bar, the iPhone has to lose the headphone jack so it can be a micron thinner, but the MBP gets to keep it? How do you plug an iPhone into the MBP anyway? And why do they keep making macOS look more like iOS when they’re never going to let macOS have a touchscreen? Why do all the other products feel like they’re fire-and-forget? My Apple TV for instance—I love it, but I’m the worst guy to ask; I have no cable, no dish, I’m not a sports fan or an HBO subscriber. I literally just watch Netflix and Hulu. What happened to all the games that were coming to Apple TV? Why does Vevo somehow fuck up rendering on my Apple TV?
“Why would you buy a PC anymore?” Because sometimes you have shit you have to do, and for that, you need Unix. I need Unix, but I’m not sure I need macOS. And that uncertainty is probably why Tim Cook should think about this question. I promise I’m not the only developer who feels this way, and if the developers leave your platform, it’s going to get spooky on Mac. And faster than you’d expect.