The Bankwatch

Tracking the consumer evolution of financial services

The eternal Apple vs the rest debate

I got into another discussion yesterday about what is bad about Apple products. Someone looked at my Mac and immediatley went into the usual tirade.  It is a familiar refrain but as someone who has used Windows, Linux and iOS/ OS X extensively I thought it time to get behind this discussion and explore why the apparent sides in this matter feel this way.

Some of the main points were:

  • Apple controls everything
  • Apple is not open
  • I do not wat to be controlled
  • Apple is expensive

Yesterdays particular discussion shifted to taking a couple of old laptops running now unsupported Win XP and installing Linux on those for the kids to use for surfing.  Ok, that is a valid method for maximising old hardware life, but it kind of changes the subject which began by an attack on Apple.

This is often the way that consversation goes, from an attack on Apples closed software to attempts to achieve alternatives that often are actually indirect attacks on the problems of Microsoft Windows.  In other words it is rarely a OS X vs Windows debate, and rather a solo attack on Apple/ OS X.

Underlying these debates is often hardware cost.  This gives grudging admiration to Apple but asks is it worth the cost?

This all together leads me to believe this issue has more underlying drivers including personal values associated with human values of independence and freedom of expression.  Or are those feelings really a way of rationalizing the conflicting points of technical utility, practicality and cost.

Lets explore some those issues and I am mainly thinking Windows vs OS X unless otherwise mentioned:

Open vs closed

At a software level they have many similar capabilities.  The core approach is opposite in that Windows is open unless you close it down, whereas OS X begins totally closed unless you open it.

Using OS X if you download any app deliberately or inadvertently (more on that later) then an admin box appears indicating you cannot proceeed.  User must go to preferences where the settings are for no downloads, downloads from Apple Store or to allow this one time internet download.

A similar situation with Windows 7 would provide a box asking ok to install, click yes and done.

This flow goes to the heart of the open/ closed debate. It needs to be framed in how your own system is yours and the internet is somebody else.  The internet may be good or bad.  At best there may be spamware.  At worst there will be malware that accompanies your download, and does nefarious things such as attach your machine to support a botnet, record your passwords etc.

Professional security folks will always tell you that the going assumption is that you will be attacked.

OS X works with you to make that much harder to attack your system.  Windows places the protection in your hands.

Open vs closed comes down to who you trust for protection of your system, passwords, personal information … yourself or smart software that works with you.

Winner – No winner.  This one is judgmental and subjective.

Lets look at other aspects, and come back to this in the conclusion.

Usability – OSX is too hard

At a purely interface level, yes Windows does well on this.  OS X betrays its engineer/ Unix background.  Personally I am ok with that.  Once you are into any app in OS X it is simply gorgeous on the retina screen.  I spend most of my time in Microsoft Office, Safari and Evernote because that aligns with work and the experience that the Apple hardware brings shows through here.

But at the OS level windows is easy for most people, easy to locate files, change basic settings in control panel and install new software.

Winner – Windows

OS stability

This is where it gets interesting.  My MacBook happens to have maximum RAM but I also use Office it is hogs RAM whether in Windows or OSX version.  In any office environment its quite often you have Outlook, Word, Powerpoint, and Excel running.  Certainly at least two or three of the four.  In Windows land this will always get you more and more frequent egg timers.  In OS X maybe after a week of heavy use there is no spinning rainbow but some slight slowness is detected.

With windows, a reboot is the only answer and for heavy users, at least daily.  OS X is good for several days or week depending on app use.

Winner – OS X


The gap has closed, but no question that Apple is more expensive.  The gap has been closed by two key changes:

  • delivery of the MacBook Air.  At $1,000 it is still almost double the typical Staples/ Best buy laptop, but the absolute difference is much less than before.
  • OSX is now free, whereas upgrades used to be paid.

The quality of laptop construction comes into play here because the Windows based unit will fall apart sooner than the Apple.  But you cannot get (easily) windows on Apple hardware.

Interestingly Apple users see Apple as an integrated offering of OS, hardware, secure password storage across devices (Keychain), shared music, whereas windows users look at maximised laptop hardware and price and acquire those other features on an ad hoc basis.

Apple integrated at the OS and hardware level, whereas Windows is generally integrated at the app level. That visibility at the app level gives windows level a certain amount of distrust of OS X which handles a lot behind the scenes.  Explicit versus intuitive.

Winner – Windows based laptops 

Ecosystem (or going native)

What you may ask?  If you are OS X user you will instantly know once we speak about it.  Windows users will either look blankly, or the better informed will immediately pounce on this as the real problem they have with Apple.

Once you begin using Apple everything is simple and there when you need it.  However to get the full benefit without workarounds requires adoption of iTunes, Keychain and inherently iCloud although that is behind the scenes.

Adherents of Dropbox, music torrents, Google Play, LastPass (or similar), Chrome/gmail will immediately point to lack of features in the Apple ecosystem, and how they are so far behind.

No question Apple have stuck to principles of deep engineering and intuitive vs overt in their design.  This has left Apple beind in the feature race.  Mind you that was not a race Steve Jobs accepted as valid or tht mattered.

Once one goes down this road it becomes a race for for the latest shiny object.

Ten years ago this was a very valid issue.  Now with advent of OS X the ladscape is more level.  I cannot explain why it took Apple 20 years to realise that photo storage was important but it obviously just didn’t make the cut till now.

Its a different point with music and iTunes.  Those who grew vast libraries of free music will not prefer iTunes.  This dicsussion is out of scope here, but if thats important it will permeate many choices when it comes to OSX and Windows because the Apple ecosystem has iTunes as a key component.

The ecosystem discussion is interesting in where it is going.  It largely centres on Google and Apple. Microsoft is not a player here.

Think Google Now in this context.  Apple is working to make OS X and iOS work closely together.  Begin a document on one device and pick up on another.  Google integrates calendar, Google Apps and Chrome into an evolving platorm that can sit on Windows or OS X.

When I look over the shoulder of most developers, they are constantly using hybrids of Apple and Google ecosystems on their laptops and smartphones.

The average joe has multiple variants on this. Google now has an inherent intuitiveness that may begin to take on characteristics that are closed system like which will provide an interesting extension to the debate with the Open/ Closed brigade.

So the current picture is one of multiple variants of Win based/Apple Laptops, tablets and smartphones with many creating their own ecosystem by owning both platforms for each genre.

Business model

My Friday discussion entered the realm of business models.  The Apple model is built on selling hardware, and hardware with above average longevity and finally customer recognition that it just works so well they will stick with Apple.  Its rare for converts to return to Windows of their own volition.

Yet people also upgrade to get the new features, so their is some aspect of Apple that must have built in obsolesce at some level.

Apple will always be only almost there with battery, RAM and other drivers of cost and this offers methods of introducing improvements in new models that attract not just new users, but upgrade users.  This is particularly so in the smartphone market but not going there today.

This discussion is about the software because that is what people see and debate.

Winner – not relevant to this debate



  • Open/Closed, (No winner)
  • Usability (Windows)
  • stability (OS X)
  • Cost (Windows based laptops)
  • Ecosystem (mixed)
  • Business model (interesting but not relevant)

When I started this piece I thought it would be short and show windows as a clear winner at the moment. But it is more complicated and shows cost and hardware features as probably large drivers of peoples decisions.

Usability falls to Windows, but how much of that is user familiarity that passes down generations, and linked to fear of change.  Better the devil you know kind of a thing.

Going back to the Open/Closed disucssion, this only comes up with those who have some interest in technology and understand enough to make this their point, although there is a large echo chamber effect here on many proponents of either view. Some are afraid of being boxed in rather that understanding the partnership that OS X brings for protection.

There is a reason that Windows software is the primary source of malware attacks.  Its just much easier for the bad guys.

Desite the arguments, the market share of Apple laptops is growing amongst those who need laptops for work.  It has been long 100% in the Marketing/ Design /Developer Agency business, but journalism and medical has largely shifted to Apple now.  Personal use of Apple is growing.  Business use is the last holdout. This is a function of cost and IT resistance to change.  Resistance in the very real sense of new audit, testing, migration considerations and difficulty in providing a solid business case.

Over time it looks to me that Apple will continue to make inroads.  But the debate will continue.

Very intersting to see how the Apple and Google competition evolves, and to what extent Google will take fuller control over Android and how that shapes things. To some extent the longer Google takes to solve that puzzle, simple buys time for Apple.

Written by Colin Henderson

February 28, 2015 at 17:15

Posted in Uncategorized

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