Are Mac Fans a Dying Breed?

November 10th, 2006

Some of you might think that I’m not serious about the headline, but hear me out. Times have changed, and the rabid fandom that consumed all of us for over 20 years may not survive in great numbers as Apple spreads beyond its core loyalists.

Consider the iPod, which has become a cultural icon, and is in many more homes than Macs these days. Despite the unwavering popularity of the product, just how loyal are its users? Will they just abandon their iPods when they wear out, assuming something better comes along from another company. Or are they wedded to their music players as much as Mac users are devoted to their computers?

That’s an interesting question raised in light of the impending arrival of Microsoft’s Zune music player. Regardless of how good the player is now, and early reports are decidedly mixed, it’s clear Microsoft is in this for the long haul, or that’s what they claim. Alas, they said the same thing about the PlaysForSure scheme, even though they’re now leaving their partners to hold the bag, as it were. But it’s certain that the Zune and the online Zune Marketplace will improve over time.

There are also some troubling surveys that have been mentioned from time to time indicating that a fair number of iPod owners would buy a different music player if something better came along. Or at least something they perceived as better. If this is true, loyalty is secondary, but when it comes to cultural icons, the public is always fickle.

Now when it comes to those newly-minted Mac users who have deserted the Windows platform, where do they stand? Will they become as fanatical about their Macs as the millions of folks who have stayed with the platform all these years?

Understand that I don’t really regard myself as a fanatic about this or any technology product. I embraced the Mac early on simply because it was a superior tool with which to get my work done. Through thick and thin, even as Apple made lots and lots of stupid mistakes and nearly imploded.

I continue to work with Macs not just out of habit, but because my experience shows that they are still far more reliable and predictable than Windows PCs. This isn’t to say I don’t have problems from time to time. Some can be quite vexing, but most times, I can forget the computer and just concentrate on my tasks of the moment.

But what about those switchers, the folks who are new to the platform? Will they be as taken with Macs as we are, or will they just regard it as a superior tool, but one that they wouldn’t abandon should they perceive that Windows wasn’t so bad after all?

I don’t pretend to know the answers. But I do know that Apple really has to work as hard as it can to “suck them in,” and keep them as customers. This is why I make such a big deal about all those hardware defects with recent Macs. In the scheme of things, perhaps they are no more severe than the issues you encountered on older models. I can even believe that the worst of these problems only affect a relatively small number of users, and that most people never encounter them.

At the same time, there is that nagging feeling that a bad first impression may just convince a former Windows user that things really aren’t all that great on the other side of the tracks. Sure, Macs might be nicer to look at, and the operating system functions in a more consistent fashion. But constant crashes, discolored casings, sudden shutdowns and other sundry defects can sour all the positive feelings real fast.

It is true that the Dell, the HP, the Gateway and all the rest have their own problems, and some Windows conflicts can be so vexing, it might take days and possibly a full system restore, including reinstallng all your applications, to set things right. But it’s easy to believe that Mac problems are no less severe, even if they present different symptoms.

It will take a while before anyone knows whether these new Mac users are just flirting with the platform, and will soon return to their old ways; in other words, back to Windows. If their Mac experiences are reasonably trouble-free, when it comes time to buy another computer, I expect there’s a fair chance it’ll be a Mac. But if things go wrong a little too often, Dell or one of the other companies out there may just reclaim that customer.

So are Mac fans truly a dying breed, being replaced by folks who don’t possess those old loyalties, who would abandon the platform on a moment’s notice if tempted by a few bad experiences? That’s Apple’s challenge, and it’s one they must overcome if those recent market share gains continue. Remember, people do talk, especially those who have something to complain about, and Apple surely doesn’t need to hear any more complaints.

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17 Responses to “Are Mac Fans a Dying Breed?”

  1. John Abell says:

    Thoughtful article, but you might be out of touch with the times. I tutor many consumer level people and find that the switchers are the more enthusiastic supporters of the Mac; sort of like the Moscow transplant who arrives in NYC and realizes that the improvements in Russian life are nothing when compared with life in America. I have yet to find one of new Mac users who pines for “the good old days” on the PC.

  2. Steve says:

    Often the most fanatical person is a convert. I have a friend and colleague who used PCs until a couple of years ago when he got a Powerbook to use with his wife’s photograpy. Not long thereafter he got a G5 tower. He’s the strongest Mac fanatic I know. You won’t be surprised by where we visited on a trip to NYC.

    Another friend/colleague has been using Macs since he got a new 512k, even longer ago than I. I pity any fourth person who rides with us to a meeting.

  3. Karl says:

    I have had the same observation. Back in the mid-to-late ninties, it was fun to be a Mac user – hard but fun. I remember debating the merits of the Mac with Windows users. MacAddict magazine was new and very aggressive in hyping up the Mac. PowerComputing’s ad campaign is still one of my favorites for any product. You really felt rebelious when using a Mac.

    I still think the enthusatic supports are there. I just think more and more people are aware of the Mac so you no longer have to stand on a soap box and debate it. Or maybe not as much as we used to.

  4. Magnus says:

    I disagree with the the idea of us Mac-heads being a dying breed, but if we are I’ll go out kicking and screaming 😉

  5. Doc says:

    Well, even if the newbies are not macFanatics (like I have been since 1985), we macFannies (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) are still here- and have prepped our kids to step into the harness when we eventually step out.

  6. Rand Careaga says:

    My elder brother, whose computer experience goes back to undergraduate programming courses in 1965, made the switch a year ago after mercilessly and continually mocking my platform choice since I brought home my 128K original Mac in 1984. Two weeks in, he emailed me this:

    I hereby retract any and all disparaging comments I have at any time in the past made, or may have been deemed to have made, about Apple and its products of any type or description whatsoever and freely and without reservation state and declare that such products are manifestly superior to the competitive products known as “Wintel” in every respect.

  7. mikey says:

    Am I a Macfanatic – let’s see. I was an early adopter of Macs after a colleague brought his own SE in since the rest of us were using dumb terminals (IBM and VAX systems) with difficult to use programs. It caught on like wildfire in several divisional departments. Things went smoothly even without any IT support until the corporation put in PC’s and mandated no new Macs. I was able to get a G3 Tower before the mandate. Slowly the older non-PPC machines no longer were capatible. I am probably the last holdout in a sea of PCs, but still doing 95% of my work on the Mac. Only as a necessity, do I use a Dell laptop for some operations (finding out what is on the lunch menu, etc). One recent event was of note as the entire global network PCs were infected with a virus for days, but I was still getting my mail as usual. Over the years I have owned an SE, a IIsi, and now have a Beige G3MT and a G4 mirrored doors both used on a daily basis at home. My wife has a PC which I avoid like the plague. I am very comfortable in using both platforms, but it is going to be a cold day in hell before I give up my Macs. Okay, I guess you could say I am a Macfanatic!

  8. Dave says:

    After a false start with an OS 9 switch attempt several years ago, my good buddy (and now business partner) finally bought a Mac. He compained for about 3 months about it not working like Windows. Accordign to him, it was not very intuitive. One day he called me from the Mac store in his neck of the woods. He informed me that he was buying a Mac for his wife. He was sick and tired of maintaining his wife’s Windows box almost daily just to keep it running. He said he finally “got it!” He now recommends the Mac for people who just want to get their work done… A fanatic? No. Convenced? Yes!

  9. 1. “Thank you Apple and Steve Jobs for not bothering with the problem of not having a serious Apple dealer in Greece. For after all these years and so many macs, we the mac users in Greece have become experts in service and solving any problems that comes along!” Mr. Don Taylor.
    2. “Back at the time of Mac OS 4 you sent people to “listen” our opinions and you gave solutions. Today, some years later, with Mac OSX we feel forgotten.” Stavros Stavridis.
    3. “Steve, in my family we have 5 Macs. If you give us AppleGreece, then we will have more than 15! Please, take it into account. My colleges, my friends and my students are stand by: just do the right movement. We will support you so you don’t need to worry about this investment. Trust us, Steve. We love Apple, we love Macs. We love innovating technology combined with design and easy-to-use software. Just do us the favor.” Tassos Kampouris.
    These are only some of the 1301 (until now) Greek Mac fanatics words regarding the We want Apple Greece! online petition to Mr. Jobs. Yes indeed, there are a lot of Greek Mac fanatics and the situation they grow up was not so good to be so.

  10. Michel Filion says:

    I’ve been a Mac addict since I switched from a 386 PC running Windows 3.1. We fought long and hard to spread the Mac gospel, often in the face of derision and mockery. But it seems of late that Apple in it’s haste to position itself as a major player in the market, is slowly drifting away from its loyal base, the professional user. We used our
    Macs day in and day out for work. They were simple, effective, easy to maintain and enabled us to get the job done. Now it seems that they are turning more into bloated candy coated playthings for a new generation that, as you mentionned, might jump ship to try out the next big thing. If history has taught us anything it’s that companies who forget
    their base of users often find themselves skating on thin ice.

  11. Scott says:

    I’ve been using Macs since 1993, along with the occasional Windows machine. My Macs have always been easier to configure and easier to run…generally a cleaner and simpler environment. They have allowed me to do my work with a minimum of hassle. I understand, though, that the Macintosh is simply a machine. It’s not a lifestyle for me. When folks ask why I use a Mac, my reply usually goes…”It’s a tool that works for me. Your mileage may vary.”

    I do hope for a bit of distance between traditional Mac users and the iPod Generation. Apple’s marketing push towards the latter just leaves me cold. Money is to be made here, certainly. But if all of *that* becomes the new definition of a Mac Fan, then they can drop me off at the curb.

  12. MCS says:

    I have been a Mac user now for over 20 years. (Wow! Has it really been that long?? Damn.) Anyway, hate to say it, but I’ve never used them out of loyalty. True, I’ve never strayed either, and even in the darkest years (1996-1999 or so) I stayed with the platform. But it wasn’t from loyalty. Loyalty in this context implies that you stuck with the platform even when there were compelling reasons to switch, or that the other side was simply the better choice. The fact is, the other platform has just NEVER been the better choice for me. I have always valued productivity over raw speed and price/performance ratios, and for that the Mac has always been the better choice. The simple elegance of the Mac is more than an aesthetic quality; it translates into a real ability to get more done in a shorter time-span, and I realized that the price of my time, often a more abstract metric than the much easier to calculate cost of hardware and software, was actually much, much higher than the total cost of the hardware and software available to me in either platform.

    So if I had gone PC, I might have saved a few $$$ getting a machine that had a faster CPU, but those savings would have been eaten up almost immediately by lower production. There is one other huge benefit of the elegance of the machine, and it is just as important as its contribution to the bottom line: the Mac is just a lot more fun to use; it’s far more pleasant — and I can’t put a dollar figure on that. As long as the machine continues to be better (easily for any foreseeable future), I will continue to be a proponent and user of the platform.

    Having said all that, I hope the fan becomes a rarer bird moving forward. I have found that being fanatical about almost anything is usually anti-persuasive to other users. I have found that fans tend to alienate, killing the very platform they want so badly to promote. So if the Mac “fan” is going the way of the dodo bird, it’s probably not a bad thing.

  13. steve says:

    I’m surprised at the Mac fans I’ve encountered over the years who hadn’t used one in ages. They’re often more fanatical than I am, but their employer requires them to use PCs and so they use PCs at home. They planned to get Macs when they have a choice/chance, and many of them have by now.

    I know about as many people who plan to buy Macs for themselves or a family member as I know people who have Macs now.

  14. Ian says:

    Despite the fact that I’ve only been a Mac user for six years, most people consider me a long-time Mac user because I’m one of the very last people who was convinced to switch by the classic Mac OS rather than OS X – in other words, I switched before switching was “cool.” While most of the people I know who switched from Windows in the past few years are enamored with OS X, I’m with those who are disappointed that OS X is still less consistent and polished than Mac OS 9 after being out for five years. I think recent switchers are only getting part of the equation that made Macs irresistible to the old-timers, and therefore aren’t going to be as loyal to the platform. What they see as the “Mac way” is really only a diluted version of what the phrase once symbolized.

  15. KT says:

    For Apple does it matter?

    Witness the legions of Windows using iPod owners who are likely not Apple fan-boys.

    Build good products, and they will come.

  16. Mac user since 1986.
    I couldn’t find reference in any of the posts, but I would submit that we now have many more outlets (Blogs, RSS feeds, etc….) for praise and critisism of the Mac, and are simply more exposed to the good and bad. While I have been a 20-year Mac Fanatic, and have worked enthusiastically as a designer on both Macs and PCs, over the years I have had my (limited) share of problems with the Mac hardware and OS. To be sure, none of them on the levels I have experienced on the PC-side, but issues none-the-less. Now, when there are other Mac folk experiencing issues – we can more easily read about them! I have felt very unique and special as an “Apple-guy” over the years. I would find myself secretly smiling like a proud parent when people talked about their inferior PCs and OS. Now, I reserve that “internal” smile. And, as I continue to read about discoloring laptops, random shut-downs, frequent processor upgrades, etc… I wonder – is it such a great thing that the Macintosh is on the verge of being so universally accepted? Afterall, once that happens, how special will us die-hard Mac Fanatics really be? I am still a freak about my Mac (even though I need an upgrade), it’s just that nowadays I find myself more informed and cautious.

  17. Cary says:

    Just my opinion/POV — No offense to anybody except Apple management.

    As a Mac user since the 80’s I think that if support/enthusiasm is relatively lukewarm (which, as you will see, mine certainly is) relative to ‘the good old days’ maybe it’s because the products are relatively lackluster. Sure OS X is the best desktop operating system on the market, but that’s not saying much and unfortunately all the praise OS X or Apple rates at this point is their junk isn’t nearly as awful as everyone else’s.

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