Cheating on Apple

Rob Walker just bought a non-Apple gadget for the first time in nearly 25 years. Here's why.

Rob Walker, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

I am in the early stages of cheating on one of the longest-standing relationships of my (consumer) life. I have betrayed Apple.

Given the vibe around Apple these days, maybe this makes me sound like a fickle trend-follower. “Apple In Danger of Losing Its Cool,” the Wall Street Journal bluntly stated the other day, joining a gradually building chorus of skepticism as rivals on multiple fronts — from Samsung to Google to Amazon —have chipped away at Apple’s aura.

But listen: This is a relationship that goes all the way back to a Mac Plus that I bought in college. I’ve been loyal.

And yet when I set out to buy a new smartphone recently, I was pretty determined to get anything but an iPhone. After flirting with Samsung’s much-hyped Galaxy S4, I ended up taking home an HTC One. I’ll get to that, but first I should explain why my decades-old commitment has become strained.

My youthful attraction to Apple was pretty straightforward: I loved the products. They looked good, they worked easily, they were just better. Admittedly, I went through a crisis of doubt at one point in the 1990s: I openly mocked a friend who bought a Newton, and as some software makers abandoned the Mac, I wondered if it was really superior enough to its copycat Windows alternatives to justify the extra money.

But of course Apple turned things around. The computers got sexy again, and I took great delight in showing off my first-generation iPod to a bunch of envious Microsoft employees. I’ve upgraded countless times since.

Then, sometime last year, I contemplated my iPad and iPod Touch, sitting next to my MacBook Pro and I felt a little … queasy. Was I enjoying Apple products, or mindlessly addicted to them? Around the same time, the company muscled Google Maps from its operating system to make way for an inferior, me-too map product. I’d always shrugged off complaints about Apple’s top-down control over the user environment — who cares if it’s a “walled garden” if it’s better than what’s outside? — but this was a case of blunt-force trauma to force an obviously inferior product on customers. That’s not the company I fell in love with as a young man. So I could spin this as claiming that I felt my Apple products had become too controlling. But the truth is, my betrayal was born of spite.

I resisted any form of smartphone for ages (that’s another story) but when I decided to give in and buy one, I was determined to shop around. I admit that I feared settling for something aesthetically inferior. Still, given my frustration with Apple’s Maps and its latest changes to iTunes, I hoped my new device would be more beautiful on the inside.

I’m still early in my relationship with the HTC One, but to my surprise my actual experience has been almost exactly the opposite. As an object, it’s actually fantastic: slim but substantial, classy without being showy, and distinct from Apple’s design conformity in a way that doesn’t come across as merely striving to be different. Not to sound overly concerned with appearances, but I kinda like the idea of being seen with this thing.

On the other hand, I’m less smitten with the device’s Android operating system; it feels less intuitive than iOS. Perhaps, though, that feeling is shaped by so many years of doing things Apple’s way. And since that’s exactly the rut I was trying to escape, I’m making an effort to adjust to HTC One’s habits.

Because the bottom line is that I have no regrets about cheating on Apple. While I doubt I’ll break with the brand completely, I think my devotion had become a little unhealthy. Sometimes it’s good to play the field.

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