Longtime Mac Users Punished for Loyalty
I'm an unapologetic Mac-junkie. I've got an old, dead Mac laptop that I can't bear to part with from 1996. Our iMac is still up and running, having recently been put out to pasture after a disk drive malfunction. I eagerly bought one of the early iPods, and still use it all the time. And I'm writing to you now from my G4 Cube, which was a gift from a friend years ago. I've watched other Mac lovers fall away from the True Faith, one-by-one, but I never thought it would happen to me. However, yesterday when we brought home the newest addition to our Mac family, an 80 Gb iPod Classic, it would be my turn to be disillusioned. After you pay the hefty $249 price tag, plus an extra $30 for a wall charger (they used to bundle those in for free), plus $55 for the composite AV cable for your TV, plus any other little extras you may need, there is a hidden cost that blows up in your face when you get it home.
In short, the new iPods are not compatible with any operating system before OS 10.4.8. There's a good discussion of the problem here. Basically, if you don't have a newer operating system, you have to buy it before you can use your iPod. If you can't run the newest OS, Leopard, you need to call Apple tech support and they'll graciously sell you the outdated and obsolete Tiger for $129. You can imagine what I said to this gracious offer, after plunking down $350 for the device.
In a way, I should have seen it coming. I had recently spent several hours trying to get my brother-in-law's two new iPods (shuffle and nano) to sync with his PC. But I assumed that it was a Mac/PC thing, and that it could never happen to me. And yet it did. My computer stubbornly refused to recognize the device.
Now, I've seen the criticism that some of those True Believers have directed at those of us disillusioned ones, left behind by the shiny new OS's. We should have read the system requirements on the box.. I admit it. I didn't. There are two reasons for that. One is that after so many years of being able to count on my computer to handle a variety of devices without complaint, it simply never occurred to me. The iPod is a standalone device. All I need my computer to do is exchange data with it. And since my computer has no problem running the newest versions of iTunes and Quicktime, I never expected that there would be any compatibility issues. Moreover, it's become standard and expected for all of these handheld devices to connect to any computer via USB cable. I would never think to check for system requirements for my digital camera or my cell phone.
The other reason is more practical. I never got my hands on the box until I paid for it. We had extensive conversations with the salespeople, in which compatibility never came up, then they unlocked a cabinet, took a box out, and carried it to a cash register. I don't blame them for this. I think they were under the influence of the Mac "it just works" mind-control field as much as I was. Neither do I blame them for not handing me the box and letting me wander around the store with it.
Ultimately, Apple has failed to provide a technical justification for this. The technical support representative made it sound like it was a law of nature or something. "You can't make a device be compatible with an older computer," she said. Sort of like you can't make a zebra be friends with a crocodile? Huh? Wtf? This is obviously just an old-fashioned wallet grab. I can see the marketing execs, in their board room, poring over numbers representing people who were still using older versions of Macs and operating systems. "What if we could force them to buy a new operating system with their iPod? Better yet, maybe they'll decide after all that trouble to buy a new computer. What a slam dunk!"
In fact, I suspect not merely a failure to support the older OS, but some kind of deliberate cloaking of the device, forcing it to be invisible to the older OS. Why else would the computer not even be able to see that there is something plugged into its USB port? And if that's the case, perchance this nasty little easter egg is also turning on accidentally with certain other computers and operating systems, which might explain why my brother-in-law's children were unable to use the iPods they received for Christmas on their PC.
What all of this comes down to, for me, is that I am tired of the platform wars. Enough is enough already. I'm tired of manufacturers trying to force me to buy equipment I don't want and need, or pointless "upgrades" (I shudder to think of my old cube trying to run a bloated newer operating system), just so that I can listen to a song, or download TV shows from iTunes (which, by the way, I was planning to do extensively). I'm tired of trying to exchange text files with people who have some subtly different document format, and seeing all of my formatting turned into gibberish. I'm tired of declaring loyalty to one manufacturer or another just because I bought their product.
When I take my car in for repairs, the mechanic never tells me that my older model car is "no longer supported," or that my new tires are incompatible with my older chassis. I am not forced to stop using my refrigerator because my new food is suddenly incompatible with it. And while I'm on the subject, I don't understand why I need a desktop or a laptop computer at all to use my iPod or my other smart devices. Has no one ever thought of making an ethernet or wireless adapter so that we can download our tunes directly from the internet? Of course not! Because then people might decide they don't need a $2000 laptop just so they can listen to music in the car. Slam dunk!
We ended up connecting the new iPod to a truly ancient PC that we have in the basement, then transferred the video files through our home network so that my son could finally watch his favorite cartoon on it. But we are not pleased.
This is a message to all of you entrepreneurial geeky types out there. I want a smart, hand held device that "just works--really." I want it to be platform agnostic, so that I can use any file type with it. I want it be robust, long-lasting, and durable. I want it to do a lot of jobs for me, but be ridiculously simple-minded to use. I want it to come with a decent warranty and be totally independent so that I never have to connect it to my computer unless I want to. You give me this, and you've got a customer for life. And I have a feeling there are a lot of other folks out there who feel the same way.