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Apple. Love or loathe...

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by , 20th June 2011 at 11:30 PM (3451 Views)
I think most people are already well aware of my opinions of Apple as a company, and sometimes this also derides confusion as to whether I also "hate" their products too, so maybe a little detail without a thread are in order, for those that care to read.

I have a HUGE amount of respect for a company that can get into that level of being, where their products' names are used synonymously (is that a word?) to describe larger groups of products in the same way that Hoover did. Is that a good or bad thing? It doesn't particularly matter, at the moment it acts as part of their advertising campaign. But like Hoover, that will soon die out, and people will be able to go into a shop (hopefully!), ask for an iPod and walk out with an <insert_generic_product_name_here>. Hopefully, because that means the trademark will be disambiguated from the company and competition once again opens up.

People often follow a company just because they like the company. Plenty of fanboys will follow Apple blindly just because they like the cut of Steve Jobs' polo neck, they like their ideals, or they like the brand of coffee served in Apple stores. Some just like their hardware. Others are just others.

So where does my opinion and point of view come in?

Dislike. I'm very much against Apple as a company purely because they so often feed their fans with absolute crap and they get away with it. "We are selling the world's thinnest laptop" - how they got away with that I don't know, there were a few thinner alternatives that were actually far better too, cost a lot less but were not perhaps quite as shiny. But they got away with it. They even got away with "The world's best phone". I don't understand that one personally, "best" is very subjective and I could have named 10 other devices I'd have before an iPhone. But that's my choice - I don't like iPhones, they're too flimsy, I spend far too long repairing the bloody things for other people and more to the point the cost does not justify the means for me. My Blackberry is a more rounded device - I prefer tactile keys instead of touchscreens, perhaps I'm just old fashioned. Hell yeah, I'd like a shiny nice HTC thingy because I like the idea of supposed openness, another criticism I have of Apple and it's products. I like to tinker and play, and you just can't do that without breaking rules, laws and voiding warranties.

Does it make iPhones bad? No, of course it doesn't.

I have plenty of experience with Apple products, but mostly on the hardware side of things. I'm a tinkerer by nature, and I like getting my hands dirty. Everything I own soon comes apart at some point. After all, I own it, I'm free to do what I choose with it. Obviously I don't own a console
I have grievances with Apple's design, and their apparent "form over function" ideal. The amount of overheating MBP's I have had to deal with isn't really funny, and frankly there are far easier machines to work on. Their design doesn't lend to efficient cooling and as a result the lifetime of the products can sometimes be less than you'd expect from a premium product at the premium end of pricing. There's been plenty of well publicised cases of poor design such as the reception issues on iPhones, iPod's that can only play tracks randomly (but really, I just want to play the album one after the other!) and god only knows how many other flaws.

Does that make them bad? No, not really. Plenty of other computer and electronic product manufacturers suffer from bad design flaws and suchlike, they're far from alone. Batteries exploded in other laptops too. Apple were not the only company to suffer with capacitor plague. Like the other companies, that was partly their fault too.

My problem with Apple products, especially in educational establishments, is value for money. Is the cost justifiable?
I will shout and rant and rave at someone all day if they so much as dare to tell me that "Apple's are so much better than PC's at xyz" because it's never true. They ARE PCs. PC, which people have conveniently forgotten, is Personal Computer. Your Atari 800, XL or XT was a PC. Your Apple Macbook is a PC. Your iMac is a PC.
Marketing and advertising has moved so far away from the truth it's unbelievable. And people actually fall for it and bait it. "Mac vs PC" is one of my most hated arguments AND my favourite at the same time, as the fanboys come out in droves to defend their corner.
What for? Are you scared of something?
So, value, in education. Apple products do have a fairly hefty premium in cost, with little to show for it in difference to a "PC" other than the operating system over the top. And some people have the balls to never use it and just use Windows on it. Nothing makes me laugh quite so much. The biggest use of Apple hardware I see in schools is media related. No reason whatsoever other than software driven, what is seen as the best software is generally best on OSX. There's plenty of software for Windows too, the hardware isn't any worse, but unfortunately it's tied down to the OS which is also tied to Macs only.
That being the biggest problem, it's also one of Apple's biggest strengths.

Unified hardware.

"PCs" are made up of tens of thousands of different components by different OEMs running tens of thousands of software combinations.
That scares Apple shitless. They are absolutely not capable of "buying into" or understanding that level of compatibility.
It's not only Apple that are worried about that - just about everyone that codes software or designs hardware for PCs has nightmares about. Thankfully there are things in place on a PC to help unify parts to make this far easier than it actually is - BIOS/UEFI, HALs, operating systems, virtualisation, stringent standards on just about everything. It's an absolute minefield. And I bet it scares the shit out of you when you have to install that one bit of software you know damned well isn't going to work. Yes, Digital Blue, I mean you!
So why is unified hardware Apple's strength?
With a far more limited range to cope with, it means their software and OS is far lighter. FAR lighter. As a direct result, there's less that can go wrong. Not that it won't, I bet noone here has never seen a Mac crash. But theoretically at least, they SHOULD be that touch more reliable. Things like media encoding should be less of a chore because it hasn't got 350,000 combinations of decoder/encoder hardware, processor instructions, memory types, operating systems etc to work through/past/over.
And it works, quite well at that.
I have estimated for quite a while (thinking back, probably for the last 10 years) that sooner or later, we'd see more Apple or Apple-like products with much more limited combinations in homes and businesses, leaving things like "PCs" for the enthusiasts and tinkerers. Even now I'd like to think that might be the case, mostly because it would have to mean massive failure in The Cloud - see my last blog post about that.

I do not believe that Apple products constitute a workable value for money in the education sector, currently. They are not less likely to fault, they are not less likely to user error, and they are not easier to use than a Windows 7 box. They are, however, different and popular. That alone means I would *love* to see more exposure to their products in the educational sector because it gives the students more experience with them. I would expect a degree of common sense to guide a student out of school and into work, but if even a little exposure to different products at school gives them that little bit of help in the workplace, it has to be worthwhile. Why spend 6 years learning German when you only ever go to France. Why spend 6 years learning Publisher, Access and Movie Maker when you leave to work somewhere using Photoshop, Final Cut and iPages.

So it's a bit of a catch 22 then. People shouldn't be paying that amount of money for something Apple make, IMHO, but at the same time they shouldn't be deprived of it. There's good arguments currently on the forums about the iPad in schools. Do I see sense in it? I don't know because I haven't really played with them much. I've set a few up for people. What about in the classroom? Forget about iPads for the time being, let's just talk tablets.
I see them being an invaluable teaching tool. I see the future being a teacher walking around his or her classroom, tablet in hand, which relays wirelessly to a large picture on the wall via projector. I see registration and behaviour being recorded on them, I see notes being read and taken on them. I see them replacing the PC stuck in the corner of the classroom running SIMS and the whiteboard.

I do not, however, see them becoming available for the students. I'm not convinced they're sturdy enough to start with, and they're certainly too expensive to trust in the hands of some people. But forgoing all that, what use would they be? They can't replace pen and paper - that's a given ability that needs to be kept alive regardless of technological advancement. I'm not sure they'd ever really be much more than a slightly more powerful version of the "classroom voting systems" that used to be so popular, and are now stacking up in peoples storerooms. I'm actually interested to see how many people offer those for free when my Swap Shop is set up.
However laptops in classrooms is increasingly popular - certainly in primary schools, and perhaps tablets can be an adequate replacement for those. Key skills must always be at the top of anyones goals but if there is something that can help them grow and learn, it can't be a bad thing, right?

I would perhaps like to see my above opinion proved wrong, in fact I'm waiting for some people from NorthantsBLT to share their experiences with a class that has been using such devices extensively. It's not really my remit in my new position however I still like to keep in touch with it all and retain an opinion; it may well help forge the future for my own school in different ways.

Ignorance is not the way forward. Despite really disliking Apple and what they stand for, why should that get in the way of progress? I still grit my teeth when someone hands me an iAnything, but only because I can see the logo on it. I don't grit my teeth at the user, or the product. I don't whinge endlessly about how bad it is to that person - after all, it's their item, they bought it for a reason and perhaps it just suits them. What can be wrong with that?

Let's keep thinking about how things can improve, how students can benefit from technology and how we can help them get the most from it. You might not have the budget to cater for Apple hardware but it doesn't mean the ideas can't be taken onboard. So the school down the road have a budget for IT bigger than your entire school's budget and have an iPad for every student. Perhaps 3 or 4 generic tablets can provide that little extra boost for you? Maybe just for your SEN department; I've seen the impact that a little touch and feel can have for a student with learning difficulties with interactive whiteboards and SMART tables. I've also seen it on smaller HTC smartphones with infant school children.

Just think about what you can achieve, and what your students could aspire to be. It doesn't have to have Apple stamped on it, but don't write them off just because of an ignorance of technology.

Updated 21st June 2011 at 12:21 PM by ZeroHour



  1. GrumbleDook's Avatar
    If you want to see them being used by students you only have to ask. I can take you to a goodly number of local schools where they have been used and used effectively. I am not saying it is without pain ... a certain amount of that has had to be managed by laborious work by me or, more frequently, one of me LA colleagues.

    It might even be that as a device they are more suited to primary school. Heck, they get so much more out of it than I have seen in secondary schools so far, but that is not unheard of for new tech. Unfortunately, as you are all too aware, the standard of tech and the standard of teaching with tech in primary schools is too varied ... and that will not be solved by a single device such as an iPad or any other tablet. Then again, neither would a Wii, a new machine running Windows 7, a lovely setup based on Ubuntu ... but that doesn't mean we don't try.
  2. WelshWoody's Avatar
    This may sound a little odd but here goes. What are the hygeine issues involved with having a tablet shared amongst so many people? I know someone who works in a well know DIY chain and they have to use an antibacterial wipe on the touch screen tills inbetween users which is just changing from one person to another?
  3. synaesthesia's Avatar
    What difference is there from using normal computer keyboards? None really - same bacteria involved, in keyboard there's more places for them to harbour; so in my mind that would make tablet type devices a little better in that respect. Some of the laptops I've been working on in the last couple of weeks have certainly been home to some interesting life forms
  4. mrbios's Avatar
    Value is a bit of a moot point when people will happily **** money up the wall on over specced over priced PCs instead, on occasion on these very forums. Though i won't get into "that" whinge...again.
  5. synaesthesia's Avatar
    Unfortunately true - whilst in most cases overspeccing can be of use when they do it for machines that will never see more action than perhaps 4 Word windows at once, it makes you want to ask these people what on earth they are doing in that job - unless they're earning cashback from suppliers on the naughty!
  6. mrbios's Avatar
    The interesting thing with it is that people use that excuse that "media" is done all over the school, but that begs the question: What constitutes as media?

    To me media is kids going around making videos with digital cameras, of a decent quality, then editing the video files into some sort of movie or presentation, maybe with sounds and/or graphics added on. What worries me is that people are considering media to be the lesser form of that, in other words kids going around with little digital cameras that make small 10mb video files then making little videos in movie maker (like our geography and PE departments do), the school would call that media as a lesson but i wouldn't use the term media towards speccing a PC if that was the best they were used for. Bit of a minefield really though, no one will ever freely accept they're included
  7. synaesthesia's Avatar
    Our school is a good example of exactly that : we have dedicated systems for media which are of very high specifications (mostly Core i5, 4GB ram min, dedicated scratch disks). People do want to do a couple of things on other machines and more basic editing like Movie Maker goes on on other stations but that's never an excuse for spending school's money unwisely. £300 will get a school a system that will do these tasks fine and still leave enough room for Call of Duty - very rarely is a case for mainstream computers to go much over that requirement!


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