Apple designs both the hardware itself and the software (macOS) which runs on it. The way the computer just works is a powerful testament to how important this is. Even Microsoft is noticing, having begun to produce its own beautiful collection of hardware that runs Microsoft’s OS, Windows.
So if you can purchase a Microsoft-designed computer that runs Windows, what sets the Mac apart at this point? The answer is simple: the way macOS is works is far superior to anything else. Care is taken with the way things look and where they go to an extent that nobody else attempts. For example, on a Mac, System Preferences is the place where one can change everything from the desktop background photo to the network configuration. This is an area which can easily get cluttered — just see Control Panel in every version of Windows since Windows 95. It’s a mess, with links to other options that sound like what you might be looking for scattered everywhere. Somehow Apple managed to organise System Preferences in a logical fashion, making it quick and simple to find the setting you need even if you don’t know where to find it.
Then there’s the way things look. Anything the layperson would consider a “computer” these days has a graphical user interface, or GUI. This simply means that the user interacts with the computer via a picture shown on a graphical display (the alternative being a command line where the user types words to tell the computer what to do). Since this is the way the computer interacts with the user, both acting as input and output, this is the most important part of the computer. It is vital that the interface is organised, uses space effectively, and uses consistent visual cues to indicate features to the user (e.g. buttons, links, text areas, and other clickable things).
Let’s compare macOS to Windows in an area where one spends, if not a significant amount of time, certainly a significant amount of clicking when working on just about anything. On the left we have Windows Explorer, and on the right we have the Finder from macOS (click for a larger image):
The file system is how we organise files in a way that makes sense to us. Unfortunately, Windows Explorer has a giant title bar, lots of poorly laid out white space around the file menu, and doesn’t show any way to change how the folder is shown. While the Finder omits the address bar, it manages to include a search bar, a bunch of viewing options (first four buttons), tools to sort by date modified, name, and more, in less space. It’s easy to add a dedicated New Folder button here as well. If that doesn’t convince you, this is what Windows Explorer looks like if you try to match what Finder can do as shown above:
Clatter-bash-screech-whistle-honk! What’s all that? Certainly a lot less room for viewing what’s actually in this folder. It reminds me of layer upon layer of toolbars in the default Windows web browser in Windows XP.
Another way macOS handles some things more cleanly than Windows is where the File menu is placed. These options, in the top left of most windows, typically follow the File-Edit-View-Tools-Help pattern. In macOS, this bar appears just once: at the top left of the display. This both saves space and reduces visual clutter. In many, many subtle ways, macOS maintains a cleaner and more thoughtful layout throughout the OS.
Well-Designed Input Devices
Beyond the way things look, are there any differences? You bet. In my experience, most Windows users have a strong dislike for trackpads, and not without reason. Until recently, trackpads in PC laptops have been small, and without exception they are more difficult to use than a mouse. A typical PC trackpad has trouble rejecting input from a palm and sometimes has trouble detecting the difference between one and two fingers for scrolling. On Windows 8 these trackpads were fraught with poorly thought out gestures which would invoke bizarre unexpected actions from the computer, often covering up whatever was on screen with the date and time, for example. On the contrary, the trackpad found in MacBooks has been spacious and adept at determining the number of fingers in contact with it since day one — in 2008 on the first MacBook Air.
Out of the box, as well, the experience is night-and-day. A PC, out of the box, will turn on … but you can’t do much beyond check out some trial software and browse the Internet on the included browser. A Mac comes with apps to do many things right out of the box:
- Mail: no subscriptions, no downloads. Just sign in with your email account and get going.
- iMovie: import video clips from your phone or camera, and produce stunning movies or creative trailers.
- iWork: lots more on this below.
- Photos: import your photos and let the Photos app sort them according to date. It’s so much easier to enjoy your pictures in Photos than to dig through multiple dated folders full of nondescript file names in search of a particular place or event.
- Messages: this free texting app enables you to communicate with other Apple device owners you know.
- FaceTime: video call one-on-one with someone you know who has an Apple device for free.
- App Store: download apps that have been reviewed for malware from this online store.
- TextEdit: creates, opens, and edits .rtf, .xlsx, .txt, and other word processing files.
- Preview: doesn’t sound like much but does so much! Allows you to view PDFs, images, and a variety of graphics documents. And when you’re done looking, you can edit too: rearrange, add, and delete pages in PDFs, add a signature or some text to a PDF, circle things in PDFs or images, and more.
Regarding iWork, Apple’s software equivalent to Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) consists of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. These apps, known collectively as iWork, are beautifully designed, powerful, and easy to use. Better yet, the whole suite is included with Macs (purchased since September 2013). At worst, if you have an older Mac, the entirety of iWork costs $60 for keeps, versus $69 for just a year of Office, and can be installed on all the Macs you own for no additional charge. If you have an iPad or iPhone, the same suite is available as a free download (or $30 for an iOS device purchased prior to September 2013). Using iCloud, your updates and changes to your document, spreadsheet, or presentation remain consistent between your devices, and the apps all look similar and act in a similar fashion across devices without the one-size-fits-all large-buttoned behemoth that Office has become. It’s easy to pick up the pattern and become more productive no matter where you are – at home on your Mac mini, or on the bus with your iPad.
There are a handful of small things that finish off the picture. Often when I’m looking for a file on my PC, I’ll start a search and keep looking manually. Often I have an idea where to look and come up with the file faster myself. That never happens on a Mac. Spotlight Search scours the whole computer instantly, to the extent that it’s faster to search for apps you want to launch rather than go click them, even if the app is on the Dock.
In summary, a Mac takes care of computing in a more refined, simpler, generally better way. From the look to the feel to what comes with the Mac without the user having to put in any extra cash or effort, Apple’s computers serve the needs of people in all different professions and activities.