*A piece of apple cake: ‘Taart’ is the Dutch word for cake, and ‘Appeltaart’ made with apple slices and raisins is a staple of cafés and bars across the country. If you’re ever here, try it with coffee or a beer.
Last year when I was in Holland I interviewed the very knowledgeable Miro Lucassen, editor of the country’s Mac magazine Mac Fan. This year I happened to end up here again for several weeks and thought it would be interested to talk to a dedicated Dutch Mac user, and had the good fortune to meet a man who goes by the trade name of Mediatoop. He’s a long-term Apple user and was, at one-time, a professional basketball player. We chatted back and forth about what we think about Apple, and I gained some insights into the Dutch Apple scene
Mediatoop was born in in Nijmegen, in the east of the Netherlands, and has played basketball there and in the US, plus lived for a time in Berlin.
“When I was really young, eight or something, I turned on a compact Mac SE and it said ‘Welcome to Macintosh’ and I thought that was a pretty cool thing. Before that I had played games on the Atari and Commodore. I subsequently went to Graphic Design School in Nijmegen, then worked in graphic design companies. After that, I went to the Art Academy in 1999, because I wanted to do something with my creativity, specialising in graphic design and media arts. And at the academy, I started to help fix the Macs and keep them going. That’s when I totally dived into Mac, because that was the time Steve Jobs came out with the first colourful iMacs, the start of the revolution of the Imperial Mac Stuff we have now.” He laughs at his description. “I worked on Mac and I loved it, because the easiness and the functionality was great: not just from the software, but from the hardware.
“With a PC, you have to fight with it. There are also great PCs, but I don’t like the software. It’s too complicated. There can be ten ways to do one thing.”
“The IT guy from the academy always asked me to help him with the Mac IT stuff, so that’s when I learned the whole ins and outs of the computers and Apple Server.”
After the Art Academy, Mediatoop began a graphic design company. “At first, Apple was really a niche product for graphic designers and musicians here. It wasn’t such a general computer for ordinary computer users [in Holland] because they didn’t know about it. But then Apple came out with the new iMacs, and that was the start of the new Mac age, and I think it was really clever how Apple did it. Because after that Apple took the consumer music industry with the iPod – they already had the graphic artists.”
“Then came iPhone, and at first I was a little afraid. Why is a computer company going to make a phone? At that time, Nokia was top with phones, so why? But the iPhone is also a computer, so … it’s actually similar in functionality to a laptop. I don’t see it as a phone. Sure, you can use it as a phone too.
“Other smartphones are great, sure, but the simplicity of iOS and the way it works with my Mac is the selling point. If I get an Android in my hands, it’s working great, but it’s a little bit like Windows. Lots of things going around … I prefer the simplicity and the powerful software so it all works properly.
“These days I do a little design work, and I help people in Rotterdam with their Macs. I fix the hardware, at least hard drives and RAM, and clean up the software, and give buying advice. I also follow the Open Source community for Mac. Recently I have started to create my own electronic music.
“I am now making music at home, in Ableton. Electronic music. I grew up with it, from 1993. I like it. For me it’s like the modern version of what Bach and Mozart did, back in the day.”
One person having control of many streams of music to make a whole?
“Yes. And the beautiful thing is, when you do a live gig, you can change mid-track. I am working up to playing live. I have friends who are deejays and I’ve been following this music for a long time. I keep up with the trends and sounds.”
“I like a lot of electronic music styles: Deep House, Techno, Tech-house, whatever, but not Dub Step. To me that wobble in the bass line just sounds fake. It’s not rockin’. I think bass is very important. The bass has to be good. I always start with the bass tracks, maybe making three and merging them, and building everything else on top.
“I already veejay as well as deejay. I veejay like a deejay – scratching with the images when the deejay is scratching with the vinyl.”
Like Nijmegen, Amsterdam and Berlin, Rotterdam is an established hotbed of electronic music with some great venues.
Apple in Holland
Back to Apple: “I think the iPod changed a lot for the consumer. Now many normal people these days have Macs, but you still don’t see them that much in offices, although a few companies in Amsterdam have changed to Apple. It’s expensive, but easy to maintain and they don’t have all that trouble with viruses.
“I think iPod and then iPhone boosted the [Netherlands’] market for Mac. But I think Apple has to be careful. The latest MacBook Pros aren’t configurable. You can’t change the RAM or hard drive yourself.” But he concedes the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is beautiful and very powerful.
We talk about the schism for Mac users these days. Once upon a time, almost all Mac users were professionals of some sort. Now most Mac users aren’t. Apple seems to be faltering where it’s drawing the line between consumer and professional users. Which is the appliance and which is the professional device? “It’s changing because everyone got an iPod, so then everybody wanted a Mac computer. Apple making the latest MacBook Pros unchangeable is a mistake. You spend all this money on a Mac, as much as you can afford, and if you wanted to speed up it later, you added more RAM. Now you can’t. I don’t think that’s consumer friendly.” Mediatoop thinks this is a Tim Cook mistake, and that Steve Jobs wouldn’t have allowed it (I’m not sure I agree, if it’s true Jobs had a roadmap figured out for Apple going five years beyond 2011).
“Professionals like to upgrade themselves, so they can keep their Macs up to date as their business use and budget changes. I miss this freedom.
“The Mac Pro tower is the ultimate. These are monsters. They are beautifully designed, like art pieces. They are extremely upgradeable even with little knowledge. If you have that computer, you can work for 12 years with it. If you open a similar PC, it’ totally rubbish inside. A mess. In a Mac Pro, everything is logical. Everything is clear. You can put four hard drives in, three video cards, and boost the RAM astronomically.”
MW — But Apple has really lagged on keeping this model up to date, although Tim Cook has broadly hinted that something sensational is going to come out in the Mac Pro space early next year.
If so, “I hope it’s as upgradeable as the current line, and perhaps four-times or eight-times Quad-Core CPUs. Something monstrous! But it’s not the trend. So I hope Apple doesn’t do the same thing with the new tower that it’s done with the MacBook and iMacs.”
MW — Closed machines, in other words. It’s a good point, but once again underlines the schism between Mac consumers and Mac professionals. Once upon a time, Mac offices would have a couple of towers for the graphics/audio/video professionals and other sundry MacBooks and iMacs for writing, marketing, management etcetera. Now all you see is iMacs, since they can have built-in 27-inch screens and the power to easily handle Final Cut, Logic, Pro Tools, Premiere … if you do see a tower, it’s often under a desk running the network. It’s obvious why: you can get three iMacs for the price of one Mac Pro along with a monitor big enough to do it justice (which you have to buy separately).
People still upgrade their Mac towers, but there’s been no real new model for a couple of years and even the latest 15-inch MacBook Pro matches it in speed. But the point is: is an iMac a professional or a consumer machine? When you turn it on, it acts like a consumer machine – you can’t even see the hard drive by default any more, and yet it can have very good specs and achieve hard-out work like a pro machine.
Mediatoop has a different take: “Well, both professional and consumer users need the Mac. It lets you do extraordinary things.”
They’re long-lasting, too. “I still get Macs to sort out that are still running after six years. PC laptops – and there are great ones, no doubt about that – but after three years you can throw them away. If I buy something, I expect it to last longer than a cheap appliance.”
Advice for Apple
Mediatoop has advice for Apple. “One, I think Apple needs to bring this upgradeability back. Two, Mountain Lion needs to be sorted out. It’s not so stable. Snow Leopard was a perfect system – strong, fast, small in data terms and didn’t crash. This was the ultimate OS X ever. I think Apple’s development cycle got too fast on OS X and they need to sort out the bugs in Mountain Lion, and recreate that very stable platform.”
MW — I point out that the cycle has been driven by iOS – iCloud compatibility in Lion, then Mountain Lion supporting iOS6 and iCloud better.
“I think Apple is experimenting a lot when it should be focussing on stability. And as for the features that make it more like iOS, well, fine, but really it’s two interfaces on one Mac – the normal OS X we are used to and this optional touchpad-like interface.”
MW — Back over a decade, there was the Simple Finder option in System 9. I think that’s what we need back. When you first turn a new Mac on, you should get the choice: consumer use or professional? If you tick professional, you get the hard drive visible by default for those who like to employ and control the traditional file structures for files and the Dock. If you choose Consumer, you get Mission Control and the even more iPad-like Launchpad. They don’t know they have an Applications folder with all sorts of extra things in it? Fine.
OS X is becoming a confusing mishmash with different approaches to file management and software launching. If home users really don’t want to see their file structures, fine, but for those with knowledge and/or aspirations, this is both limiting and annoying. Also, by default in Mountain Lion you can only install software bought (or free) from the Mac App Store. The warning that you’re trying to install something from outside the Mac App Store can almost make you almost think you’re dying to install malware when many developers have happily been vending perfectly excellent Mac software via their websites, Amazon and PayPal. The pros know this, but consumer users wanting to sort photos, surf the ’net, play music and get email can find this intimidating.
“None of this is good for Apple’s professional market. Now is the time, with Apple at a high peak, to stay stable and stay Mac. Consumers ask professionals for advice when they want to buy Macs and pro users were the bedrock of the Mac’s success historically. Apple has to keep these professionals happy.”
MW — The Final Cut Pro X debacle wasn’t a good sign, either. It really upset a lot of people.
“Ja. Steve Jobs had a philosophy of building the best possible. Apple has to keep that. Tim Cook has to be aware of these things. I hope he is. Because when I saw Mountain Lion for the first time, it reminded me a little bit of Android and Windows.”
“Of course it’s not Windows, but they have to screw it back. Clear the code in Mountain Lion and get rid of the bugs. And this stupid Location thing, tracking your Mac everywhere. That’s bullshit. Why? That’s like Microsoft thinking: to know where you are.
“When I buy a Mac, I buy the fastest I can, and then I work five years with it. It gets a hard life and after five years, it’s finished. But I still have a G4 tower, that I use for internet writing, photo stuff, a little video stuff. It’s over seven years old, still a PowerPC. These were tanks. Unbelievable.”
The Walled Garden
MW — What about the criticism that Apple is a Walled Garden?
“That’s not actually true. Apple releases the SDK (Software Development Kit) to anyone, and there are more Open Source Mac developers out there than you think. I dived into that and saw a lot of great, sometimes weird programs. But you must be a programmer to really understand that stuff. X-code is an option in the system software, so there’s a lot of developing going around, and that’s great. And Apple must also be learning from those people.”
MW — But with iPhone and iPad, the hardware is totally fixed. All of the flexibility in configuration comes from the apps. This could be the model for future Macs.
“That would be the end of the computer. We don’t need it anymore. We take our iPhone 6 or 7 or whatever, and that is your computer: you plug it into a TV with HDMI, project a keyboard onto the desk … I do think that’s the future. But I don’t hope for that, as I like to have devices for different things.”
MW — Besides, an iPhone is much easier to lose. Maybe that’s why Apple is developing Siri and Dictation, to get away from the keyboard. The keyboard is not a good design – the QWERTY key layout designed to slow your typing down, in fact.
“Sure. Apple has pioneered all-in-one device before. iDevices will eventually become extremely powerful. But for now, I like the separation.”
MW — Perhaps the iPad should be further defined as ‘Apple’s consumer Mac’. It doesn’t matter that the user can’t see or use the file structure how they want to. Maybe that’s where Apple should draw the line: Macs for pros, iDevices for consumers. But I don’t think this line is drawn clearly at all any more, and I agree this doesn’t seem very Jobsian.
“Also, why can’t the iPhone appear on my desktop like a thumb drive, so I can directly control what I put on there? Doing it via iTunes is silly. And exchanging files is still really unintuitive. I think the iPad is a test device for future development; an experiment to get the iPhone and the computer into one device, for example with iMessage as the first comms technology. In the far, far future (like five years!) they’ll also develop things to put in your brain. It’s getting closer and closer to the human body. We’re already always connected, via devices that fit in our pockets.”
MW — Sure. I can connect as quickly to my daughters in New Zealand as I can with you around the corner.
“Yes. And the laptop; you can always use it as a phone, with FaceTime and Skype.”
He doesn’t trust iCloud either. “iCloud is cloudy! Apple doesn’t even tell you where the servers are. Where is my data? Who else can access it? Just buy a big hard drive and back up to it properly. Then you know where your data is. With real clouds in the sky, they are moving and changing. iCloud is Apple’s to control. It’s not yours. You can’t touch it. Your ‘iCloud’ should be your iPhone to your Mac, that’s all.”
Do you think Apple will start to decline?
“There are issues. But the Maps issue, for example. Apple has to work on it, sure. Of course Google Maps is the best – Google has been working on it for years already. Apple is going to fix it anyway. Why are people screaming about it like little children?”
I think Apple should have called it Apple Maps Beta.
“Yes! But Apple does have the resources to make this work properly.”
MW— Like me, Mediatoop finds some users have made horrendous messes on their Macs, strewing files all over the place. Maybe the next step is that OS X cleans up after you? You leave a file on the desktop and phht! Os X puts it in the Documents, Photo or Movies folder.
“Yeah, maybe … but I would hate that.”
MW— But this could be another thing you could turn off.
Mediatoop thinks Apple has really made it in the consumer market in Holland; the very first Apple Store opened late last year (before, it was only Licensed Resellers as is still the case in New Zealand). “Now, everywhere I go, I see Macs in people’s houses. I think it’s at 16 or 18 per cent of the market here now. But it’s still not really in office environments. So I think that’s Apple’s next target.”
Mediatoop uses his Mac in English as that’s how it was when he learnt, but thinks the language support built into the OS is a fantastic feature and has helped Apple to gain users around the world. “I think Apple’s support for local languages is a great feature.
“But I don’t get why Apple doesn’t sort out problems with Flash and Java. They are both good systems – and that’s one reason why everything works well on Snow Leopard, because they integrate well. Java used to be an excellent partner with OS X. Maybe there’s a secret fight there, I don’t know. I think Apple wants only Apple code in its system, to make it stronger. I think that’s the intention.
“Apple is really smart at buying up Unix experts. If I had a company, I would want the best workers too.”
MW— What about when Apple runs out of cats? Little cats like the Civet and Ocelot don’t really cut it.
“Yeah, maybe they’re going to build ‘OS X Black Panther’.” Laughs. “Then maybe we’re going to get ‘OS 11 Walrus’ or something. Not quite as good as cats.”
Where to, for Apple?
“I think they’re going to go for all the big companions in the world. They want Macs on all those office desktops.”
MW — Imagine the metrics and location data Apple would gain from more widespread business penetration.
“Exactly. Apple could change the business world a lot. Also in the financial world.”
MW— It’s interesting that the other big demographic of PC users is those who play games. Apple has never really challenged this hegemony of users constantly upgrading their PCs with faster video cards, better cooling, controllers, CPUs … Mac game ports have got slower rather than faster, in many instances. Call of Duty: Black Ops has finally come to the Mac two years after it was available for PC, but even now I can’t even play it on a Retina MacBook Pro – this video card/monitor is not supported. Games challenge PC makers to supply and develop ever better video cards, CPUs, scalar algorithms etc, pushing PC development generally – a factor that hardly plays out at all in the Apple world. It would be ironic if the last holdout for the PC was this highly motivated group of young-to-middle-aged game players who mess with their machines and settings for ever better performance.
And what about resistance from the IT guys?
“Well, there it’s already changing – at an IT course I attended here in the last couple of years, a quarter of the students had Macs.”
That was unthinkable a few years ago.