In Defense of Mac User IntelligencePosted: June 7, 2011
We’ve all heard it. Some people even hold it as a fundamental truth of the tech world. Macs are the computer for dummies. Since most of the people writing on internet forums use PCs, it’s easy to make those statements. They also have a point, in a way. To the nerd, the Mac’s simplicity is inherently inferior. Of course only stupid people would buy one! Of course I disagree.
Start by comparing the sheer numbers of PC users and Mac users. Macs have been on the rise for several years now, but market share still stands somewhere around 10%. It’s pretty clear that the vast majority of computer users are on Windows. Based on probability, wouldn’t it be more likely that far more “stupid” computer users exist in that 90% than the 10%? Don’t worry, I concede that the reverse holds true. Inherently, there must exist more power users on the Windows side. But that’s just raw numbers. What about percentage? Surely if all 10% of Mac users were idiots there would still be fewer than the unintelligent Windows users.
I don’t believe that either. The Windows PC is the default choice for almost anyone buying a computer. Whether you’re smart enough to build your own, you use what your office purchases, or you follow someone else’s recommendation, chances are it’s a PC. That means that both power users and inept senior citizens will usually choose a PC (or have it chosen for them). It’s what everyone else uses. It’s easy to call your grandson and have him come fix it. Most importantly, it runs standard software. Try explaining to an average user why an iWork file can’t be emailed to a PC-running colleague. What about if they use AutoCAD at work? The Mac version only came out last year. Get a video of your grandchildren in .wmv format? Good luck with that on a Mac. For many things, it’s so much easier just to run Windows.
Generally, Mac users make a conscious choice to switch. There are relatively few native Mac users; Apple likes to brag every quarter about how over half of all Macs sold are to new customers. What is making these users switch? For some, it might be a gift. For most, they chose to buy a much more expensive computer that runs totally new software. That’s not an easy choice to make, and comes with a lot of pros and cons. In reality, many Mac users are savvy enough to consider why they wanted a Mac in the first place. Chances are that they also know more than most about computing. Things like UI and reliability matter to them, and they know the difference between closing a window and quitting a program. Just to survive on the Mac platform, they need to figure out file converters and disk images. Many even roll their own virtual machines. This is not simple stuff to a lot of people.
My personal experiences bear this out. Many of my PC-using friends have had hardware trouble with their laptops over the years. My college only rents out MacBook Pros. Every time they’ve gotten a rental laptop, they are confused by it. Shouldn’t the ‘computer for dummies” work perfectly the first time? I’ve invariably had to explain how to quit programs, how to right click, how to shut down, etc. Not one person has intuitively grasped the concept of Mac computing from the get-go. The world runs on Windows. Macs are the “other,” existing as an alternative only for those who actively choose them.
I myself am a Mac native, having grown up in a Mac-only house. But you’d better believe I chose carefully when it was time to buy a laptop for college. I’d used Windows at school, and it was a royal pain running OS 9 well into 2007. After going to Best Buy and the Apple Store, and reading catalogues for months, I made my decision. I’m still happy with it. I personally appreciated what the Mac platform had to offer, and I deal with the hassles it also entails.
Lastly, “smart” is relative. Everyone likes to believe that their particular form of intelligence is the best. On the internet, many people hold computer knowledge to be paramount. That’s not always the case. My mother, holds a masters degree in piano performance, who has worked as a college professor for decades. She can barely find the power button on her desktop, much less a USB port. Is she stupid? I’d argue no, but I might be biased. How about the major biotech and genetics labs that use Mac Pros to run their data analysis? Surely those Ph.D.s are stupid for not building their own cheaper computers. Or more likely, they simply care about different things. It’s much too difficult to narrow down a definition for intelligence to reliably make any conclusions about it. Which begs the question: Why did I just write this argument?
Note: For the sake of simplicity, I’ve used the term “PC” to mean a wintel or possibly a Linux box. I’m aware that Macs count as personal computers as well, but it’s an easy way to communicate the distinction.