What I Got My Kids (keep it a secret) and Why It's a Big Problem for Apple
Those who know me have accused me over the years of being an "Apple fan-boy". Although I would argue that I am really more of a technology geek and early adopter, it's hard to argue with the fan-boy moniker given that our home has been wall-to-wall Apple for well over a decade ‒‒ until now. Let us walk through the interesting chain of events (that I never saw coming).
My oldest daughter is in 5th grade and earlier this year my wife and I relented and allowed her to spend six months of hard-earned savings on an iPod Touch. This is a big moment in the life of any child these days ‒‒ their first "ianything." You would naturally assume that this event would represent the on-ramp to cementing her membership to the Apple nation, but I am not so sure.
Two things happened that set in motion a crack in our happy little Apple home.
First, her Touch necessitated the need for her first e-mail account. Without an e-mail account you are worthless in App-land, free or paid, and I was not ready to have my e-mail account associated with the onslaught of the latest children's games. So I got her a Gmail account of course ‒‒ never really considered Yahoo (sorry Marissa), Hotmail (or whatever it is called now), or Apple. It seemed like an innocent enough decision at the time.
The second event was her escalated need for a computer to do her school work. No problem here, except that although we have multiple iPads, we only have one true computer, an iMac. As the school year progressed, I have become increasingly accustomed to coming home from work and seeing my home desk littered with school papers, after-school snacks, and craft projects! Not ideal (conflicts with my OCD); something had to change.
It wasn't hard to see this day coming, and over the past year I had speculated about adding to our home computing footprint. Typically I would come to the conclusion that some flavor of Apple laptop was in the cards, most likely for the kids to use for their school machine. That said, I have been hesitant to spend $1500 on a beautiful machine that I knew would be subject to questionable care from two young children (and likely to suffer regularly from unintended technical challenges requiring me to play home help desk, ugh.)
And it happened, "a tremor in the Force" ‒‒ the $249 Chromebook from Samsung! I started researching and was more than intrigued. I use Google Docs for much of my personal work, and it makes perfect sense for students versus the overkill of Office. No complexity of a "full featured" OS. My daughter's highest anxiety part of the iMac and Office is act of saving ("what is a folder and where did my homework go?"). No worries; there's an auto save feature in Google Docs. My fear of some OS configuration, help desk nightmare was also gone (can't do much damage in a browser), and it was cheap (let them stick fruit wraps on it in the shape of turtles if that floats their boat!). Oh, and did I mention that I can outfit both kids with their own laptops for less than half the price of one Apple MacBook!
There's goes religion, and here comes a Chromebook under this year's Christmas tree (we will start with one), and the Apple zone will have been breached by Google. More important for Apple, my children will now be on-ramped to Google/Chrome as their platform for the next 10 years, not Apple. For the short-term Apple will no doubt be their mobile media and gaming platform, and they love it. But will my daughter someday ask for an Android phone or tablet because it works better with her schoolwork? And she already regularly listens to Spotify, will this move accelerate her migration away from iTunes? It would not shock me at all. Can you see the "platform cliff"?
One little iPod and an email account, and it is game over for Apple. What will they do? Good question? We love our iPads, but they are not going to replace workhorse computers for school and office for some time, if ever. And no offense, but iWork's Pages and Numbers don't cut it. Even without a Chromebook, my daughter is already sharing science fair documents with her project team and is asking to video conference while joint editing (all in Google). Wouldn't it be ironic if someday a low cost Apple laptop running Office365 ended up as Apple's response?
In short, I am starting to look at Apple as the better run, modern version of Microsoft (aghhh!). Albeit better on every front, but stuck with a bloated OS, heavy client side applications, an "own-first" media model, and more complex with higher cost to own. Google and ChromeOS felt exactly the opposite, embracing of all that makes the cloud attractive ‒‒ lightweight, low hassle, streaming centric, easy to use, and cheap. Billions of dollars and years of Google R&D have reached a point of critical mass that is compelling, and a structural threat to Apple.
My heart is still with Apple ‒‒ I love their design and products ‒‒ but the early adopter (and pragmatist) in me is seeing a Google future. Certainly Apple is not going away anytime soon, but they have some serious work to do to address a threat that has been engineered in a way that will be very hard for them to emulate (can you say Maps?). Maybe I will at least lose that annoying fan-boy tag.