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Rethinking The PC Versus Mac Debate – A War of Worlds

Rethinking The PC Versus Mac Debate – A War of Worlds

A Google search of the phrase PC and Mac returns an estimated 6.06 million results from It would seem like a meaningless number – and it is for the most part – until we realise it’s almost 24% more than a search for Harry Potter, at 4.89 million.

The PC vs Mac debate is probably one of the most divisive in tech. It is specific enough to point us in the direction of a polarised topic. Yet too vague to help us resolve it definitively. Of course, most of the chatter happens in the grey areas. 

Full disclosure, I use a PC at my day job. And at home, I switch between a 14-inch Macbook Pro and an iMac. So I’m well acquainted with the experience of living and working in both worlds.

In this thought, we’ll attempt to unpack why the PC vs Mac question is so contentious. And we’ll tease out how these options represent vastly different propositions.

But first, let’s agree on definitions.

What is a PC? And what is a Mac?

PC is short for personal computer. This includes desktops and laptops but not mobile devices. So technically, all the products in Apple’s Mac lineup would classify as PCs. While that’s true in principle, the real world is more nuanced. The folks at Apple have worked so hard to create the Mac brand. There shouldn’t be any confusion here.

For the rest of this article, we’ll stick to the street convention.

A PC is any desktop or laptop device running on the Windows operating system. And a Mac is any product in Apple’s Mac lineup. Apple’s desktops and laptop devices share the Mac name, a throwback to the Macintosh – their very first PC. Mac devices run on Apple’s proprietary operating system, Mac OS. 

To state the obvious, a PC is not a Mac. The line that separates the two is well and truly present in many hearts and minds.

Let’s explore that separation a bit further. 

Unpacking the PC

A Statista report puts the Windows market share at 74.14% as of January 2023, with MacOS at 15.33%. Microsoft’s Windows OS dominates the market for good reason. 

What’s more noteworthy, however, is the strategy behind this market position, and how that strategy ties into Microsoft’s proposition.

Simply put, Microsoft has partnered with hardware manufacturers to distribute the Windows Operating System. This is why brands like HP, Acer and Dell can sell Windows PCs. They design, build and sell their brand of computers, running on Windows.

It has proved to be a lucrative arrangement for Microsoft, especially during the PC revolution when fierce competition between brands fostered innovation and exponential market growth. Today there’s practically a PC for every consumer, from the price-sensitive to the power-hungry.

By creating the operating system, Microsoft gives PC manufacturers a platform to build on top of. There is, however, a tradeoff between the benefits of partnership and achieving (let’s call it) peak PC. 

Manufacturing brands are making major concessions to align their product vision with Microsoft’s vision of the Windows operating system.

These tradeoffs are seen and felt most in the everyday PC experience. In many ways, it’s simply unpolished. To be sure, the experience has come a long way from the early days when we had to install drivers for every peripheral – that was brutal. Yet still, the PC experience leaves a lot to be desired. We’re at the point where every PC user knows the first step for troubleshooting any issue – a system reboot. It’s a hint at how much the user experience still needs to mature. 

What if the entire production process converged around the ideal user experience?

Unboxing the Mac

Apple’s mission statement is clear:

..bringing the best user experience to customers through innovative hardware, software, and services.

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The aim is simple – the best user experience, period.

If you’ve ever used a Mac device you’ll know the feeling of being catered to. Material choice, design and software decisions all feel deeply considered, leading to an enhanced experience. The best part, things just work! No need to tinker here and fine-tune there. That’s the benefit of making both the operating system, and the products that run on them – the Macs. 

But the proposition doesn’t end there. Beyond the Mac lineup, Apple is also behind the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, and a host of services that elevate the user experience into a new stratosphere. For example, Apple Carplay brings features like messaging, calling, music play, podcasts and hey Siri into the driving experience. At this point, I wouldn’t consider buying a car that doesn’t support Carplay. Other services like Handoff and Airdrop make it easy to transition your workflow – including live calls – from one Apple device to another. Dubbed the Apple ecosystem, this growing list of value-added services make for a rather compelling proposition. 

Apple’s stance on the user experience even extends to their customer service posture. I learnt this when I bought an iMac a few years back. There was a strange screen flicker every few minutes affecting a small number of users. The return and replacement process was incredibly smooth, with no questions asked. Contrast this with some PC brands that subject you to extensive troubleshooting to determine if their manufacturer’s warranty would cover it before a replacement is approved. 

Different Propositions

To date, the Windows PC is the de facto choice for corporations. Most productivity apps are designed to run on Windows. Needless to say that corporations like productivity a lot. And Microsoft, the company behind the PC, is not shy about taking a pro-productivity stance. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal on the opportunity that is ChatGPT and AI, here’s what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had to say. 

We need something that truly changes the productivity curve so that we can have real economic growth.

This statement captures Microsoft’s central ethos of helping people do more with technology. It’s the same idea that fueled the PC revolution many years ago, making Microsoft incredibly popular and valuable. To be sure, it is still as relevant as ever. What we see Microsoft doing with AI is simply a present-day iteration of this idea. They’re helping us all do more with AI.

Apple, on the other hand, has never been about productivity. At least it’s not the primary focus. Their real obsession is the user experience, and finding ways to elevate it. So while team Microsoft may want to help you 10x your output, Apple just wants to make sure you enjoy creating your best work. They strip away complexity and add relevant features at key pain points. The Apple choice prioritises ease and elegance over productivity. 

It is tempting to pit the PC and Mac against each other for a satisfying head-to-head. On closer review, however, we realise how these options represent very different ideas. And that’s OK.

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