Macbook/iPhone/iPad or PC/Droid/Streak? No, seriously...

This wasn't your typical Mac vs. PC question. This was an iPad-driven, serious inquiry from someone who could function in either Mac-land or PC-land. Would my Android loyalties be too strong for objectivity?

A colleague asked me yesterday what I thought of him moving to a fully Mac platform. His computer and phone (surprise, a Blackberry) were getting pretty long in the tooth and he was due for a full refresh. His biggest reason for interest in the Mac ecosystem, as it turns out, was the iPad.

This guy happens to be a relatively savvy executive road warrior type who has used both Apple and PC platforms quite a bit, although he's been living in PC-land for a while now. However, since he spends extraordinary amounts of time essentially reviewing content and managing people both on the road and in two offices in two different cities, the tablet attraction is understandable.  He's not even a blogger trying to start a flame war. He just really wanted my opinion, particularly knowing how attached I am to my Droid Incredible and that I'm more of a Googley sort of guy than an Apple sort of guy.

It's worth noting that the whole Apple vs. PC cost debate wasn't really relevant for my colleague either. We're not talking a diamond-encrusted iPhone type here, but the question was very much focused on which platform would meet his needs the best. He had actually come across some of the incredibly cheap Android tablets that can currently be had out of China and Taiwan and that are precursors the Android tablets we'll be seeing much more frequently here in the States well in time for the holidays. They piqued his interest at least as much as the iPad.

However, there are clearly a number of questions and issues on the table for someone who's primary use patterns basically keep him in PowerPoint and Outlook all day. And on the train. And on airplanes. There is also the idea of platform. Is it worth it to have a Mac to take full advantage of an iPad or iPhone? And why can't you happily have an Android phone or tablet and still be a Mac user? And are there even compelling reasons for a power user to get a Mac instead of a PC? Or vice versa?

Next: Even I can see the attractiveness of a Mac platform »

As I noted over on the ZDNet Edu blog the other night, there is obviously something compelling for students, millennials, and technocrats (aside from the hardcore open source folks) who are buying Macs in droves. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of PC users who have happily embraced the iPad and iPhone while more than a few Mac users love their Android devices.

Even I have been giving serious thought to making a big Apple purchase to outfit my consulting business. I have my reasons, despite some long-standing issues with cost and their closed ecosystem:

  1. My oldest son is headed to film school and a Mac is required for his program. Guess who's going to be handling all of my video editing needs (which are growing quickly)? And, like magic, the computer I have to buy him for school becomes a business tax deduction!
  2. Apple has some really attractive 24-month lease deals for small businesses. Both he and I (him especially and I'm just a big geek who tries not to use a computer for more than 2 years anyway) will push on our equipment and will be feeling the need for an upgrade in two years. Reasonable monthly costs due to high residual values make good sense for my business.
  3. OS X Server makes podcasting almost too easy. I need to be able to produce podcasts, as well as written content, quickly and with no real fuss and the little refurbished Mac Mini Server for a mere $799 would take care of that quite nicely. It would also be better than the current limping beast of a box I'm using as a web server.
  4. I'm traveling more, working more at client sites, and otherwise finding new ways to abuse a laptop. While I'm happy to do much of my work in the cloud on whatever computer I happen to find, the nature of my consulting is such that a thin, light, durable notebook that can still blast through Photoshop has become essential. There are PCs that fill the bill, but it's hard to argue with a MacBook Pro on the combination of weight, size, durability, and graphics performance.  There are plenty that are lighter, or faster, or more rugged, or sporting higher-end graphics, but few can balance all of those factors as well as a MBP.

So that's me. Notice that not once did I mention iPads or iPhones as reasons to head down the Mac road. The Android SDK runs as well on a Mac as it does on any other device and you'll pry my Droid from my cold dead hands. The iPad is simply not compelling for me and, if I ever decide to go down the tablet road, there's no reason that an Android tablet would be mutually exclusive with my laptop or server of choice.

Next: Yeah, but how does any of this answer my coworker's question? »

So back to the question at hand...We know why a Mac might actually be a pretty good choice for me, no matter how much I love Ubuntu and no matter how cheaply I can get a speedy Windows 7 laptop. What about my colleague and his computing conundrum?

My real message to him is that you don't need to pick one particular platform. He's a PowerPoint and Outlook junkie, so at the very least, if he picks a Mac, he's going to need to look at Boot Camp or a virtualization solution like VMWare Fusion (elegant) or Virtualbox (free). And he shouldn't be expecting to review sophisticated slide decks in high fidelity on either the iPad or a Dell Streak or whatever tablet might come his way.

If he picks a PC, then there's no downside to any iOS or Android devices. Both work well - the choice is strictly religious in nature, given that he isn't a developer wedded to either OS.

How important is the Mac OS and the strictly controlled, yet highly functional hardware they tie together out in Cupertino (Antennagate notwithstanding)? Since both Windows 7 and OS X are generally well-reviewed, well-liked, solid performers, it comes down to religion again. Macs have the one advantage of being able to run both Mac and Windows software relatively well (and often quite well) while getting OS X to run on a PC requires a fair amount of work and some serious stretching of Apple's EULA.

Ultimately, I told him that if I had to pick for him, I'd send him down the PC path given his usage patterns and his lack of time to really exploit iLife which is a pretty serious value add for Macs. I told him to hold out for cheap Android tablets because, well, they're going to be cheap and will meet his needs for content consumption. In terms of a phone? Well, I just got a Droid X for a client the other day. It lives up to every bit of hype and, if you're not already an iPhone devotee, it's the single best reason not to become one.

While there are plenty of people happy to maintain the old "My OS is better than your OS" debates, it's nice to know that, in fact, it probably isn't. The better statement to make now, in the face of stable, fast Windows; simple, elegant OS X; mature Ubuntu; and smartphone operating systems that are genuinely, well, smart, is "My OS meets my needs and satisfies my requirements better than yours does." Doesn't have the same ring, but it's probably true.