Macworld editor Karen Haslam and IDG Editorial Director Matt Egan debate the Mac vs PC issue.
It’s a battle that has raged across time and space. Two sides with sworn armies of loyalists, locked eternally in a struggle for dominance. We’ve seen it played out so many times: Android vs iOS, Xbox vs PlayStation, Canon vs Nikon, FIFA vs Pro Evo, ZX Spectrum vs Commodore 64, but today we look not upon those minor conflicts. Instead our eyes turn to the thunderous colossuses of Mac vs PC.
Which is the better platform? Is there even a true winner? Some of these questions cannot be answered, but in this feature we will put the two platforms to the test so you can see which one is the best for you.
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Mac vs PCs: Hardware design
This category might seem like a sure-thing for Apple, as its hardware is highly regarded across the industry, but things aren’t quite that simple. When Apple’s design guru Jony Ive first designed the iMac back in 1998 it came as a colourful and stylish alternative to the beige boxes that PCs favoured at the time.
Since then there have been innovative designs such as the MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and the various iterations of the original iMac - including an utterly beautiful angle-poise lamp style that remains one of the most gorgeous computers ever built. The current lineup though, leaves a lot to be desired.
Yes, they are still powerful, fast machines, but the aluminum unibody designs that once looked so modern (and launched a thousand PC clones) haven’t seen an update in a number of years and now look, well, rather dull. Of course the new ultra-slim MacBook does buck this trend somewhat - coming in a range of colours that include Gold and Rose Gold, or pink as most people would call it - but the lack of ports and a low profile keyboard that severely divides opinion among users means it’s something of an acquired taste.
There are rumours of Apple updating the Mac range before the end of the year, so things could improve quickly if the California company introduces new models.
By contrast PCs are going through something of a renaissance at the moment. After the wild and wacky devices that accompanied the release of Windows 8, manufacturers have settled down and begun releasing some excellent machines. At the premium end of the market, where Apple also plies its trade, Microsoft has developed the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book both of which are hugely desirable creations. HP, who almost left PC manufacturing entirely a few years ago, has stunned the market with its svelte, luxurious Spectre 13, while Lenovo, Sony, Dell, and others all have high-end models that give MacBooks a run for their money.
One of the best things about Windows devices at the moment is that they offer such variety to users. You can have traditional laptops and desktops (with the option of a touchscreen if you want), dedicated gaming rigs, ultra-thin models, or a device that converts between a tablet and PC. There’s even a Windows phone that can turn into a full blown Windows PC when you plug it into peripherals.
Of course the platform has always had devices available at a range of price points too and this is still the case. In fact HP’s Stream laptop is currently available for £149 and offers a very respectable entry point for those who need a cheap and cheerful device.
Yes, the Apple lineup is high quality, but Windows also offers that now, and much more besides.
Mac vs PC: Included software
While Apple’s shield may still be ringing from the surprising blows it took in hardware, this round finds it unleashing a few attacks of its own. There’s little argument really that when you take a Mac out of its box there is far more useful software onboard than on even the most premium Windows laptop.
No bloatware or trial software is to be found, instead Apple includes apps for basic photo editing, video production, audio production, plus the full office suite of Pages, Number, and Keynote. All are full versions that offer an impressive amount of capability for any new user.
On the Windows side of things it isn’t quite so rosy. There is a photo app, but it’s more for organisation than editing, and depending on where you bought your PC you might have a free year’s subscription to Office 365, but beyond that it’s a pretty barren landscape.
Of course when you move out to third party software Windows has an enormous amount of apps to buy, far exceeding that of Macs, but the truth is that Macs come equipped with nearly everything you need for normal, consumer-level computing.
Mac vs PC - Gaming
Gaming has long been the province of PCs and with the arrival of Windows 10 the platform has only strengthened its dominance. Aside from an embarrassingly huge advantage over Macs in terms of available titles, PCs now have the ability to stream games from both the Xbox One and Playstation 4. This category isn’t even close. If you like gaming then a Windows PC is hands-down the better choice over a Mac.
Mac vs PC: User interface
Here’s where it gets interesting. For years OSX and Windows have fought over the same ground, that of a standard desktop based environment. But since Windows 8 Microsoft has been taking its platform into new realms, incorporating touch and speech as significant factors. Cortana is now a resident feature on Windows 10, enabling users to create reminders, schedule appointments, conduct searches, and a range of other functions all through voice commands.
Apple isn’t far behind though, and is set to introduce Siri integration on the desktop with the release of OSX Sierra at the end of September, which will offer similar features to that of Cortana.
Where the two environments diverge the most is when it comes to touch. Windows has fully embraced the idea of tapping the screen, while Mac users have a wide range of multi-touch trackpad gestures available. True, Windows also shares some of these, but the implementation on Macs - especially those with force-touch trackpads - remains the superior trackpad experience.
While Apple has staunchly avoided introducing a touch interface on OS X, it’s introduction on Windows has led to the creation of several interesting hybrid devices (2-in-1s that can act as laptops or tablets) with the Surface Pro 4 being the best example. This opens up things such as the use of a stylus to highlight or annotate web-pages on Microsoft’s Edge browser, writing and drawing freehand in OneNote, plus general navigation through websites, applications, and the operating system itself.
Both platforms are exploring new ways to create, interact and manipulate data, which means that there is no clear winner here, except for users who now have a fascinating amount of choice.
Mac vs PC: Security
This is usually the biggest stick that Mac users wield against their Windows counterparts, and it’s a fair point. Statistically there is far more chance of contracting a virus or malware when you use a PC. This is mainly due to the fact that Macs make up such a small percentage of computers worldwide, so it’s not worth hackers targeting them. But this could be changing.
2016 saw the emergence of the Keyranger ransomware that attacked OS X and encrypted all files on a hard drive until users paid an extortion fee. Yes this pales in comparison to the likes of Cryptolocker, but it’s an indication that Macs are beginning to appear on the hacking radar.
Then there's the fact that many attacks these days use social engineering or fear mongering to fool users into giving away their account details, rather than installing viruses to cause havoc. It’s still hard to argue that Macs are not more secure than Windows machines, but complacency could mean that the users themselves might be equally vulnerable.
Mac vs PC: Value
When it comes to any buying decision one of the most important factors is value for money. On the Windows side there are a wealth of devices that start, as mentioned above, with the likes of the HP Stream (£149) and move up through various price points until you reach the premium strata of Microsoft’s SurfaceBook which starts at £1299. This means that there is a Windows machine for everybody, no matter the budget.
Macs on the other hand start at £399, but this is for the Mac Mini which doesn’t have a keyboard, mouse, or display included. It’s no powerhouse either, with disappointing specs and slow performance, plus it hasn’t been updated since 2014.
On the laptop side of things the cheapest MacBook is the 11-inch MacBook Air which will set you back £749. At the moment this doesn’t seem to offer great value for money either, mainly due to it featuring a small screen with a lacklustre 1366x768 screen resolution which feels far from premium these days
Moving up to the 13-inch MacBook Pro (£999) beefs up the screen to a retina model and has internals more befitting of high-end device. If you’re willing to buy at the Pro level then Apple’s current products do offer excellent performance, build quality, and support, but dipping below that seems to offer less value and more compromises than those prices justify. As we said though, rumours suggest major updates across the Mac lineup before the end of 2016, so maybe it would be best to wait until then before making a purchase.
Mac vs PC: Which one should you buy?
As you may have surmised from our look at these two platforms there is no clear winner, and that’s good. After all, computers occupy such central parts of our lives these days, and our needs all differ wildly, so there will never be a one size fits all solution (no matter what Jony Ive says about Apple’s EarPods).
What is clear is the amount of choice now available for consumers. Windows devices have so much variation in design and capability, while Apple continues to refine its lineup, and the rumoured refresh could see the company finally introduce new designs.
In the end it’s down to how much money you want to spend, what you want to do, and your preferred software platform. The good thing is that the market has matured to a point where it’s actually hard to buy a bad device now. A solid rule of thumb is to save up and spend the most you can afford, as the higher end devices really are on another level at the moment, but the budget market for Windows machines is also in fine fettle.
Simply put, you’ve never had it so good.