For a week and a half I’ve been the owner (and, it has to be said, a slightly proud one) of an Apple MacBook Pro. It’s the first Apple Mac I’ve used since I was a student, which was a long, long time ago. For my entire professional career, I’ve used Windows-based PCs.

Of course these days PCs and Macs are much more alike than they’ve ever been in the past. To use that is. From an aesthetic perspective, let’s face it, Macs are just nicer (OK so that’s a huge generalisation because there are so many PC manufacturers and I haven’t been able to check them all out). It’s difficult to pin down why; after all, there’s a keyboard, a screen and it’s made of nice silver metal. But each of these individual elements is just a little bit nicer.

The screen’s the most obviously superior thing to my last Dell PC. It’s shiny and clear and just makes me want to watch DVDs on it (and the PC never did that). The keyboard’s pretty standard…expect for the hugely brilliant fact that it’s illuminated! And that is just awesome, because sometimes I like using my computer in the half-light of my lounge in the evening.

Many will argue that the PC vs Mac debate – or more specifically the Microsoft vs Apple battle – isn’t about the hardware, it’s about the software (because Microsoft doesn’t make computers). But you can’t really separate the two, can you?

On the software side, I was expecting a pretty significant learning curve in using the MacBook, given my legacy of using Windows added to the fact that the bloke in the Apple store convinced me to overlook Office for Mac and go with iWork. It would be a lie to say that there hasn’t been any news things to get used to, but many are extremely intuitive and, like I say, Macs and PCs are more similar to use today than they’ve ever been. Hell, you can even set the touchpad up to have both left- and right-click buttons. I’ll be honest though, the spreadsheet, document and presentation applications in iWork are nowhere near as rich as those in Office. But I think they’ll do (just about).

I think there are massive challenges for the PC manufacturers. PCs, Windows and Office were largely designed to meet the needs of business and desktop computing in the workplace. But these days – with digital photography, video, watching movies, music – the computer has become a much more central part of our everyday lives. And we want things that play such a central role to look nice. I’ve had quite a few people pass through the house in the last week and say: “Oh! You’ve got a Mac” (or, to be more accurate: “Zut alors! Tu as un Mac. J’adore le Mac. Et le fromage.”) That never happened with the Dell…

It’s a cool bit of technology though, without doubt. But I’m under no illusions that just having something cool makes you cool. A geek in Prada shades is still a geek. And as someone recently tweeted: “Just because you own an iPhone doesn’t mean you invented the bloody thing.”

Thing is, sometimes I fee that Microsoft tries far too hard to be a bit cool. You only need to follow some of the company’s tweeters and bloggers to see how they all jump onto anything Microsoft does that might be a bit cool and try to tell everyone about it (Bing being a good example, or Surface). If you have to stand on the table and shout about the cool thing you’ve done, then it loses its cool. Just do great stuff, let people discover it themselves and they’ll tell everyone for you.

Coincidentally, I was reading this article from the excellent trendwatching.com yesterday. It’s quite long, but worth ten minutes. It’s all about the key elements of the new world of transparency in which we live and in which companies are operating. The bit that caught my eye, however, is the very last bit which discusses the countertrend, “Openly Opaque.” Apple is one company that’s listed as demonstrating the countertrend, along with others including Virgin Atlantic and IKEA.

The argument goes that some brands can get away with being less than completely transparent if they consistently delivers and surprises their customers. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily only about delivery and delight; I think it also has to do with emotional connections and trust. If you trust a company, or if a brand has connected with you on a positive emotional level, then you don’t need the proof that total transparency delivers.

Apple is opaque. There’s a little bit of mystery…and mystery is always a bit sexy. We all know that most people look better with at least a few clothes on than totally naked, but are too many brands too willing to strip bare these days and expose themselves warts and all?

Where’s the sexiness in that?

Mark Pinsent – @markpinsent
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