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This is the Modem World: How did this happen?


Each week Joshua Fruhlinger contributes This is the Modem World, a column dedicated to exploring the culture of consumer technology.

My first computer was a Commodore VIC-20. My second was an Apple //e. Every computer after that was an Apple: Mac SE, PowerBook 100, PowerBook G3, PowerBook G4, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. I also use an iPhone 5. Yeah, I'm predictable.

But I'm not an Apple fanboy. I don't really care what kind of computer you use. Do your thing. I just know these products forwards and backwards and they don't get in the way when I want to get things done.

And now here I am at CES, and everywhere I look I'm seeing Apple products. iPhones, MacBooks, iPads, the whole lot. Sure, there are tons of Android and Windows devices, but if you had told me years ago that Apple would be everywhere at the year's biggest nerdvention, I would have said you were insane.

How did this happen? How did Apple become the technology giant? Last time I looked (a long time ago), it was the underdog -- producing products for the creative freaks. In the '90s when people would ask me why I bothered using my crashy Mac, I told them it was because I liked to program music and it had the best programs. That was only part of the reason, but it was the quickest path between the question and the next subject.

Virtually every computer in an office was a PC. People bought PCs at home because that's what they were used to using at work. Only artists and musicians bought Apples. My parents are the former type: They have an aging Dell laptop at home because that's what is used at the office. But just last weekend they called me as I was driving home to to ask which Mac they should get. I nearly had to pull over.

And then I surprised myself. Rather than offer to take them to the nearest Apple store, I said, "I'm not sure you want to do that. Do you really want to learn how to use a whole new operating system?"

They replied that all of their friends had switched over and were very happy. There I was, an Apple fan since 1980, telling my parents to pick up a Lenovo. What was happening? What world was this?

And then I realized that somehow, in some perverse twist of unlikely events and on-point marketing, Apple had become the PC. Apple products are everywhere. Apple no longer mentions "Switch" outside of a cute little article they call "Switching PC Habits" as if people are coming off years of horrible addiction and abuse.

Perhaps they are, but this isn't the world I expected. I liked it when Apple was the underdog, the overachiever, the one thinking different. How did this happen?

Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.

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