Which are better: Macs or PCs? In this article (and the video above) we try to put this issue to bed once and for all.
Any comparison of Macs and PCs needs to note that Macs are PCs. In fact, as Apple used to say in every boilerplate of every press release: "Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh."
However, for the sake of argument, we will group those various personal computers manufactured by the various PC manufacturers on one side, and those built by Apple, on the other, as we answer the question:
"Why are Macs better than PCs?"
A still from Apple's Mac and PC adverts. Watch them here. (The similarity of poses between this advertising classic and Macworld's debate is purely coincidental and was only noticed after posting the video!)
1. Macs are more reliable than PCs because Apple makes both hardware and software
Apple is the only company in the PC business that writes its own operating system and designs its own hardware. As a result you get a fully integrated system and everything works together seamlessly.
The latest version of Apple's operating system, OS X Mavericks, demonstrates how Apple is able to get the most out of the hardware it uses by building new tools into the operating system. These technologies combine with the hardware for the best possible performance. For example, technologies like Power Nap mean that your Mac can update itself even while the hardware sleeps. Apple is also able to get more battery life out of the portable Macs due to power-saving features that are built into the operating system.
This also means that the Mac you buy is exactly the way Apple intended it to be. In the PC world Microsoft designs the Windows operating system to take advantage of the latest technologies. Then PC manufacturers build their PCs and install Microsoft Windows. Windows may be able to take advantage of certain components in the PC, but it's possible that the PC won't be able to take advantage of all the elements of Windows, and vice versa. A great example of this would be the touchscreen elements added to Windows 8, unavailable if your machine doesn't have a touchscreen.
Apple products are known for their excellent build quality, and the exceptional user experience. Want evidence of this? In surveys Apple's Macs consistently score higher than PCs for reliability.
Even more evidence that Macs are more reliable than PCs comes from research published earlier in 2013, when it emerged that the MacBook Pro is the most reliable PC to run Windows on. Troubleshooting web service Soluto believes the MacBook Pro may have gained its spot at the top of the list because of its clean Windows installations: when users install Windows on a MacBook, it comes as Microsoft intended, completely free of any OEM extras.
2. Macs are better than PCs because there are too many PCs to choose from
This might sound like a bad thing, but it's true that sometimes less is more. Apple offers five different computers that come in various specs and with various build-to-order options. Apple's Macs include the MacBook Pro with Retina display, MacBook Air, the iMac, Mac mini, and the new Mac Pro. In total there are 19 Macs, but if you added the various build to order options that number would increase significantly.
With 19 different Mac models to choose from it is likely that there is a Mac that would suit your needs, from the ultraportable MacBook Air to the powerful MacBook Pro, and the all-in-one iMac, and the low cost Mac mini. Even high-end pro users have the Mac Pro.
Because PCs don't come from a single manufacturer there are hundreds of PCs on the market. But none of these have the single vision guiding them that Macs offer.
There is also the fact that in the PC world, manufacturers go out of business from time to time. There are even suggestions that HP's days might be numbered, having recently announced plans to cut more than 1,100 UK jobs.
It's interesting at this point to note that while the Mac market share is smaller than the PC market share, this is based on all the PC manufacturers combined. Apple is in third place when it comes to market share when compared to PC manufacturers. In first place is HP, then Dell, followed by Apple. Lenovo is in fourth place, behind Apple.
It's also interesting to note that when analysts look at the market for computers over $1,000, Apple is the clear winner.
Read: Which Mac should I buy
3. Macs are better than PCs because you get what you pay for
Speaking of price... One criticism often thrown at Apple is that its products are too expensive. It's certainly true that if you are looking for a computer that costs less than £300, Apple isn't going be able to meet your needs (unless you find an old model on eBay). However, a £300 PC is going to offer very basic specs. These might be fine if all you want to do is check email and browse the web, but for £249 you could buy an iPad and do both of those things. These low-end PCs are losing market share to tablets.
And while it's true that an iPad wouldn't be a suitable replacement for a low-cost PC when it comes to businesses use, it's a false economy to buy cheap because those are the machines most likely to break down a year later, or to not be able to run the applications you need because they lack the specifications required.
Sometimes it's worth spending a bit more to get the best machine available, safe in the knowledge that it will keep you going for a good few years.
4. Macs are better than PCs because they look great inside and out
If you think that Apple's Macs are just pretty faces you're wrong. Apple's design philosophy means more than sculpting beautiful boxes out of aluminium: it's the user interface and the way you interact with the device.
The design of every aspect of Apple's hardware and software is overseen by Apple's Jonathan Ive who, along with his team, decides not just the colour of the device but the first thing you see when you log on, what happens when you click in a particular place, and so on.
Apple pays meticulous detail to the human interface, making the device intuitive to use and thereby reducing complexity. The design is part of what makes a Mac a joy to use, but Apple's design isn't only what you see on the surface. Apple's beauty isn't only skin-deep.
That said, it doesn't hurt that every Mac Apple makes is gorgeous to look at.
5. Macs are better than PCs because they are easy to use
Apple's attention to the human interface means that Macs are simple to use, although anyone who is a long-term PC user will need to spend a bit of time getting familiar with different ways of working. For example, rather than ctrl-S to save it's cmd-S (also known as Apple-S; here's our guide to Mac keyboard shortcuts); you may at first be confused when scrolling happens in the opposite direction to what you expect; and taking a screenshot on a Mac is different to taking a screen grab on Windows, but quite logical when you know how. Rest assured that even if a Mac feels like foreign territory at first, you will quickly become used to it.
Incidentally, Apple has made saving documents so foolproof that you don't even have to remember to save. For example, Pages auto-saves your document frequently while you work.
The way that Apple's Macs are simpler to use than PCs isn't just about saving documents, though. There are various aspects to OS X that make more complicated tasks far simpler on a Mac.
Deleting a program on a PC is never a simple task. You need to uninstall the program using Windows uninstaller and this doesn't always remove all traces of a program. As a result there are various Windows apps that can uninstall programs for you.
On a Mac deleting a program is a straightforward procedure. Just delete the program from the Applications folder. Uninstallers simply aren't necessary.
That's just one example of the complications encountered by PC users. Many PC users are trying to get to grips with Windows 8 right now. There are lots of changes that take some getting used to. For example the Start Menu is no more, replaced by the Start Screen. This baffled us when we recently used a PC and wondered how to turn it off. This is basic stuff, and it's just not obvious.
Read our PC user's guide to the Mac
6. Macs are better than PCs due to the built-in apps and choice of excellent software
As we mentioned earlier, Apple makes the software and the hardware. And the software is a big selling point when it comes to buying a Mac.
Every Mac comes with Apple's Safari web browser; Apple's email program Mail; iPhoto for editing images and organising your photo library; iMovie for making fun home movies; GarageBand so you can become a musician; iTunes for your music; Pages for word processing; Numbers for spreadsheets; Keynote for presentations; and some apps that will be familiar if you use an iPhone or iPad - Maps, Calendar, FaceTime, Messages, Reminders, Notes and iBooks.
There's also the Mac App Store, which grants you access to a world of apps that you can install on your Mac. Plus, any fear that Macs aren't compatible with your favourite Microsoft apps are unfounded; you can run mainstays like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook on a Mac.
And if you really must use Windows you can. It is possible to install Windows on a Mac alongside OS X. You really can have your cake and eat it.
Oh, and speaking of software: when you buy a PC it comes with what you might expect to be useful software, but much of it turns out to be annoying bloatware that's installed on your computer for the manufacturer's benefit rather than yours.
7. Macs are better than PCs because Macs don't get viruses and other forms of malware
You may decide to run Windows alongside Mac OS X, but if you do you will run the risk of meeting all those pesky viruses that Windows users have to put up with.
Okay, so Mac users have had a few security scares over the years: for example, back in 2012, the Flashback Trojan was identified and said to have infected 600,000 Macs. However, such an attack is incredibly rare on the Mac platform, and those numbers are small in comparison to the security breaches regularly experienced on the PC.
There are a few reasons why Macs are more secure than PCs. One is the simple fact that malware developers are less likely to direct their attention to the Mac because of the perception that it has a far smaller market share than Windows.
However, even more significant is the fact that the Mac operating system is Unix-based. Unix offers a number of security features built in, such as the way that executable code and data is stored in separate folders (this is why deleting an app on a Mac is so simple). In addition, Apple has included a number of security measures that make attacking a Mac particularly challenging. These include Gatekeeper, which blocks any software than hasn't been digitally signed and approved by Apple. If you try to open an app by a developer that Apple hasn't verified you will see the message: "[This app] can't be opened because it is from an unidentified developer."
However, the Flashback Trojan exploited Java, using vulnerabilities in Java Virtual Machine to gain access to the system. Apple eventually released an update to Java, but this served as a bit of a wake-up call, and ever since the company has been quick to stop Java in its tracks as soon as any vulnerabilities in the Oracle software are identified. This means that from time to time Apple will literally turn off Java, which means that web apps that use the tool may stop working while everyone waits for Oracle to fix it.
Another risk is posed by Flash plug-ins. In the latest version of OS X the Flash player is sandboxed, which means that it completely locked down. It is even possible to stop Safari loading Flash: you can manage which web pages can load Flash plug-ins by visiting Preferences > Security > Manage Website Settings. Here you can see every browser plug-in being used by your system and a list of sites that have loaded it. You can turn it off on a per-site basis.
8. Macs are better than PCs because Apple offers the best customer support
If things go wrong then it's reassuring to know that Apple offers various support and service options. Apple consistently ranks as one of the best for customer support. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey: "[Apple] scored far higher than the other big companies for the elements that make for successful online and phone support: ease of contacting staff, clarity of advice, technical knowledge, patience, and time for follow-up."
On the other hand, 24 to 40 percent of PC users surveyed reported that the "phone or online help from makers of Windows-based computers" was provided by staff whose "patience, knowledge, or clarity was fair at best".
Most Apple products also come with 90 days of complimentary phone support and a one-year limited warranty. Apple's even up front about what UK customers are entitled to under the Sales of Goods Act, noting on its site that in the United Kingdom, consumers are entitled to a free-of-charge repair or replacement, by the seller, of goods which do not conform with the contract of sale.
Under English law, consumers have up to six years from the date of delivery to exercise their rights, although the company does highlight that various factors may affect your eligibility to receive these remedies.
The support services Apple offers include telephone support, support using online tools, and support at Apple Retail Stores where you can book in an appointment with a Genius. There are also a number of Apple Authorized Service Providers who can help you with any issues you face. There is more information about Apple Support here.
Apple also offers various service plans that you can pay for when you buy your Apple product. For example, if you purchase Apple Care (from £139 for an iMac) it will extend your warranty service for your Apple products. Apple says: "The AppleCare Protection Plan provides up to three years of additional hardware service options, both parts and labour, from Apple-authorised technicians around the world."
9. Macs are better than PCs because Apple optimises the components
As we mentioned earlier, every component in every Mac is optimised for performance and to ensure that it requires less power. Where the argument that Macs feature better-quality components has been moot since the switch to Intel processors in 2006, with Apple using many of the same components in Macs as their PC counterparts, the fact that the company can design its operating system to use these components better is significant. It's why Apple can issue firmware updates that improve the way certain components work in Macs, and why a new operating system update can actually result in an old Mac achieving better battery life.
The bad news is that because of the way these components are built into Macs, they are not easy or, in many cases, possible to upgrade at a later date. In order to slim down the case and optimise the way that the system works, Apple has compromised the ability to upgrade a Mac at a later date.
PC fans often note the fact that Macs aren't user-upgradable. These days the only way to add more RAM or a bigger hard drive to your Mac is if you purchase it as a build-to-order option when you buy the Mac. For some this will be a negative, but for many the idea of upgrading their Mac a few years down the line isn't something they will even consider doing, so it may not be a big factor in a decision.
If you want to be able to customise your machine then a PC may be a better option, but many people just want a machine that works. Unfortunately, one of the negatives of upgrading a PC are the conflicts that arise and the issues faced when the required drivers are missing.
Speaking of drivers: on a Mac you can plug in a camera, printer or install software and it just works.
Our final reason why Macs are better than PCs is the fact that they seamlessly work with your iPad and iPhone. Apple's iCloud service means that you can store all your data in the cloud and access it from your iPhone, iPad and Mac.
Thanks to this service you could be writing a document in Pages on your Mac, then leave the office and continue to edit the same document on your iPad, and even make a few last-minute tweaks on your iPhone. It's the same document and you can access it from all your devices.
There are also many elements of the iPhone operating system iOS 7 that can be found on a Mac. As we mentioned above, Maps is one tool that has made the move from the iPhone to the Mac.
If you are an iPad or iPhone user a Mac will make managing your device a great deal easier than if you use a PC.
[Read our iPad user's guide to Mac]