Does Apple Really Listen to You?

August 16th, 2007

Yes, I know Steve Jobs often says that this feature or another was added to a Mac or the Mac OS because customers asked for it. I would normally be inclined to agree with him, because Apple does offer ways for you to send your feedback on their products, and certainly the return of some features to Mac OS X can be attributed to requests. Take Labels for example, although it doesn’t work quite the same as it did with Mac OS 9.

On the other hand, sometimes you have to wonder whether such claims are just marketing spin. Take the new iMac, with the glossy screens. Now is Apple correct that most of you wanted it that way? Or did they get a really great price on glossy LCD panels and hoped to keep production costs down as much as possible?

Or did they just misjudge your reaction to such things?

Now it may be that they are measuring the proportion of glossy screens sold on the MacBook Pro, where you have an option of one or the other. That is quite conceivable, except that dealing with reflections on a note-book computer is decidedly different than dealing with them on your desktop. The note-book can be easily moved, but the 24-inch iMac may not be conveniently transported from one location to another, especially if it’s best suited to a desk that attracts plenty light and window illumination from the wrong direction.

This past week, I’ve been talking to guests for this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE both on and off the air on the subject, and author Kirk McElhearn and Macworld’s Rob Griffiths didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic over the idea of a large flat panel display with a glossy screen. Now I suppose you can say that they aren’t your typical Mac users. Being exposed regularly to the latest and greatest Apple hardware, you might think of them as elitist, although both are just regular guys. But you have to take their opinions seriously regardless.

On the other hand, if customer acceptance of the new iMac suffers, and Apple blames it on their choice of glossy over matte, don’t be surprised if they tell you that customers really wanted a choice after all. I mean, it’s not as if they have to admit they made a mistake.

Then there’s that new wireless keyboard. Now in the past, an Apple Bluetooth keyboard simply mirrored the wired version, sans the wires. They both functioned in pretty much the same fashion, except for the fact that the wireless version, for obvious reasons, didn’t feature a pair of USB ports.

In switching to aluminum, Apple has two distinctly different versions. The wired edition has the standard numeric keypad and Page Up/Page Down keys. The wireless version, coming shortly, doesn’t. Why should that be? Don’t customers want their wireless keyboards to duplicate the version tethered by cables?

Of course, Apple hasn’t given us a reason, and let’s hope we’re not being confronted by the same logic that created the notorious hockey puck mouse that lived its infamous existence in an earlier generation iMac.

Now I suppose Apple could make some good excuses as to why the wireless keyboard ended up this way. First is that most people don’t use numeric keypads, and Page Up and Page Down are also alien visitors, so why not dispense with them? Second, a narrower keyboard would center nicely in your lap, and that might make a whole lot of sense, at least to them.

This doesn’t mean that Apple always ignores the wishes of Mac users. I rather suspect they listened to some of us when they designed iWork ’08, particularly the new version of their combo word processor and page layout application, Pages.

You see, a lot of word processors can read and write Microsoft Word files. But few, if any, support the critical Track Changes feature. That is a capability that allows writers and editors to keep tabs on the progression of a manuscript from the initial writing into final production. That’s why almost every publisher I know of demands a Word document.

Well, the new version of Pages fully supports Track Changes, in both directions. I tested it carefully with a large book manuscript and the translation was perfect. Rob Griffiths tells me that he used it just as successfully when he recently reviewed another iWork ’08 component, the Numbers spreadsheet application. He had high praise for Pages too, and I wonder if Microsoft is beginning to feel the pressure. Consider that iWork ’08 sells for a mere $79, and even the Student and Teachers version of Office will likely cost just about twice that.

Pressure indeed. And I fully suspect Apple didn’t add Track Changes just to have another feature to put on a bulleted list. They did it with specific goals in mind, and taking a few sales away from Office may indeed be one of them.

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24 Responses to “Does Apple Really Listen to You?”

  1. Snafu says:

    Too late to abandon boat (and I seriously considered dumping my home Mac last year because of a series of incredible tech support issues and seeing working with my sister’s Toshiba was quite endurable. At my job I depend on several Mac-only apps with a reusable projects history a decade long, so I am trapped. Plus I somewhat like the OS (it’s the less aggravating one in the crowd).

    What I find most difficult to accept from Apple is the way it dictates terms and tries to redefine reality at each turn in a Stalinistish way (“the floppy is dead”. No, sorry Apple, it wasn’t so by then, far from it, lots of floppy disk-based installers for a start. That it looked ugly in an iMac and was a component you’d rather not contract is another thing, plus by the way you left us with no means to move small files around, no CD-burner in entry-level iMacs and expensive FLASH memory USB keys not arriving to the market until sometime later) and its constant disregard for its Pro customers (still no eSATA, for example).

    If Apple does a move, hardware or software-wise, I want them to at the very least test it with real world users and get some input about it, even if ultimately it decides to disregard it later, because so many very obviously untested in the field decisions have come to bite us in the ass. Why, they don’t even test them themselves enough, see the latest iWeb ’08 fiasco and several of this year’s OS updates.

    I’ve seen all the articles around about Leopard, and I am terrified: it’s so “folders full of loads of heterogeneous files”-oriented that us Pro users that manage structured and systematically named trees of folders are so going to suffer (the most agile way of navigating them, docked folders, will turn into Stacks that neither will let us see items’ full names nor navigate them back and forth at the flick of our wrists). It’s like the transparent menu bar: nobody can argue that it is an advantage, but it’s here to stay, and no feedback in the world is going to convince them to at least let us control transparency (or, at Stacks, that Apple keeps traditional docked folder menuing as an option), knowing Apple.

    And it’s not just Pro users that suffer: the iMovie ’08 move has just left lots of heavy iMovie ’06 users with no means to “devolve” their projects into ’08, knowing ’06 will be non-updated and end-of-lifed soon.

    (the USB cable I meant to replace by having card reader slots is not the standard cable but the typically special socketed one for the camera, a real pain to carry around and forget)

  2. Shannon says:

    Let’s get back on topic.

    Glossy screens: if my eyes screw up when I stare at a glossy screen for 16 hours a day — not doing graphics — but just plain word processing, don’t tell me Apple knows better than me, in terms of what is better for my eyes.

    My iMac is 7 months old now, and if there are no matte iMac’s when it comes time to upgrade, I’m going to see how long my current matte iMac can last, and then I’ll downgrade to a Mac Mini in order to get the matte screen.

    Search google for:

    matte glossy iMac “will not buy”
    matte glossy iMac “refuse to buy”
    matte glossy iMac “did not buy”
    matte glossy iMac “won’t buy”
    imac “detest glossy”
    imac “hate glossy”

    Apple, you are losing sales. Losing potential revenue. Let’s get real. That is the only reason that Apple would ever listen.

  3. I understand your viewpoint, but it appears that the iMac has been a great success for Apple, particularly the new version with the glossy screen.

    So it may be that some people don’t like glossy, and I’d think that Apple ought to have an alternative. But the number, despite the Google searches you list, may be fairly small in the scheme of things. You see people who don’t like something are much more apt to complain.


  4. javaholic says:

    Personally, I’d like to think Apple are in a better position now where they can move beyond the ‘one size fits all’ scenario. Clearly there’s a demand for non glossy screens. Is it really that hard for them to offer a matte option for the iMac if people wanted one? If they did I’d certainly buy one. I also wonder with the MacBook Pro how many users are opting for the glossy option over the matte, but I guess we’ll never know.

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