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  • So is Apple the Best?

    May 18th, 2010

    A published report today suggests that, although Apple’s products aren’t necessarily the fastest or contain the latest whizzy features, people are comfortable with the secure ecosystem and interface simplicity. That’s why iPhones are still hot sellers even though competing products have speedier processors, superior displays and more powerful camera chips.

    Or at least, that’s the impression some of those tech pundits are trying to create, that Apple makes an inferior product that succeeds by the magic of great marketing and sexy looks.

    The problem with all this is that the folks who make such claims really don’t have a clue about Apple’s magic. You see, hardware specs don’t necessarily translate into performance in the real world, and bullet point feature sets can’t ensure you’ll have a great user experience.

    Take the iPad. It’s a really fast computer by most any estimate. Start up and shut down take seconds, and most apps launch almost instantaneously. This snappy response extends to almost every function. So it doesn’t matter if the processor clocks in at a “mere” 1GHz, a rating that would seem dreadfully underpowered on a regular Mac or PC. The real issue is perceived performance, and the iPhone and iPad continue to deliver that, even if competing products might look somewhat better on the spec sheets.

    You see, other than Macs, Apple doesn’t make much of a deal about specs beyond the basics of size, screen resolution and estimated battery life. These products are sold as appliances, and the raw numbers don’t really make a difference under those circumstances. They don’t mean you’ll be able to get something accomplished any faster.

    Where Apple excels, other than a sexy design, is in the operating system. While some may rave about Google’s Android OS, don’t forget that the iPhone OS and the full-featured Mac OS X are both based on the NeXT OS, which was originally developed back in the 1980s. Some of Apple’s present-day engineers have been developing and refining the OS since the early days, and that’s why it works so well. Not perfect, but surely far more predictable than other mobile platforms that claim features that Apple lacks.

    Consider yesterday’s commentary, which quoted a blogger’s reasons for abandoning an Android smartphone. One of the most vexing issues was inconsistent performance. It would be fast, it would be slow as molasses, and you wouldn’t always know what to expect, since it felt like a beta OS.

    If your toaster oven worked so unpredictably, wouldn’t you toss it out and get a new one? Well, if you keep your smartphone past the initial 15 or 30 days and say you’re unsatisfied, you will be subject to huge early termination fees, as high as $350 for Verizon Wireless customers who buy those ultra cheap gadgets or perhaps take advantage of a two-for-one deal.

    Certainly Apple gets almost daily criticisms for the lack of unfettered multitasking on their mobile products. While the iPhone 4.0 software ought to take the wind out of those sails, the real truth is that few of you are really being hurt by this alleged shortcoming.

    The lack of Flash is also said to be one huge deal, but again with over 86 million Apple mobile devices out there, are they being inundated with customer complaints because there’s no Flash? It’s clear why Adobe isn’t happy, but I still don’t see them actually proving they can build a version of Flash that will run on an iPhone and satisfy the objections voiced by Steve Jobs. Nor can Adobe produce a Mac OS X crash log that shows Flash isn’t the major cause of system crashes. But talk is cheap.

    When it comes to Macs, sometimes Apple is first to market with a new Intel processor; sometimes not. The recent MacBook Pro refresh put Apple behind other PC makers, but those Core i5 and Core i7 chips were supposedly in short supply anyway. Regardless, with reports from the NPD Group that Mac sales soared by 39% in the U.S. retail market during April, it does indicate a great reception for the new portable lineup. And in case you didn’t notice, the regular white MacBook got a minor update this week too. In fact, it was so low-key, Apple didn’t even write a press release about it.

    Yes, Apple publishes fairly detailed specs on their new hardware. Except for intense gaming and 3D rendering, however, even the basic Mac mini is essentially fast enough to satisfy most any computing chore with few shortcomings. Indeed, some folks have actually downsized from such boxes as the Mac Pro and have embraced the mini as an affordable machine that handles all the chores they can toss at it with aplomb.

    The key issue of what’s best extends beyond such basic considerations as processor speed, the amount of RAM and hard drive size. There’s a lot more involved in building a computing appliance. Most PC makers haven’t a clue about any of that, which is why they continue to build mostly me-too products that can rarely be distinguished from each other.

    But isn’t that also true with many of those Android-based smartphones? I mean, if you remove the manufacturer’s label, would you even know who made them?



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    4 Responses to “So is Apple the Best?”

    1. Al says:

      Good points. But I wouldn’t use the term “perceived performance” in your context. “Perceived” carries the connotation of artifice or worse, deception. Perhaps you mean “real-world performance”.

    2. dfs says:

      When you get right down to the root of the thing, Apple isn’t in the business of building hardware, or developing software, or distributing media, so much as it’s an industrial design shop and its basic function not unlike that of a movie studio: it’s in the business of providing an experience. You like the experience, Apple wins. You don’t, it loses. In this case they win and they win big because the experience of operating a computer, using a smartphone, downloading tunes, etc. etc. is vastly easier and and more pleasant and fun than what the competition has to offer. Their best products have a super-refined, Zen-like austerity that makes an operation simple, while their competition puts out products that are, by comparison, complex, klunky, and unpleasant to use (and much easier to screw up what you’re trying to do). This is what the competition fails to grasp, but it’s really the essence of the whole deal. When somebody says they like an Apple product, they don’t really mean they like the product itself, but rather the experience of using that product. If I wanted to compete against pretty much anything Apple does, the very first thing I’d go is go out and hire a great design team to craft my own rival experience. If you look at what the competition actual does do, usually it’s pretty clear that interface design is pretty far down their list of priorities. When Steve knocked Microsoft for having “poor taste“ in its software, that is pretty much what he meant.

    3. Peter says:

      “While the iPhone 4.0 software ought to take the wind out of those sails, the real truth is that few of you are really being hurt by this alleged shortcoming.”As I’ve said before, ignorance is bliss. When you don’t have something, how do you know you want/need it until you actually have it?

      To use a Macintosh example, way back when I used a Lisa for a day or so. It was neat, but I didn’t figure that it would replace my command line. 2 years later, I started using a Macintosh and began to understand why all those little pictures were better. Suddenly, command-lines were annoying.

      No one was being hurt by using a computer without a mouse and graphical interface. But once you started using one for any length of time, you really didn’t want to go back.

      It’s a similar case with multitasking. You don’t have it, you don’t miss it. But once you have it, you won’t want to go without it.

      “The lack of Flash is also said to be one huge deal, but again with over 86 million Apple mobile devices out there, are they being inundated with customer complaints because there’s no Flash?”

      Whenever somebody brings up numbers as an alleged “success”, I may have to point out that Windows has many more users than Macs. Therefore, they must be doing something right and Apple must be doing something wrong.

      It’s funny because when NPD’s article about more Android phones being sold than iPhones came out, everybody was saying that it wasn’t important. But in their next breath, they’ll talk about how many millions of iPhone OS devices Apple has sold and that should refute any argument right there.

      Let’s keep our talking points consistent.

      I’ve seen a few articles on line from people who didn’t miss Flash on their iPhone, but do miss it on their iPad. I can understand way–the iPad is a nice way to consume video. If only it would work with the most popular video format on the web.

      “I still don’t see them actually proving they can build a version of Flash that will run on an iPhone and satisfy the objections voiced by Steve Jobs.”

      Of course not! Again, ignorance is bliss–how do they prove that they can if they’re not allowed to. See how it works?

      Adobe built a way to run Flash applications on the iPhone. It was good enough that pre-release Apps were accepted by Apple for inclusion into their App Store. But of course, Apple nixed Adobe’s tool so we won’t really know how good or bad it was.

      Note that I don’t believe that had anything to do with Apple changing the developer agreement. It wasn’t some, “Oh wow! This is great! We can’t let people see this!” I think Apple’s reasons are legitimate. But, again, how is Adobe supposed to show that they’ve improved if they’re kept off of the device?

      “Nor can Adobe produce a Mac OS X crash log that shows Flash isn’t the major cause of system crashes.”

      Uh, Gene, I expect you to be smart enough to tell the difference between “System Crashes” and “Browser Crashes.” While I have no problem parroting Steve Jobs–especially when he’s right–let’s try to be accurate even when he isn’t.

    4. Leslie martin says:

      Apple s by far the best company ever no matter what.

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