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Some Media Pundits Still Don’t Understand Why Apple is Successful

So I was reading an article this week from a columnist for a publication that I won’t mention, simply because of the belated nature of the comments. It’s not that the writer was wrong; in fact the conclusions where, as far as I’m concerned, essentially right on. However, I’m more curious as why such an obvious fact, one mentioned by lots of people over the years, suddenly came to that writer as some sort of revelation.

But I’m more interested in the problems confronting Apple’s competitors, few of whom seem to understand that it’s the software, stupid! Instead, they are busy selling their wares in the same fashion as an auto maker might sell a fast car, by specs alone. While I grant that having a car with a faster zero to 60 mile per hour score might give you some bragging rights, at least in theory, I hardly see where minor performance differences are so important in a mobile computing device.

Consider: One smartphone displays a Web site in four seconds, while another does the same task in 3.5 seconds. So? Is that going to impact your user experience? Would you even notice? What will your friends think when you boast that your smartphone can display a site a half second faster than theirs? Well, aside from suggesting that maybe you forgot to take your meds, I expect they’ll humor you for a moment, then change the subject.

As many of us have said over and over again — and the concept was expressed by Apple too, according to the quotes published in the article in question — if you turn off an iPhone or an iPad, you have a blank slate. It follows then that it doesn’t matter if the consumer electronics company down the street has a gadget with a slightly larger display, a little more memory, and perhaps a processor with a higher speed rating. What really matters is the user experience when you try to run the apps you need to run — and even if the apps you want are available.

Don’t forget that your brand new iPhone or iPad comes with minimal documentation. The tiny pamphlet you find in the thin box is barely readable without reading glasses. But it’s hardly necessary since, for many of you, “you already know how to use it.”

What Apple is offering, in addition to ease of use, is an elegant ecosystem that delivers a convenient way to download and install apps, sync content with your Mac or PC, and get updates for both the OS and your software collection. While this environment seems sensible, utterly logical, it is unfortunate that so many competitors fail at one or more of these fundamentals.

With the Android OS, you can’t be assured that you’ll be allowed to update to the latest and greatest version, even if there’s a critical security fix involved. That decision is not Google’s to make, but the province of the manufacturer or wireless carrier. If they decide to do it, fine. If not, you’re out of luck, unless you hack your device to accept an upgrade direct from Google, assuming the file is even available.

When it comes to apps, Apple has the rest of the crowd beat by a country mile. The second largest marketplace, from Google, is swollen with useless titles, such as ringtones, wallpapers, and other junk that would likely be rejected by Apple. Developers report fewer opportunities to make a living from Google’s marketplace, which is why so many flock to the App Store despite having to deal with a curator that may use arbitrary standards to accept or reject product.

The issues the media rants about, such as Apple’s “walled garden,” don’t mean much to regular people, who just want a device that works and provides a great user experience. Those who care will just jailbreak their iPhones, and deal with an instructed and not very safe open market.

When competing companies consider an Apple gadget, they’ll look at the specs, find features that aren’t there, or not fully implemented, and answer those shortcomings. They pay little heed to the operating system and app selection, and will often just plug in the Android OS with a few of their own theme-related “bright ideas,” or perhaps license Windows Phone 7. But, as I said, having performance ratings or hardware specs that look good on paper doesn’t necessarily mean anything if the OS is buggy, the apps don’t operate reliably, or the selection is poor.

Another huge mistake Apple’s competitors are making is rushing products to market before they’re ready, hoping, against hope, that they will somehow attract customers who won’t notice the shortcomings. The latest offender is the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, a new tablet with snappy performance, and a great screen, but laden with software bugs, and restricted by a foolish decision on the part of the manufacturer to exclude such core functions as email and contact lists. Instead, RIM expects you to bridge your PlayBook with a BlackBerry to gain those features, or just use Webmail.

Even worse, it appears that PlayBook to BlackBerry bridging is, at least so far, reportedly being blocked by AT&T, according to Jim Dalrymple of The Loop. So there you go.

If all this sounds foolish to you, you can probably understand why the co-CEOs of RIM have been unable to clearly express a viable product strategy. They want you to think that being forced to buy a second mobile computer to use email on a PlayBook is a good thing, rather than an exercise in total stupidity.

But all of this should be obvious to most of you, even if it comes as some sort of revelation to one or more tech commentators who act as if they actually have something new to say.