The World of Bad First Impressions

May 18th, 2011

This is something I learned as a child, though I didn’t always observe the caution, and that is to try to make a good first impression. That’s particularly true when you are being asked by a company to spend your hard earned money on a product or service. Assuming you have other choices — which isn’t always the case with broadband Internet access for example — you are apt to go elsewhere next time around.

This is the sort of lesson Apple has learned over the years. If the first Mac was a perfectly awful product, the company probably wouldn’t exist today. It could never have survived on the strength of the Apple II. Sure, that original Mac lacked software and even the ability to increase RAM, but it delivered an elegant solution to bring personal computing to the masses. Indeed all graphical operating systems still surviving, be they Windows, Linux, or even Mac OS X, remain heavily influenced by that first Mac.

Surely the original iPod also had to be right the first time. Apple had no discernible history building digital media players, the modern day equivalents of the Sony Walkman. But in one fell swoop, Apple solved many of the problems that existed on similar gear at the time, and the rest is history.

The 2007 iPhone, although it lacked an App Store, cut, copy and paste, and other important features, still worked great within its narrowed confines. No other smartphone sported a similar level of elegance, and thus the iPhone became a cultural icon almost overnight. Most of the more successful imitators sport interfaces and features that, to a large degree, attempt to ape Apple’s vision. Although features may differ — and may be better implemented in some cases, such as the way the Android OS handles notifications — Apple rates best in spit and polish.

Now as far as the wireless phone companies are concerned, a contract is a contract. It doesn’t matter to them if the smartphone you buy at a subsidized price is built by Apple, HTC, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung or any other company. Once they get your business, job number one is to make sure you pay your bill, and that they can renew your contract when it expires. If you don’t like the service, or the handset selection, you’ll probably go elsewhere.

To the carriers, however, the handsets are just commodities used to sell contracts. The iPhone is one of the few exceptions, since Apple provides a level of support that is absent with other products. If you have a problem with your iPhone, you call Apple. If you need a software update, Apple will push it to you via iTunes — and that service may also reside in the cloud some day soon.

When it comes to tablets, there’s a report about consumer electronics retailers adding a special tablet section, mirroring the one available for PCs. You will see all the latest and greatest gear, and be able to pick and choose the one that suits your needs. Well, except for the iPad, which gets its own section.

Yes, they want you to believe that the arrival of the iPad triggered a tablet revolution. For a decade, they’ve tried to sell you tablets, mostly modified Windows PCs, with little success outside of a small portion of the business world. “This is the year of the tablet,” you were told over and over again. But it made no difference to the public at large until the iPad arrived.

Certainly if you examine the competition, they all attempt to bathe in the iPad’s glow. They are thin, light, with touchscreen input capability, and they afford the promise of loads of apps with which to spend your leisure hours, although that promise has yet to be realized. Some might even pretend to offer a degree of productivity.

Unfortunately, none of the makers of those would-be iPad slayers seem to have a clue about what they’re selling. Most of the dreadful ads you see on TV tout meaningless hardware features, or attempt to overwhelm you with loud music and fancy special effects. But they can’t even respond to the question of what you’re supposed to do with that gadget once you buy it.

Worse, such tablets as the Motorola Xoom, and the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, are unfinished, buggy. The Android OS is still undergoing revisions to fix the various and sundry stability problems. RIM suffered the embarrassment of having to recall some 1,000 units that shipped with defective versions of the OS. And you have to wonder why all of them weren’t imaged with the very same content. Curious. However, a small number of defective products isn’t the issue. The real issue is that the product has garnered tepid reviews because it’s not a fully realized device. RIM cannot even sensibly explain why you should be required to “bridge” the gadget with a BlackBerry smartphone to use an email client. And don’t forget that AT&T and other carriers aren’t supporting that feature, or whatever it is, because it’s the equivalent of tethering two mobile devices, which usually requires an optional service plan.

No wonder the co-CEOs of RIM cannot express a consistent, forget about logical, vision for the company. When it comes to first impressions, the PlayBook has serious problems. That’s no way to compete with Apple.

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