So When is it Good Enough?

November 29th, 2011

Aside from all the obvious reasons, such as being available from dozens and dozens of PC makers, and sometimes costing very little money, Windows has the advantage of being basically good enough to accomplish what users expect of it. Whether you’re doing word processing, or running a doctor’s office, there are plenty of apps available from which to select. They usually work, more or less.

The critics will rightly point out areas where Windows essentially mimics many Mac functions, or does the same things in a different fashion. Since many apps are cross-platform, the Windows experience may not seem altogether different from the Mac, except for obvious user interface variations.

This is where such publications as Consumer Reports shortchange their readers. They look over the specs, confirm that things more or less work as advertised, and thus fail to understand that a Mac is not the same as a PC, even if many hardware and OS features appear to be quite similar. They do not get the fineries of an elegant interface, and how it will empower the user to spend more time getting things done, rather than fiddling with complicated operating system setup procedures.

In the real world, Mac OS X tends to be more predictable, with fewer steps to accomplish many tasks — though I grant there are a number of complexities that Apple ought to fix. While Windows has grown better, underneath some glitter here and there, it hasn’t changed all that much. You may have more flexibility in setting system options, but that often comes at the expense of making things more complicated. It may be a power users paradise, at least to some, but for those who just want to run the apps they need for work or play, Windows may just be overly complex. That, and Apple’s trend-setting designs, have helped to make the Mac platform grow faster overall than PCs. Of course it doesn’t hurt that customers who love their iPhones and iPads are looking to a Mac rather than sticking with another PC. Well, that’s unless they give up on a traditional personal computer altogether and just use the iPad for many computing tasks.

The same sort of comparisons might be made with the iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7.x. They all support touch, they all provide full-featured email and at least passable Web browsing. Certainly there are app repositories of one sort or another where, regardless of the number of offerings, will share some basic selections. That’s more true with the iOS and Android, where apps are often developed for both platforms.

If you have the attitude that, at least with the iOS and Android, they are simply two shades of gray, each doing roughly the same things in somewhat different ways, you may regard the selection of a smartphone as a tossup. Like CR, you pick the specs you like, and see what sort of deal your wireless carrier can offer you. Obviously with an iPhone, the prices are essentially set in stone, except for the rare appearance of a refurbished unit.

But user surveys indicate a much higher level of satisfaction with the iPhone, compared to Android. If they are oh-so-similar, why should this be? But once again, it’s all about the user interface, and the ease of discovering the features you need without having to ask for help, or to go through some documentation, if you can find any that’s readable by regular people.

It’s also true that the Android OS isn’t always so fluid in regular use. It strikes critics as being less consistent and not quite as predictable. Because apps aren’t curated, you may end up paying for something that simply doesn’t work, or doesn’t work as well as you might have expected. It may even be just a pale imitation of a well-regarded product available from Apple’s App Store. Having loads and loads of apps might seem good on paper, but it’s not so good if there are lots of poor apps that just aren’t very useful.

But Android is good enough for many people who maybe haven’t been exposed to an iPhone or iPad, or just have modest expectations. The same is true for Windows. Besides, isn’t a Windows PC cheaper than a Mac? How can Apple continue to get away with selling overpriced gear when the perilous state of the economy makes it near impossible to keep up as it is?

But when you return to the real world, you’ll see that the iPad set the price for a full-featured tablet. The Amazon Kindle Fire is a lot cheaper by being bereft of features, having a smaller display and, of course, being sold at a loss. When it comes to top-of-the-line smartphones, the iPhone remains highly competitive, and it’s well known that the Mac is not always more expensive than a PC. You just have to compare the features carefully, but if you’re on a budget, that $399 Windows system may be all you want from a computer.

It still comes down to your budget and your expectations, and Apple is really good about exceeding the latter.

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2 Responses to “So When is it Good Enough?”

  1. rwahrens says:

    I’ve got a friend that is a young teacher, with a beginner’s salary. He’d had a MacBook he bought at the same time I bought mine five years ago, and felt that it was time for a new computer. So, being broke, he bought a Toshiba laptop.

    Mistake. Within six months, the hard drive died, and getting it fixed was a multi-week ordeal. Lost all of his data and was, in the end, badly treated by the techs who just barely seemed to understand how to reinstall Windows.

    In short, the next computer he buys will be another Mac, and it is due solely to the user experience with the Company, not just the hardware or software.

    I’ve had an iphone replaced with a new unit, and my daughter has too. No questions asked. I had a major “surgery” performed on my MacBook Core Duo – at no charge to me, even though it was out of warranty AND past Applecare.

    These things matter, they keep customers, and they entice new customers. As long as Apple hews to these customer service principles, they’ll keep growing.

  2. Ken Heins says:

    Basically same experience for me. Had a Blackberry, it was replaced twice in the warranty period, switched to iPhone, am now an App developer. Would never consider going back to Blackberry.

    Same experience as you on Macbook Core Duo, Apple has gone way up and beyond what they were required to do by warranty and Applecare.

    But that has no effect on my Windows friends. They just give me this blank look when I tell them that.

    I have stopped trying to explain it.

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