Recently I broke my Apple Magic Mouse. It wasn’t equipment fatigue, it was dumb misfortune – I knocked it off my desk by mistake when I got up without realising it, then managed to roll over it when I sat back down, breaking it beyond reasonable repair.
Not having a spare Magic Mouse at the time, I rummaged around in my spare parts drawer, pulled out a basic USB Logitech mouse, plugged it into my 2008 model Mac Pro and kept working. Beyond regret about losing the Magic Mouse, I didn’t really think any more about the situation.
Compare that to a few days later when I was at a customer site. We were using a relatively newish Dell Inspiron laptop running Windows 7, but it was on an upright laptop docking station. The trackpad was getting painful to use, so the customer pulled out a Dell USB mouse and I plugged it in.
I glanced at the Windows status bar and I could see a notification about how the laptop was installing new software for the hardware. I clicked on it and saw that Windows was searching online for the best drivers.
Meanwhile, I still couldn’t use the mouse. The customer had a good internet connection – that wasn’t the problem, but the laptop sat there chugging away for a good 3-5 minutes locating, then installing the right drivers.
Finally, move mouse and the cursor responded.
A day couple of days later I posted the comparison on Facebook and ended with a simple statement: “No wonder why some Mac users are accused of being smug.” (Note, I should add, that I wasn’t saying I was feeling smug. I was actually trying to make a neutral observation.)
There was mixed reaction, as you might imagine. Some agreed, some had a chuckle, and others vehemently rejected the comparison. “It’s Dell, they’re cheap shit. You can’t compare them [against overpriced Apple]” was the general claim.
Well no, I can. Since Microsoft don’t manufacture PCs themselves, the closest comparison to them in the PC industry are the OEM manufacturers. Not only that, people who want to use the “Apple is overpriced” argument can’t have it both ways – they can’t cite specs and shout “look Apple is thousands *cough* oops $39 more, they’re rip off merchants” and then insist on other factors that comparisons cannot be made.
You want your cake? Then by golly you’ve got to eat it and suffer the carb load.
Looking at individual per-component cost and saying you can build it cheaper or using better specification parts doesn’t wash for me in IT. The flaws are fourfold:
- Knowledge gap – Not everyone can build their own computer. If you require specialist knowledge to do it, or you need to include time or costs of third party services, the argument is invalid.
- Laptops – Given the rise of the laptop as a replacement to the desktop for so many people, the argument is invalid.
- Consumer – The vast majority of consumers don’t want to construct their own computer. They want to walk in to a store and walk out with a fully functioning unit. Or they want to shop on line and have a fully functioning unit delivered ASAP.
- Enterprise – Self constructed servers (“white box”) may save money but support options vary. Unless you’re rolling your entire environment yourself, chances are without a server being a ratified vendor server, you’ll encounter at least one vendor who will refuse to support a configuration that’s running on white box hardware.
But it’s more than that. Much more to that.
If everything was about per-component cost minimisation and per-component efficiency/power maximisation, the world would be a much different place. Buying a car would be like visiting Ikea. Buying a motorbike would be like visiting Ikea. Buying a printer would be like visiting Ikea. Going to a restaurant would be akin to walking into the kitchen and vetting every ingredient in your meal before it’s cooked. And possibly even asking the chefs for their CVs.
As consumers, the vast majority of people aren’t interested in per-component quality, efficiency or performance. They simply want what they buy to work, out of the box, or off the floor, or however they receive their goods.
Per-component arguments are only seen to be valid because IT is still a relatively young industry. But, like the time humans stopped believing in a flat earth, just because a seeming majority believe in X doesn’t in itself make X correct. What’s more, the IT industry is growing up.
What is often missed in IT discussions is the value of the experience that a user or product owner gets. This is far more holistic (for most at least) than components X, Y and Z.
Experience – or rather, satisfaction, to use the more correct term in this scenario, is a synergistic function of:
- Expectation – a measure of how the user expects the usage scenario will unfold;
- Reliability – a measure of the failure rate of the entire system;
- Performance – a measure of the ability of the system to respond in a timeframe the user finds acceptable to the task(s) at hand;
- Suitability – a measure of how appropriate the given system is to the task(s) at hand;
- Adaptability – whether the system can adjust to changing user needs.
The middle three have both subjective and objective measures. The fifth is almost entirely subjective, and could equally be seen as a measure of the practicality of the user. The first is more interesting – it’ll usually be almost entirely subjective OR almost entirely objective, depending on the user’s level of knowledge to the given task. The more the user knows about the task, the more objective we can expect their expectations to be; the less they know, the more subjective their expectations are.
So let’s briefly return to the USB mouse scenario that kick started this and evaluate the Mac and PC experience.
- Expectations – I work in enterprise IT, I’m reasonably objective in thinking something as simple as a mouse should work once plugged in. Rating: Excellent.
- Reliability – the new mouse, once plugged in, worked. Rating: Excellent.
- Performance – the new mouse, once plugged in, was immediately responsive. Rating: Excellent.
- Suitability – the new mouse worked as a mouse. Rating: Excellent.
- Adaptability – the system was able to handle a USB mouse, having previously been using Bluetooth mouse. Rating: Excellent.
- Expectations – I work in enterprise IT, I’m reasonably objective in thinking something as simple as a mouse should work once plugged in. Rating: Poor.
- Reliability – the new mouse, once available to the system, worked. Rating: Excellent.
- Performance – the new mouse, once plugged in, took several minutes to be available for use. Rating: Poor.
- Suitability – the new mouse worked as a mouse. Rating: Excellent.
- Adaptability – the system was able to handle a USB mouse, having previously been using the trackpad. Rating: Excellent.
If you were to consider each evaluation component, you could objectively say that the Dell experience rated at 3 out of 5 and the Mac experience rated a 5 out of 5.
…in fact, the notion of going to a restaurant is perhaps the easiest scenario to consider in relation to per-component qualities vs total-experience satisfaction. It doesn’t matter how good the food is, if the wait-staff are rude and the service is slow, almost no-one will say they had a good experience. Similarly, very few people who praise a restaurant where the service was excellent but the food came with a free dose of salmonella.
There are exceptions to every rule, but for most people at least, the experience is everything. Delight comes not from individual component satisfaction, but from the holistic feeling generated by the entire experience.
As IT continues to grow from a business marketplace to a consumer marketplace, this will grow increasingly evident.