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Summary:

Maybe it is because I am a recent switcher that I notice details long-time Mac owners may take for granted, details that are so minute yet so useful and so quintessentially ‘human’. The level of attention painstakingly paid to the many small details found on every […]

Maybe it is because I am a recent switcher that I notice details long-time Mac owners may take for granted, details that are so minute yet so useful and so quintessentially ‘human’. The level of attention painstakingly paid to the many small details found on every Apple product is a testament to Apple’s design philosophy, and is what sets the experience of using an Apple product a head above its competitors. Here are some thoughts I have about The Apple Experience.

Apple’s One-Two Punch

To take at face value alone Apple’s own statement, that it is first and foremost a software company, is to be merely skimming the surface. The Apple experience, be it with a Mac, iPod or iPhone, has no equal only because of the way Apple marries software seamlessly to the hardware that serves it. In an Apple product, software and hardware are inseparable: the success of that product weighs equally heavy on the shoulders of both its software and hardware components.

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Take, for example, the iPod. The two main factors that make the iPod the success story it is are the Wheel (hardware) and the user interface (software). Would the iPod have reigned if it had sported a four-way D-pad instead, as was the norm for devices of that era, with the UI probably taking an entirely different direction as a result? Probably not. Would the Wheel have worked if it served an alternate user interface? Again, probably not. Another software factor that can be considered as equally important is iTunes and its ease of use.

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On the Mac side of things, a good example is the keyboard backlight on the MacBook Pro. You may not have noticed this, but when you fire up your MacBook Pro in a dimly-lit environment, the keyboard lights up when OS X boots into the login screen.

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Now, this is not some technical feat. But, clearly, in the process of designing the MacBook Pro, Apple designers thought far enough to consider the various scenarios a user might be in and included this nice little engineering touch. Maybe the idea began in the development of OS X. Maybe it was added to OS X at the request of the hardware folks. Regardless, the result is elegant, understated and unobstrusive, the way good design should be. This is what absolute control over both software and hardware gets you. The iPhone is another showcase of this combination.

When You’re Not In Control…

In stark contrast, the Windows-PC software/hardware relationship, where the hardware is often nothing more that a shell for the software, makes it difficult for Microsoft and its partners to achieve the seamlessness and elegance of Apple’s software/hardware implementations.

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I suspect life must be difficult for the PC designer who has great ideas to enhance user experience but is hampered simply because the OS was never designed to support those ideas. Sony, Fujitsu and Lenovo are, in my opinion, the three manufacturers who consistently produce remarkable design, whose industrial design I admire as much as that of Apple’s. Yet, the only way they can enhance software/hardware user experience is through the custom applications that serve their respective hardware.

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Sony, for example, has a complete suite of custom applications from media management to custom control panels to complement its hardware features. While these applications add value to what a user can get out of the computer, and succeed in adding to what the OS lacks, the fact that these applications have a custom user interface so different to that of Windows is where the irony lies. A few snatches of brilliance ultimately defeated by the very thing they strive to enhance…parts that do not add up to the final sum.

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This trend is apparent not only in PCs; HTC, Sony Ericsson, HP, Nokia and Samsung are doing the same with smartphones powered by Windows Mobile, Palm OS or UIQ. But how much can front-end applications mask the shortcomings of an underlying host OS that already has its own user interface? The first manufacturer who has an answer to that question will change the landscape forever.

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Some manufacturers — Google, HP, Gigabyte and ASUS, to name a few — are thinking exactly that: Google already has an alternative smartphone OS in place, HP is toying with the idea of developing its own Linux-based OS, and ASUS is developing its own front-end to Windows Mobile, close on the heels of HTC and Samsung, both of whom have touchscreen front-ends for their Windows Mobile smartphones.

The Apple Way

Short of reading the minds of the powers-that-be at the helms of Apple, and not mentioning how Mac clones in the ’90s were eating away at Apple’s own sales, I suspect the lack of unity mentioned above is, to some extent, why Steve Jobs will never license OS X to other manufacturers. Sure, it would increase marketshare and sales. But Apple products were never meant to be mere commodity items, at least not under Job’s stewardship.

The Apple experience is a combination of form, function and intangible user emotional responses earned from its masterful blend of software and hardware (though not necessarily in that order; Apple does get naughty once in a while). This positive user experience further leads to strong emotional branding. The risk of disparities arising from the separation of software and hardware, with user experience as the casualty, is a risk neither he nor any one else at Apple will take, now and in the foreseeable future.

  1. Nice summary, I’m a recent switcher and i couldn’t be happier!
    I’m still wondering how I’ve managed to live without my macbook pro

    Both thumbs up !

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  2. Great article. Being also a recent swithcer, I couldn’t agree more with your point of view. At the end of the day all we want is to take some benefict from our products (computers, mp3 players, etc…) and not to look at their massive specification and think “why can’t I do it?”…

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  3. [...] -The Apple Experience | TheAppleBlog.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Apple is “Industruy Leader”!Install [...]

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  4. I have been using Macs for 24 years (and I use Windows when I need to for the last 8). This is exactly why I stay. I was at the Apple Store last Friday and a guy asked to pick my brain. It took all of 2 minutes before he was proclaiming that “This is great! They do the whole thing and it’s so seamless”!
    his comments continued in that vein, and he’s going back (been back maybe?) for a personal shopping appointment to get his Mac.

    Cheers!

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  5. As a recent switcher myself (3 years is recent right?) I couldn’t be happier with OSX and Macs – I’ll never go back to windows if Apple/MS keep their respective philosophies, but really my iPhone is a slow, crippled, pain in the ass. It’s just so near but so far at the same time.

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  6. nice writeup. as a recent switcher myself, i can only agree with your argument. hopefully apple stays the way it is and not turn into a monopolising behemoth like microsoft.

    also, a warm welcome to you – it’s nice being able to read a fellow singaporean’s writing =)

    cheers mate.

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  7. I couldn’t agree more. The whole Apple experience (software and hardware) is unique and is its own reward.

    I switched from Windows to OS X (on my beloved Power Mac G5) a few years ago and I have never looked back. There is nothing I miss from using Windows but, whenever I end up on a Windows PC, I immediately begin to miss some of the subtle touches that make OS X so complete.

    And, the experience just keeps on getting better. My transition from Tiger to Leopard was painless and brought with it a whole host of great new features (I’d be lost without Spaces, Quicklook and stacks). Compare this with my last Windows upgrade (from 2000 Pro to XP) which ended up with my doing a complete reformat and reinstall because the upgrade f&@#ed things up so badly for me – then I couldn’t get my scanner to work, and I needed to add more RAM and a new graphics card too! How large Windows-based IT departments cope with OS upgrades is beyond me – they’re just so painful under that bloated and cruft-ridden OS.

    Like your other respondents, I hope that Apple maintains its “zen” for many years to come. I’m a fanboy and proud of it. :-)

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  8. Macs are Jaguars to the Window-based Fords. The later may claim a larger market share, but the premium we pay for the former is oh so worth it.

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  9. Calling a computer, or music player “experience” is just what apple wanted to achieve. Whats nobody mentioned is the fact that, deep inside, all you mac users feel “distinguished” and “more professional” etc etc just because you own a particular brand: Apple/Mac. This is really pathetic.

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  10. The brand and “emotional connection : which simply means the urge to buy something that a few people could afford) apple created makes you all blind even though there are things that are wrong with macs. They do crash, they are expensive to maintain, upgrade etc etc and their performance/price ratio is not great at all. However because you are all catched the mac-flu you are blinded and whatever the rest of the world would tell you you will stick to apple until one day will come and you will realise how much money you spent on something that was completely and utterly unnecessary and it only made apple and mr jobs happy and you: well we will see..

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