The Apple Experience

70 Comments

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.

70 Comments

Emre Y.

“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.”

I suspect life for mac designer will be difficult now that nearly all hardware inside a mac is intel, ati etc and other third party manufacturers’ products.

Emre Y.

The world is perfect..yeah..running so smoothly around looks, fashion and mass marketing..anyway I hope you live happily after with your computer

Joseph Gelis

Your right. It is just a machine that I interact with. That is my choice. To each his or her own. I like Macs. You like PCs. And all is right with the world. Well, I guess I wouldn’t go that far.

Emre Y.

You follow your heart and thats why you are a mac? How pathethic. You are a mac because you think owning a mac will distinguish you from the rest of the computer users. That is because adverts, movies etc are promoting that thought. But you will never be able to go out of that loop and realize that what you think is just what they want you to think. Don’t underestimate the power of marketing.

Make this experiment on your free time: Buy a few coca colas (or any other big brand), put them in generic containers and look at them. They don’t look appealing anymore do they?..The product is the same, taste is the same..but you don’t have the “brand name” and “image”…enlightened a little bit?

Emre Y.

Yes, be a mac, feel good about yourself. You are talking as if its something unattainable or something unique to yourself. ITS A PIECE OF MACHINE. Oh my god! I can’t believe you are actually in love with a commodity..poor joseph..I can just go and buy a mac tomorrow, and voila I am one of the mac users..how can you think that its a big deal? I use mac’s every single day at work, I use pc’s at work too…If you “mingle” with a computer thats your problem, and thats your incapability to make something work efficiently. Being on a “mac side” is just as easy as a few clicks and a few hundred dollars or a thousand..whatever..I don’t understand why you think its a big thing, thats all I don’t understand about mac users..Learning something new, learning a new language, visiting another culture, I can understand all these and I can appreciate all these..but when I see people who think they achieved something or they belong to an “elite” group because they own something I feel so sorry or those people..its waking up time..ITS JUST A PIECE OF MACHINE.

Joseph Gelis

Wait a minute… This is the AppleBog. What are you PCs doing here? You don’t belong here.!!! Wait… I get it. You are closet-Macs. You publicly disdain Macs, but secretly, you can’t resist. You really want to be Macs, but just haven’t figured out how to come out of the PC closet. You just have to make the commitment and realize that you will be so much more happier when you make that decision and come to the Mac side. You wont regret it. I have to mingle with PCs at work and I can see the misery in their eyes, especially with this new vista thing. I really have pity on them. But we all have a choice. We need to follow our hearts. That is why I am a Mac.

Emre Y.

..and why would anyone feel threatened by osx? or an operating system in general!??..this is idiotic..we don’t own microsoft, and you don’t own apple, please wake up..its just a computer..

Joseph Gelis

What more can I say Ritik. You are obviously content in driving your Ford. When I wake up every morning, I happily fire up my Jag.

Emre Y.

Hahahaha :))) OSX and Mac’s are superior? Do you know whats inside a mac? An intel mainboard, an intel processor, a samsung or any other good ram manufacturer, seagate/maxtor or whatever HDD, ATI graphics card..do you want me to go on?..Basicly a mac is a PC wearing a posh aluminum outfit (and being sold at a premium price). and OSX is an operating system which is full of unnecessary animations, visual stuff that it just looks like a toy, and it bores me to death

Ritik

Worked up? Threatened?

By something thats made for the ‘artistic’?

You must be joking!

Anyhow, you dream your Mac dream JG!

(This message was sent from a real PC powered by MS Windows XP)

Joseph Gelis

It is really amazing how worked up and threatened so many PC users like Ritik get when they finally realize how superior Macs and the OSX are. I guess when you are the best, those that come in second are going to whine.

Adam

@ Rikit

When was the last time/What was the last Mac you tried to work on?
You obviously have not taken a serious look lately.

Go back under your bridge, you troll.

Ritik

Honestly, Mac’s are terrible. The world runs on PC’s and Mac’s are basically for goofballs who just want a toy.

“Oh I have a Mac…I’m so different” –> loser Mac owner attitude.

Try trading stocks…building powerful spreadsheets…anything that requires true performance…and a Mac will let you down.

Get real…Mac’s … pffft.

Emre Y.

Joseph, nothing personal towards you, please don’t get me wrong..I just have strong feelings towards apple. I am agains being a fan of any operating system or any brand in general. If I sounded like I endorse or love pc’s its not what I meant. I am not a particular fan of Bill Gates either. He is just another form of Jobs.. :) Enjoyed hearing someone from the “dark side” of computers as well :) take care

Emre Y.

Bottomline..I want freedom of choice, freedom of hardware, freedom of software and freedom of being able to use something other than itunes, or ithis and ithat..not just a few choices that apple would give me. Not only they don’t let you create your own setup, they don’t even give you necessary and basic technologies like a firewire on the new macbooks so that you have to go up the ladder and buy a much more expensive macbook pro. Just tell me which decent laptop on earth of size 12″ or more at the moment doesn’t have a firewire port?..What could be the rationale behind it anything other than hunger for more money?

Joseph Gelis

Emre Y., A diverse society is what makes the world go around. You love PCs, I love Macs. To each his own. And that is cool. Enjoyed chatting with you. Take Care.
P.S. I hear Jobs is a piece of work, but you can’t argue with the results that have been produced under his watch.

Emre Y.

The only problem that windows based machines have are the inexperienced users. If you don’t know what you are doing with windows ITS IS EASY to ^£££$%£ it UP. I must admit it. OSX is designed for “technology dummies”, you plug it and it works type of thing, and thats good AND bad, good because well, its easier, bad because it makes it less flexible, less customizable and less open-source for developers. I have been using windows since version 3.1 and I am challanging ANYBODY ON EARTH, if a windows machine that I maintain crashes or locks up, or doesn’t behave as I want it to be I will just shoot myself. All over the world, in biggest movie studios, music studios, banks etc etc there are windows based machines and they are being maintained by proffesional people and they DO WORK.

Emre Y.

Unfortunately at studios that I work sometimes there are macs so I have to use them and they do crash for no reason from time to time. I am not saying it happens every day but it definitely happens as often as windows machines. I don’t find any difference between windows and osx in terms of productivity. 20+ years in the mac-land…I will NEVER, EVER give a dime to Steve Jobs from my own hard earned money just for design, marketing and for the fact that they turn heads in Starbucks..

Joseph Gelis

Emre Y. You sound frustrated just like Microsoft in their pathetic response to Apple’s ultra-successful “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” commercials. Apple “acts” smartly and cleverly in promoting their product, and then Microsoft “reacts” desperately and pathetically in trying to stop the bleeding as droves make the switch. I have been using Macs for 20+ years and have never experienced any of the problems you have mentioned in your post. During this 2 decade run I would categorize my relationship with my Macs as pleasurable compared with the laborious experience endured while forced to use Windows-based machines at work. Emre Y., I know you are in deep with the gang from Redmond, but open your mind and free yourself from their clutches and at least try a Mac. You will realize how good life really can be.

Emre Y.

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..

Emre Y.

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.

Joe

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.

Jonathan Hollin

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. :-)

Will

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.

Honza

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.

Adam

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!

Miguel

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?”…

robbydm

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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