Technology for the Masses

on May 18, 2010

There’s much flaming between fans of Apple products and fans of other systems, such as those running Windows or Linux/Android. It’s important to note that each system has its advantages and disadvantages. There are always tradeoffs. But depending on who you are, the tradeoffs tip to one side or another.

The Apple product offers:

  • A beautiful and seamless experience that’s easy to use but you’re locked in to a system that isn’t very customizable
  • Strong support but it comes at a price (see note on the Apple Tax at the bottom)

Other electronics and software offer:

  • A more open and customizable experience but with a greater likelihood that stuff will break or is unintuitive
  • More bang for your buck (in terms of features and power) but you’ll have to support yourself

So basically, if you’re one to really make use of those extra features and customability and able and willing to put up with stuff that’s more complicated to use and to deal with instability, then buying Apple seems absurd. But this kind of technologically savvy user is likely 10% of the population, if not less. Most of the other 90% are just folks that want technology that just works and is easy to use. And if things do break, they need help and are willing to pay for it.

Imagine if a hard drive failed. A tech savvy user would probably just swap it out himself while the general user pays for the repair (including beforehand in something like The Apple Tax). The tech savvy user pays as well, with opportunity cost. At some point, he had to spend time to learn how to do a hard drive. Also imagine some application that has a hundred buttons for all its features. The savvy user works to sort through them to make use of everything available. But the general user is flummoxed at the sight.

There’s another category of users: power users that prefer Apple products. They understand the tradeoff and are willing to sacrifice features and price for just having something that’s easier to use. There’s also folks that go one way with some products and another way with others. I have some good friends that use Linux machines for their home setups, but carry around iPhones.

Still, there’s much polarization on the issue. NYT Tech Writer David Pogue, who falls into the above category, wrote two separate reviews for the iPad. The one targeted to tech savvy folks slammed it for a lack of features and customability. The other, poised for general users, praised the iPad for being an incredibly fun to use device. When it comes down to it, there will be tradeoffs and we should be mindful of what we get and what we lose with each system. And more importantly, we should understand that others may have different needs, especially when it comes to technology (more on that in a future post).

Special thanks to Stephen Komae on helping me see beyond my “narrow tech-savvy perspective” to understand the magic of Apple-like products

A note on the Apple Tax. It’s true, there is a “tax” on Apple products. But as with how taxes are supposed to work, they’re for a service. This means that if something goes wrong, you can bring it to an Apple Store where people (that actually know what they’re doing) will help you out in a considerate manner. That peace of mind is invaluable to a general user, but not worth it to many tech savvy users.