Monthly Archives: April 2010

Anatomy of a Switcher

Hello, My name is David, and I’m a PC…Oh, if only it were that simple.

I’ve been working in IT for over a decade, and in that time I’ve had experience with just about every computing platform out there.  My first Linux variant was Redhat 5.1, “Manhattan”, which was brand new when I installed it in mid-1998.  I’ve used Windows predominantly on the job.  In the mid-2000′s I bought my wife, who is a teacher, a Macbook.  This was her first laptop, and I did it because I wanted one, but I couldn’t justify it for myself.  Why couldn’t I?  At that point, I perceived disparity in the core functionality.  My job at the time was managing a Windows 2003 based Datacenter, and I couldn’t justify a divergence into an operating system that would take away some of the tools I used daily.

In addition to some loss of functionality, the Cost to Hardware Spec ratio made me cringe.  I know how to comparison shop, and like any good geek I know how to price parts.  Looking at a Mac and a comparably equipped PC is an experience that will make even the faithful waver.  In fact, it’s one of the most commonly cited arguments against the Mac in those internet pubs and coffee shops that we call “Forums”.

It’s a lot easier to ignore cost when you’re buying a gift, and a schoolteacher has no functionality gaps when considering Mac OS.

It goes without saying that, since the release of OS X, the Mac has edged the PC out on security, on reliability, and on visual appeal.  These facts certainly contributed to that purchase.  Who among us, whatever job they have, wants to come home from work and do more of what they just did for 8 hours?  In that sense, buying my wife a Mac was a win.  My “Tech-support” time for her computers in the last 5 years (she’s on her second Macbook now) is under 5 hours.  Total. That is compelling.

While it was easy to buy one for her, I couldn’t overcome my objections to buying one for myself.  That is, until a week ago.

The penny-pincher in me struggled with the purchase.  I agonized over specs, I even let my eye stray to the Dell website and compared price with some identically equipped Windows machines.  Temptation to go down the cheap road was strong, but I’ve realized something important about Apple over the last year.  If you listen to the podcast, you’ll have heard me talk about it a time or two.  Vendors of Windows machines sell hardware and software, Apple sells a single product.  The distinction may seem irrelevant at first, but I assure you, it makes all the difference in the world.

Windows is a software platform that is robust, capable and universally available.  A Mac is a product, owned by a single company from soup to nuts (or salad to cake…or perhaps, Amuse-bouche to mille fueille).  The point is, with a Windows operating system there’s someone in charge of ensuring that user experience is top notch, provided the work to make it top notch fits within the development budget.  With the Dell (or HP or Sony (God help you)) computer running Windows there’s someone in charge of ensuring that user experience (which includes such consideration as hardware specification and build quality) is top notch, provided they can sell the device under a certain price point. There are two problems with this model.  First, there’s no central figure held responsible for user experience from a holistic perspective…that is to say, no one person owns the whole “PC”.  No on at Dell is held responsible for OS functionality when they say “I believe this product is adequate, and can carry our Logo.”  Second, and more importantly, neither the development budget for Windows nor the competitive PC market allow much room for going “Above and Beyond” on build quality or functionality.

Whenever I talk about the Mac advantage with Rev, our conversation turns back to two things over and over again.  ”Build quality” and “polish”.  Build quality, in the sense that we use the term, refers to the hardware and manufacturing methods used when creating a Mac computer.  Build quality on Macs, especially in the last 7 years, has been consistently superb.  Polish is a little more subjective.  Things like ambient light sensors that dim displays and keyboard backlighting are a start.  A minimalist GUI with intuitive controls contributes to the image of “polish”.  Even the experience of buying a Mac is clean, from the moment you walk into a Mac store or log onto the website, there’s a casual yet sophisticated atmosphere.  Straightforward, smooth, self confident, unencumbered.  This didn’t happen by accident.  It’s part of an image.  Apple is a company that takes their image so seriously that, when hiring for each Apple Store location, they choose employees by personality, appearance, and background that best coincide with the target audience in that geographic region.

All of this quality and image is pretty expensive.  In fact, Mac’s have an average 20% markup over a similarly equipped PC in most cases.  It’s this markup that allows Apple to create a top of the line product with superb build quality, and the best user experience currently available in consumer computing.  It’s their superb build quality and peerless user experience which keep people coming back year after year to pay 20% more than they have to.

The title of this post is “Anatomy of a Switcher”, so there’s one question I’m obliged to answer before I end.  Why did I switch?  Anyone who still complains about feature parity between Macs and PC’s is either a hardcore PC gamer, or just not paying attention.  Gaming aside, PC’s and Macs are capable of the same performance, they can run the same applications or ones that are so similar you wouldn’t know it.  That is no longer an issue.

If feature parity isn’t an issue, what are the remaining barriers?  Personal preference and cost.  I don’t know anyone who’s ever driven a Honda, then driven a Mercedes, and said “I prefer the driving experience of the Honda.”  People like Hondas for a lot of reasons.  Cost, reliability, cost, reputation, cost, fuel economy, cost…the list goes on.  But if you eliminate cost from the equation, the comparison is a no-brainer.  Mercedes Benz has built a very successful business around selling a product with the same core functionality, superior build quality, and a peerless user experience, to customers who don’t mind paying a premium.

As a geek, I’m on the computer a lot.  I’m definitely a power user.  Because I’m on the computer so much, I have no problem buying expensive peripherals.  My keyboard is what connects me to my computer.  My mouse is an extension of my hand.  There’s no question of deriving value from the slight premiums that a cordless rechargeable laser mouse will extract from my bank account, I use it more than 8 hours a day.  Likewise, when I really consider the satisfaction I get using this MacBook Pro, from the solid feel to the beautiful physical design, to the BSD based operating system and flawless UI, do I need to worry about that 20% premium being squandered?  Do I need to be concerned that I won’t appreciate it enough to justify the additional cost?  No.

If I prioritize user experience over cost (as I believe all power users, and maybe all geeks, should), I don’t mind the luxury tax.  The markup is irrelevant.  The product is superb, and I’m happy because of all those things that Windows users “can totally live without.”  I made the switch, and I haven’t found a reason to look back.

Incidentally, it’s about a 14% markup from a Luxury Accord to a Luxury Mercedes C series sedan.

You can follow David Eagle on twitter, or email cdeagle [at] gmail [dot] com.

iPad, some apps [review]

So I just wanted to share some of the apps I’ve been playing with and how they’ve treated me.

Marvel App

In execution, I love the Marvel Comic Book app. The transitions, quality, comic browser all great. My problem is that, literally, all of the comics I care to spend my money on digitally (entire other conversation) are Dark Horse. Ok yeah that’s not a mark against the app, but against Marvel, but I still think it’s relevant.

Secondly, I found a comic I was interested in: Wolverine: Origin. The trouble however was twofold. First of all if you’ve read a trade vs the entire series bundled, you know that it’s much more enjoyable to just buy and handle the one piece of merchandise. However with the app you have to buy each trade separately. So for wolverine, to prepare myself to read the entire thing, I had to purchase all 6 trades, 1.99 each. That brings me to my last gripe: price. Why in the world am I being charged the same amount of money as if I buy off amazon? Yeah, $12 digitally or $11.50 off amazon free shipping. That right there prevented me from bothering. If it’s cheaper in non digital form I’m going to buy non digital.

Get the Marvel Comics app in iTunes

Headline

This is a really beautiful and well executed Google Reader app. It let’s you sync so you can read your blogs offline. I’ve only got two issues with it. First of all you can filter by unread. This wouldn’t be an issue if it ordered by date of publication but Google doesn’t always update every feed all the time so often there will be 5 or so posts buried somewhere in the mass of posts I’ve already cycled through. And secondly the only share option is email. You at least need share to google friends, let alone Twitter and Facebook. If those two issues were fixed this app would be a must buy, as of right now it’s just nice.

Get the Headline app in iTunes

Netflix

This app is still crashing on me but I’m going to temporarily write that off as growing pains. Really my only issue with the netflix app is that the movie browsing interface is seemingly just an implanted safari window. This produces a few annoying issues. Namely it’s slow. Now I haven’t tested netflix.com in true safari, but in the app the experience feels unnaturally slow. You also can’t do things like star movies. It just feels clunky. But to be honest, I have streaming video from a large library of movies and television, why should I be complaining… right?

Get the Netflix app in iTunes

ABC App

I wanted to drop as quick one on the ABC App. Really my only issue is that they limit you to the 5 most recent shows (I guess it’s this way on the website as well?). Really ABC? This makes the app completely useless to me. I was going to use this to explore new shows to watch, but if I’m mid season and I have to watch some random episode, I’m out. They’ve even got commercials! It really just feels like a baseless executive decision, which really turns me off to this app.

Get the ABC Player app in iTunes

WordPress App

I’m really enjoying this app. I’ve used it to actually write all of my iPad blogposts (although to finish this post i had to use a pc). Only issues are lack of any kind of formatting options (bold, italic, headline) and the inability to resize photos. Now you can write HTML in here for formatting, but the keyboard layout makes it highly frustrating. Other than that I also use it to moderate and reply to comments. You can save local drafts, publish them, and even setup pretty much every wordpress blog you have access to. Oh and there is an annoying bug that 90% of the time the cut/copy/paste dialog doesn’t show up. I’ve found some tricks to force it to show up, but they’re not reliable, and i shouldn’t be relied on to hack the planet to use an app.

Get the WordPress app in iTunes

That’s it. I’m hoping to go over more obscure apps, or some games, next time. The iPad app store still feels really bare. I’m not sure if it’s just too early or if some app makers are waiting for OS 4, but the selection really feels lacking right now.

iPad day one [review]

So my first day with the iPad was only a half day and a work day to boot. Most of my day was spent in dev meetings. I would say that during the meeting the iPad was very useful but I’m not seeing anything that makes it indispensable.

I was able to pull up any website we had during our dev meeting. Not only did everything come up good, but I was really happy with the quality of the iPad/Safari browsing experience. Additionally, during the meeting I was able to take care of IMs and emails with ease. It’s important to note however that i was already able to take care of both of these tasks with my laptop. Which brings me to the first annoyance with the iPad. Unfortunately my 2007 MacBook pro doesn’t output enough power to charge my iPad. This really isn’t that big of a deal, but if you think that I’m missing out on a bit of a charge every time I go to sync my iPad, it’s kind of annoying.

Once I got home I tried out the netflix app. I have to say I was very disappointed. At first I was having a great time checking out the streaming, but I decided to start an episode of the office while I worked on some chores. Over the course of roughly an hour I had to hard boot the iPad 4 times during netflix streaming. I tried multiple episodes, but each one would eventually freeze up permanently and even sometimes have visual artifacts on the screen. I’m not sure if it’s just my iPad or if it’s something with netflix itself. I’m hoping to figure at out, but either way: no bueno.

That’s about it for my first day. If I had to give it an X/10 I’d say a solid 8/10.

iPad [frivolous]

I bought an iPad. Ok ok, I. Don’t need you badgering me about it. It’s pretty dang cool and you’re a jerk so, there’s that. Anyway I’ll try to keep you updated on how it goes. I’ve got my first work meeting in 30 minutes, hopefully I’ll get some good use out of this paperweight.

Oh, and I wrote this on the iPad.