Linked by Kroc Camen on Tue 15th Jun 2010 10:03 UTC
Apple Apple have updated the Mac Mini. It now sports an aluminium (no, I am not going to spell it "aluminum") enclosure, an HDMI port, an internal PSU (no power-brick!) and oddly, an SD card slot in the back. There's also an access hole on the bottom to change the RAM easily.
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RE[6]: UK Price
by Neolander on Tue 15th Jun 2010 20:00 UTC in reply to "RE[5]: UK Price"
Neolander
Member since:
2010-03-08

Ah, finally some explanation above the "interesting" level ;)

The Techie Apple Conundrum (TAC)

The TAC arises often on sites such as OSNews because the attraction of Apple products, and hence Apple's huge success as a company, is dependent on features and aspects of product design invisible to almost all Techies. Thus Apples success is mysterious, vexing and ultimately challenging.

Well, there seem to be written in the Universal [Mac|Linux|Windows|Nintendo|Xbox|Playstation|Nokia|Whatever] Fanboy Manual that it's always a right thing to do to start by explaining to the reader that he's an idiot. Go and figure out why so much Apple topics end by flamewar... Well, let's ignore it and read what's next.

Techies for example often focus on feature lists and technical specifications and compare one such list to another and look at comparative prices and cannot understand that someone would pay more for an "inferior" spec.

Continue insulting behavior while explaining that objectivity (ie using real and non-obfuscated data about a product) is a wrong method. Start to get tired. When does some non-laughable stuff begin ?

This of course misses a critical aspect of Apple product design, one of the keys to the success of Apple in the consumer market, which is that for many (perhaps most) consumers having fewer technical features is a positive thing.

Okay, less is good. Life is short, pay more. And then ?

This seems paradoxical to Techies but this is because they fail to comprehend what the actual experience for the vast majority of consumers of hi-tech products actually is - which is bad.

Ah, finally ! Let the show begin. So for you, user experience is not a feature ?
Let's see...
feature (plural features)

<...>
2. An important or main item.
<...>
5. (computing) A beneficial capability of a piece of software.
<...>
6. The cast or structure of anything, or of any part of a thing, as of a landscape, a picture, a treaty, or an essay; any marked peculiarity or characteristic; as, one of the features of the landscape.
* 1911, 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica:

The most prominent feature of the New England land system was the town grant, which in every case became the territorial basis of a group settlement.
<...>
8. (engineering) Characteristic forms or shapes of a part. For example, a hole, boss, slot, cut, chamfer, or fillet.


Ease of use and good user experience totally is a feature, and the beginning of your post hence is crap. Just a little precision.

Consumers constantly encounter products that don't work as advertised, products that squeeze so many functions into an item that using it for its main purposes is dreadfully complex, products that even when their function should be simple (i.e. to play music, to play a DVD, to surf the web, to write emails) require a thick user manual (many of which which are often written by engineers and are thus unhelpful).

I agree that feature overflow is a horrible and alas very common defect in the industrial world. However, I'm eagerly waiting to read how you're going to demonstrate that Apple, inventors of iTunes and the iPhone/iPod Touch, are insensitive to that defect...

Most hi-tec products are user-unfriendly for most consumers. But not to Techies because they have technical knowledge and so can cope with poor/arcane design. In fact Techies like such products because they find technical challenges fun and because it makes them useful (they are always helping people solve their technical problems) and thus boosts their self esteem.

Again, push forward sentiment of personal superiority to ensure that you get grilled and can then tell that you're being persecuted because you're telling the truth (or because the reader is too near-sighted). Your "techie" stereotype gets more and more unlikely as you give him the superpower to master poor design so much that it doesn't matter to him and that it's even close to a child's play. But it doesn't matter as long as you're deeply convinced that such people DO exist.

To get a better picture of real-world techies, you'd have to meet the SLR (Single Lens Reflex). Photographs buy one because they want to go at a picture quality level that the average compact camera can not reach. Weight, volume, and complexity are drawbacks of SLRs, not advantages nor a necessity. As compact cameras get more and more powerful and start to do better and better pictures, more and more people who would have bought a SLR some years ago will buy one now.

Everyone wants to get things done as good as possible. But we do not do things the same way, because we make different compromises. Those who are ready to overcome a higher learning cost for the final benefit of higher-quality photographs go dSLRs. Those who are more in the mind of grabbing their camera and shooting pictures without caring about how it works prefer compact/phone cameras. I'm an advocate of the latter myself, but my mother is a heavy argentic SLR user. There's room for every compromise in the market.

Some kit, almost all non-Apple desktop computers for example, are not just difficult and poorly designed but are positively scary for almost all consumers. Many non-Apple desktop computers seem very complex to operate, go wrong for no clearly understood reasons and worst of all seem to be under constant attack. Watching someone move from a non-Apple desktop computer to a Mac you can often see them slowly losing their awful, and most of the times paralysing, fear of infection and attack. As the fear fades the pleasure of using their computer increases dramatically and people start to love their computers rather than secretly hating them. Thus another mac-head is born.

Who's wearing a blindfold here ? I give macs the benefit of still being extremely bug-free compared to competitors, but in the area of the simplicity, I'm afraid to tell that the simpler mac desktop has become more and more of a myth lately.

Here's some real-world data :
1/I've seen one of the worst computer users I know using Windows 7 without a single issue. I hate its messy UI myself, but one has to admit that it's sufficiently good for everyday computer use by a non-technical people. Really. No blue screen of deaths everywhere, no crashes, no random behaviors, and even popup emission has been reduced. It's perfectible, sure, but it's not the nightmare you're describing at all. Have a better look around you.
2/Due to my generally bad experience of Windows, and due to her talent at finding bugs in software, when my girlfriend's parents offered to buy her a laptop for her 18th birthday, I suggested her to get a MacBook. I supposed, after hearing the daily praise of Apple computers as better tools by my parents, that it would somehow magically improve her computing experience, in a way like the one you're describing. Well, you know what ? Miracles don't exist. She first endured pain due to the stupid over-sensitive multitouch trackpad which mistakes "scroll" for "zoom" in word processors. Then due to the difficulty to manage several windows which look pretty much the same when you don't have very good eyes. Then due to the low quality of freeware on the mac platform. Then due to the lack of usual media files support. Overall, she got used to it, like anyone finally gets used to a product given sufficient motivation. But you must agree that this is not impressive. Mac OS is not so bad that it's hardly usable on a daily basis by people who have a good knowledge of it or who get helped by someone who has such knowledge. But it's nowhere exceptional. Linux is not that much of a nightmare either in such conditions. Nor is Windows 7.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[7]: UK Price
by Neolander on Tue 15th Jun 2010 20:50 in reply to "RE[6]: UK Price"
Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

And those products have the additional benefit of not having to sacrifice basic things like computer security to work. Unlike OSX which gives you a false sense of security to make you feel better, and a strong need to identify yourself as a Mac user in order to compensate its unimpressive characteristics. And continue to give money for nothing to Apple...

The emblematic product for TAC is the iPad. Here is a product that comes on instantly, looks and feels gorgeous, feels fast, is easy to operate and does (in a fantastically convenient form factor) most of what most people do most of the time on their computer (ie browse the web, send emails, watch movies, read stuff and look at and share photos).

Okay, it's a beautiful piece of hardware, we agree. I wanted an iPad myself before I learned that it would be packed with iPhoneOS crap. And then ?

Plus it has two huge benefits for most consumers. First it doesn't feel like a computer - this is a good thing for most people because most people's experience of using computers has been bad.

In other words, Apple is using trickery to lure consumers into buying their products, because advertising them as what they are would help people understand how crappy iPhone0S on a 7-inch device is. A computer is a computer, meaning a machine which is good as processing large amounts of information, no matter how you call it. And it seems rather unethical to call it otherwise in order to benefit from past failures of the competitors.

Secondly it feels very safe because of Apple's curated computing model, and most users of computers have previously felt unsafe most of the time.

Again, it "feels". You don't like to use rigorous reasoning, do you ? So bad, it would help you to understand that the sole *feeling* of safety, without something solid underneath, is also experienced when someone made tiny holes in your condoms without you knowing it. Feeling safe without being so is actually even worse than not feeling safe at all, because you're taking more risks that what you'd usually do.

Also, I'd like to hear more about that "curated computing model". Sounds fun.

The very reasons that make the iPad such a huge success are the very reasons that Techies don't get it. If one product above all induces TAC its the iPad. Techies say "but Apple has an iron grip and is killing our freedoms" (people want safety much more than some obscure technical freedom)

Which the iPad does not provide. It only provides a false sense of safety. Ever heard about iPhoneOS not actually deleting mails when you press "delete", leaving room for a huge security hole ? About Apple being able to kill an iPhone 4 through its internet connection, leaving room for future exploits of this backdoor ?

What some people do not seem to understand is that safety and technical freedom *are* compatible. They are not opposite. They are two features. You can have one, the other, or both. As simple as that.

, "the iPad doesn't have [insert any number of features that consumers don't care about]"

Again, you seem to know consumers pretty well. So bad you don't know more about all those people who visit multiple video websites and play flash games on a daily basis. You should go in an average high school someday and watch what students are doing on their computers when the teacher is not watching, someday, really...

, "its not a real computer" (exactly).

No, wrong. It IS a computer. Just a castrated one. Computers were made to let the user do pretty much everything he wants which involves processing information. iPads restrict this to what Apple lets users do. Which means that it remains a computer, provided that you consider Apple as the user, the one in control of the machine.

So the continuing, relentless and accelerating success of Apple seems almost inexplicable to most Techies, "how could such products be so successful?"

The answer Techies come up are fairly predictable:

- Apple's voodoo marketing: Apple is pulling the wool over the consumer eyes (sometimes this is blamed on media hype).

- Apple's evil lock in: Apple has a locked down and closed platform, once sucked in people can't leave.

- Apple consumers and users are idiots: Fooled by marketing and glitzy packaging the sheep can be sold everything.

Well, let me advocate a slightly different theory for once.

Apple sell dreams. Dreams have immense values. As you said, people encounter countless issues with poorly made computers everyday. Apple pretends to have invented well-made computing devices. People get excited. They see the price tag, and agree that at such a high price, it must be something wonderful. Especially since according to apple's website, the device does X, Y, AND Z !!! (All that are basic marketing tactics, nothing voodoo in there)

When they've finally bought the product, the users split in two categories.

1/Those who admit that they've been f*cked. It's not the most frequent case, because it takes some willpower to say "Well, I bought crap, with that much money I could've bought a new bike which would have been much more useful on these days. Truth hurts". Admitting that you're wrong is hard. Because of the psychological pain which ensues, such people then get angry and end up bashing Apple for a few months (in an I-know-better-than-you fashion that everybody ignores), then get apathic for some times, and finally buy a product for another brand. And consumerism goes on.

2/Those who don't want to admit it. After all, all their friends are watching their new gizmos with curious eyes. You can manipulate it with your finger. It does run facebook. So it isn't that bad, isn't it. Actually, why would someone expect more than that from a tech product ? Such a denial attitude can be compared with the "everything is right" attitude, which can be seen in a couple when both partners want to stay with each other for some reason, even if they don't like each other. A real-world example : my girlfriend's mother bought an iPhone because it sounded so easy to use and had all those applications. She opened the App store exactly once, and downloaded nothing from it. She now uses her iPhone for phoning and sending texts, just like her previous phone. Nothing more. And tries to justify her previous uninformed choice by telling that this phone is so much easier to use that her previous phone. I let people who already used both kinds of devices for those texting+voice call purposes conclude...

Apple doesn't need to magically blind users who can get blind all by themselves due to a trick as old as the human race, really. They just need to put together the conditions needed to make the trick work.

Because Techies believe that these are the real reason people buy Apple products (other than the more obvious reason which is that they actually like them a lot) Techies also believe that this state of affairs cannot possibly last and therefore the final piece of the Techie response to Apple falls into place. Deranged by TAC Techies often come up with the most delusional statement of all - Apple is doomed.

Only if everyone was aware of the major aspects of what they're buying *before* buying. Most crap in the high-tech world exists because of the unique fact that in his area, people don't know exactly what they're buying before buying it. Apple capitalizes on the aspects of a product which the user doesn't know before buying and gets used to afterwards.

As an example, notice that you generally can't try out cellphones before buying them. This allows the most horrible buggy phones which don't even manage to delete messages from the mailbox to survive (yeah, I'm looking at you, LG), while in a setting where people were fully informed they wouldn't stood a chance.

As a counter-example, notice that picture quality of TV sets nicely improves with time, due to people being able to actually look at them in the supermarket, and see for themselves what's better.

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[8]: UK Price
by Moochman on Wed 16th Jun 2010 20:02 in reply to "RE[7]: UK Price"
Moochman Member since:
2005-07-06

What some people do not seem to understand is that safety and technical freedom *are* compatible. They are not opposite. They are two features. You can have one, the other, or both. As simple as that.... It IS a computer. Just a castrated one. Computers were made to let the user do pretty much everything he wants which involves processing information. iPads restrict this to what Apple lets users do. Which means that it remains a computer, provided that you consider Apple as the user, the one in control of the machine.

Yes, thank you. That is exactly it. The whole hubbub about lack of freedom is not something that just matters to nerds. Apple stifles innovation by disallowing any apps that remotely compete with the Apple ones. They prevent Flash and other cross-platform friendly technologies from running on the system, thus ensuring that only the most well-endowed software houses (those that can afford to support multiple code bases) can release cross-platform titles. These problems are actually big deals for the consumer, but most people simply don't know about them.

As an example, notice that you generally can't try out cellphones before buying them. This allows the most horrible buggy phones which don't even manage to delete messages from the mailbox to survive (yeah, I'm looking at you, LG), while in a setting where people were fully informed they wouldn't stood a chance.

I would argue that stability is as a general rule one of Apple's strengths. They may make developers' lives difficult and not always be as magical as they claim, but you can generally count on them not releasing any half-baked features. If it's not stable, it doesn't make the cut. I think Apple has earned its reputation in this respect because lest we forget, freedom from bugs is also a kind of usability enhancement in and of itself.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[7]: UK Price
by Tony Swash on Tue 15th Jun 2010 21:05 in reply to "RE[6]: UK Price"
Tony Swash Member since:
2009-08-22

Ah, finally some explanation above the "interesting" level ;)
The rest of the comment was trimmed for brevity


"And yet it moves" (that's a Galileo quote by the way)

And yet Apple products are bought by millions and millions and millions of people. Apple will sell millions of the new mac mini. Why?

All that you say may be true: if so why do Apple products sell so well? Why has Apple been so successful? Why, when asked in so many end user surveys, do Apple's customers express so much happiness about their products?

Those are genuine questions I am pitching at you. Your challenge is to answer them with out slipping into the archetypal techie responses I quoted (its the marketing, the Apple customers are stupid etc).

Answering the challenge of explaining Apples success whilst also claiming their products are inferior is a good challenge for you to try - its the sort of exercise that broadens the mind. Back in the (in technological terms) ghastly 1990s when Apple seemed to be dying and the horrible Windows 95/98 was taking the world by storm I had to face that sort of challenge. I could have said that all those people buying an operating system that was so obviously inferior to the Mac's must be stupid, I could have offered a similar critique of Microsoft's success as that offered by techies to "explain" Apple's success.

But in the end I had to face the facts, that whilst being technically inferior (from my point of view) Windows PCs did what most people wanted their computers to do better than Macs (they were compatible with work, they were cheap, they played more games - whatever).

The customer is always right. And it seems as if Apple, and Steve Jobs knows just how to please them. Odd isn't?

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[8]: UK Price
by tupp on Tue 15th Jun 2010 22:11 in reply to "RE[7]: UK Price"
tupp Member since:
2006-11-12

And yet Apple products are bought by millions and millions and millions of people. Apple will sell millions of the new mac mini. Why?

All that you say may be true: if so why do Apple products sell so well? Why has Apple been so successful? Why, when asked in so many end user surveys, do Apple's customers express so much happiness about their products?

The same questions could be asked of other popular things.

Why do so many people buy Windows -- many more millions than those who buy OSX?

Why do Miley Cyrus records sell so well? Why has she been so successful?

Why, when asked in so many fan surveys, do Justin Bieber's followers express so much happiness about his performances?

Perhaps the answer to these questions about Apple products, Windows, Miley Cyrus and Justin Beiber has nothing to do with the quality of what is being sold.


...it seems as if Apple, and Steve Jobs knows just how to please them.

As do Steve Ballmer and the managers of Miley Cyrus and Justin Beiber


Odd, isn't [ it ]?

Not really.

Us "techies" have watched zillions of rabid, over-enthusiastic fans getting fleeced.

Edited 2010-06-15 22:20 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[8]: UK Price
by tylerdurden on Tue 15th Jun 2010 23:56 in reply to "RE[7]: UK Price"
tylerdurden Member since:
2009-03-17

Most nerds do not understand they are a very very tiny fraction of the market (how much traction linux has a mainstream desktop?), they also don't understand the cocept of value proposition.

Most consumers really don't know much about what's under the hood, and they really do not care. The value proposition from a mac mini, is not that it offers a better performance per dollar than other systems. But that it offers a better integrated cheap computer than almost any other system at that price range.

Wintel boxes and OSX boxes at that price range try to compete with two different approaches: wintels offer more bang for the buck, while mac minis offer better user experience. Neither is better than the other. If people request that Apple offer the same value than no-name cheapo boxes, how come the same people do not request the same level of integration and attention to detail from those cheapo wintel boxes?

Each serve a different purpose, and to each their own I guess.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[8]: UK Price
by Neolander on Wed 16th Jun 2010 08:36 in reply to "RE[7]: UK Price"
Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

"And yet it moves" (that's a Galileo quote by the way)

Here in France, this quote is known as "Et pourtant elle tourne", which I'd spontaneously translate as "And yet it spins". Learned something today ;)

And yet Apple products are bought by millions and millions and millions of people. Apple will sell millions of the new mac mini. Why?

Hmmm... I could argue, like somebody else, that much, much more PCs will be sold in the same amount of time, but why would someone buy a mac mini ? If it was around $400, I'd say "because it small enough to be used as a nicer TV recorder, given some good software for the job is installed and an IR remote is added" (let's face it, modern HDD recorders suck). But at such a high price tag, the pricing of TV recorders largely overcome their horrible usability. Especially considering that they work out of the box, contrary to a mac mini which you must set up manually.

I could also argue that it's a conveniently low-priced and small desktop computer for those who only have little computing-related needs (usual web browsing stuff) and don't want to get their desk full of junk. However, again, competitors have moved on, and things like Eeetop now are up to the same job, work just as well, and cost much less. Moreover, as laptops get cheaper and lighter, they'll probably totally crush this kind of product, because they do the job just as well and have the additional advantage of high portability. As an example, apple's own macbook is a serious competitor for the MacMini. And the screen is bundled, you don't have to get a hdmi-ready screen which will cost you a leg.

Under this price tag, however, I think that this macmini will only sell for the following reasons.
-Poorly informed consumers who believe in the magic effect of Apple hardware on usability, especially if they are lured into doing so by people who profess this magic effect.
-People who just buy it because it looks cool and they have a lot of money. Just like you buy a Rolex : it doesn't have an advantage over other less expensive watches, except that it's expensive and you can show off how rich you are through the use of it.
-Apple fans which will buy whatever the brand creates because they think that "at least it's better than a PC" (their last PC dating back from 1998 and running Windows 3 for Workgroups).

All that you say may be true: if so why do Apple products sell so well?

iPod : Initially because it was simpler to use than early multimedia players and just did the job. Now, this advantage doesn't exist anymore, to the contrary iPods are harder to use due to the need to go through that piece of shit called iTunes, however 1/reputation has a great inertia, 2/if you only see a friend of yours using an iPod which is already full of music, you don't know about hidden defects such as iTunes, and 3/everybody has an iPod, you just must buy one if you want to look cool.
Mac : Initially because it was simpler to use than equivalent computers. Now mostly because of misinformation (like extensive anti-Windows FUD based on now-invalid arguments) which leads into believing that the product is somehow better than competition for average computing tasks, and a bit because of things like look and good brand reputation. A few informed people actually buy a mac because of the following reasons :
-They absolutely need a very long battery life on their laptops, no matter the price (AFAIK, the competition is still lacking in this area)
-As Apple targeted artists a long time ago, some multimedia creation software is only available on the Mac. And you get better support from the old guys who lived in the days where *most* creation software was only available on the mac.
-Geeks who want a nice GUI on top of UNIX, spend most of their times in a shell anyway, and don't care about the extreme lack of free software on the mac, or use obscure tools like Fink to get it installed in an unsupported and buggy way because they really need it.
iPhone/iTouch : This one initially sold well because it was the first phone to sport a finger-controlled touch interface. Though it is intrinsically an inferior, poorly-performing HID which is good at nothing on such a small screen except showing off, it creates a good psychological feeling for some people, which feel more in touch (heh heh) with the device. No objective benefit otherwise, in fact globally inferior hardware. Now, almost every new low-end samsung phone implements finger touch just as well, do not require iTunes crap for photo and music transfer, and it's not a so-called app store full of gadget apps which are not good at anything better than farting which will help, so why do the iPhone ecosystem still work ? Same as for the iPod : reputation, properly hidden defects, and the "social object" status of the thing.
iPad : This one currently sells well because it's a beautiful piece of hardware with an attractive form factor and size for most use. Equivalents from Archos and Asus start to appear, but it will take some years before they manage to put a good touch-optimized interface on top of Windows 7 (though I heard that Asus was doing quite good). That's the sole benefit of using iOS : Apple benefit from their previous touch device experience in short term. However, as a long-term strategy, a touch-optimized windows 7 is better, because it will allow people to do serious work (with a stylus) *and* play (with their finger) on the same device. Laptop manufacturers had to painfully learn that in the end, it's all-in-one devices like this that win, because people don't want to carry around lots of stuff.

Why has Apple been so successful? Why, when asked in so many end user surveys, do Apple's customers express so much happiness about their products?

1/What do we know about who conducted such surveys ?
2/What do we know about the people interrogated (e.g. conducting such a survey on mac*.com or to a lesser extent engadget is maybe a bit unfair)
3/What about the self-blinding effect which I mentioned earlier ? The higher the price, the harder it is to admit that you made a mistake, and the higher the chances that you'll try to get used to the thing in spite of its defects.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[7]: UK Price
by fanboi_fanboi on Wed 16th Jun 2010 18:21 in reply to "RE[6]: UK Price"
fanboi_fanboi Member since:
2010-04-21

Wow, what a pointless rant. Fail.

Reply Parent Score: 1