On Technology and gadgets

Technology is weird. Or rather, people get weird when it comes to technology. I would say that people that are more in to technology (read: geeks) get even weirder.

I have a confession to make: I'm a Mac-user. In fact, I'm unashamed Apple-fanboy (not the fanatic kind, but still). It seems to me that Steve Jobs knows what I need before I know it myself. End-result is that I have spent quite a lot of money on Apple-hardware. I might take a picture of the retail-boxes (which I have kept, naturally) just to show the magnitude of my commitment.

I have no desire to "convert" other to the Mac, and I have no problem suggesting people buy a PC if that's the computer that serves them best. I use products made by Apple because they click with me.

Why am I telling you all that? Because all Mac-users are familiar with the "Mac vs. PC"-arguments. Usually what happens is that some PC-user starts whining "Why did you buy a Mac, when you could get an equivalent PC for less?!". Usually what follows is a list of specifications of a Mac, compared to similar specifications of a PC that costs less. And since the PC has similar "specs" while costing less, it means that the Mac is overpriced, right?

Is it just me, or is this totally wrong way of discussing these things? How many of us buy our cars (or whatever) by staring at it's specifications, and then determining how good or bad those cars are? Is Audi "overpriced", because Skoda with similar specs costs less? For some reason people are more than willing to pay premium in other products, but when it comes to computers, we should all race to the bottom for that "best deal". Paying premium for a premium-product is considered to be "dumb".

As the saying in Finland goes: poor people can't afford cheap things. Sure, I could get the computer with rock-bottom price. But I would end up with a computer that is less enjoyable to use. And I use my computers for several years. So I might save few euros, but I would get less enjoyment from the computer. The computer would feel cheap, it would have all kinds of strange glitches, it would have gaudy design... I don't know about you, but my enjoyment and happiness is worth something.

iPhone is the perfect example of all this. People who do not own an iPhone like to mention all the features some other phone has that iPhone lacks. Usually those features are totally useless thingies that look good on paper, but offer very little actual usefulness in the device. It's too bad that you can't list "better usability" in a list of paper-specs.

One common argument is that the camera on the iPhone sucks because it has less megapixels than some other cameraphone. Regardless of the fact that amount of megapixels has very little to do with the image-quality of the camera. Or how about removable battery? How many carry spare batteries around? I don't know anyone who does that. But since iPhone does not have that feature, we apparently desperately need it.

People seem to forget that features are a means to an end, not end of means. My Nokia E71 has a lot of features. But those features are so crappy that I don't use them. iPhone might have less raw features, but people actually use those features because they actually work. How many actually surfs the web with their phone? Yeah, iPhone-users seem to be the only ones who are doing that. In fact, I do most of my web-surfing with my iPod touch.

So what brought all this up? Well, we are routinely presented with new phones that are "iPhone-killers". Nokia N900 is one such phone. If I recall correctly, it costs a bit more than the iPhone, but not majorly so. But as far as price goes, they are in the same ballpark. And people are saying that it's better than the iPhone since it has more features (like megapixels....).

Yesterday I finally played around with one for 10 minutes. It feels pretty solid and good in your hand, but not as good and solid as an iPhone. The user-interface is not as obvious (the salesperson had to instruct me on how to do various things, whereas iPhone is obvious to everyone). The UI had some glitches, and animations were not smooth. And it doesn't have nowhere near as many apps as the iPhone has.

So what exactly am I saying here? What I'm saying is that N900 is no iPhone-killer. That fact occured to me the moment I picked it up on my hand, and it was confirmed when I used it. Sure, it might have all kinds of nifty features, but using it was not as enjoyable as using iPhone/iPod touch is. It's like they cut corners and settled for less here and there. And end-result is a phone that looks good (very good) on paper, but is still not as good as the iPhone in actual use.

Another "iPod-killer" is the Motorola Droid, an Android-phone. Again, a good phone on paper. But it seems that the battery-cover has a tendency to pop off. So users are resorting to taping the cover shut. And then they wave their taped-together phone and proclaim it to be an "iPhone-killer".... Dudes: not like this. Not like this....

Of course both N900 and Droid are probably very good phones on their own right. But that still doesn't mean that they are iPhone-killers. And the fact that every phone is compared to the iPhone is quite telling....

Like most things in life, computers and gizmos are more than sum of their parts. Apple understands this, others (including those who whine how "overpriced "Macs are) do not. They just throw together a device with certain features, and then assume that it can compete with the iPhone, or Mac, or iPod.... But that's not how things work. It's amazing how multi-billion dollar companies fail to understand this fact.

I think the thing Apple has and those other companies lack is Steve Jobs. It has been said that Apple designs their products for Steve Jobs, and Steve Jobs alone. And Jobs is a ruthless perfectionist. And when Apple introduces a new product, it has been designed for Steve, but it just happens that millions of other people will also find useful.

How do other companies design products? They have comittees and focus-groups. They do market-surveys to come up with features users want. End-result is a product that looks, feels and behaves like a product that is designed by a committee, for a committee, and that's what is it.

The net has been filled with rumors that Apple will introduce a tablet-computer (like an oversized iPod touch or something) in the coming months. And they are releasing it because Steve wants such a device, not because marketdroids say that such device would sell well. I don't really see a need for that device, but I bet that when they introduce it, I will instantly realize that I absolutely need it. That there is a tablet-sized hole in my life, but I just don't know it yet.

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