As a somewhat certified Apple proponent and critic, I’m obligated to tell you that we own almost everything Apple makes, but have ventured to the dark side from time to time; you know, just to keep ourselves informed and sufficiently knowledgable to speak from experience.
For example, Nate and I have Apple TV and a Roku Ultra. We have iPhones and iPads but also own a Samsung Galaxy-something-or-other (a gift), and an Amazon Fire tablet (another gift). What we’ve noticed among friends and family and co-workers who have non-Apple products, is that comparisons fall into two categories; price and specifications. The one factor that is most important is seldom discussed.
It’s Usability, Stupid
Rummage through the technology magazines online and you’ll see plenty of hardware reviews and long lists of specifications for every product imaginable. Devices are compared based upon specifications, but seldom are comparisons made to usability.
For example, compare almost any Mac against various and sundry Windows PCs and you’ll find similar hardware, and nearly every comparison will have an item or two where the Mac does not fare well; whether CPU, storage, speed, thinness, or price. I thought Apple was way off the mark with the new MacBook Pro models until I saw specifications and the price tag of the highly acclaimed Microsoft Surface Book.
iPhone has a similar problem. Google Pixel might take slightly better photos but the iPhone has better water resistance. Samsung’s Galaxy line has a curved screen and some features not found in iPhone models, but again it’s comparing Apple to apples. Usability seldom shows up as a comparison line item. Most of the time it’s hardware components and price.
Apple TV has a similar issue with Google’s Chromecast-whatever-it-is-now and Roku Ultra. Google Cast, as it is called now, is a different device. While Apple TV’s promise to become television of the future has yet to be fulfilled, specifications don’t compare well to the less expensive Roku Ultra which offers 4k video quality to Apple TV’s basic 1080p HD. Roku has more shows but not as many applications (Apple says over 8,000 apps are available on Apple TV). Granted, there just isn’t much 4k content out there and when it reaches a certain critical mass, Apple will up the hardware game.
While I give Apple TV the nod to usability, Roku has something Apple does not. Amazon Video. But thanks to Amazon’s iOS apps, I can still see what I want but need to own a few hoops to jump through. Roku Ultra’s version of Siri is like Amazon’s Alexa. It’s better. So is the option to add extra storage to the microSD card slot.
These are all specification lists that users compare when searching for different products. What we seldom read about is usability and through the years that has been an Apple strong suit. Try using an Android smartwatch and then compare it to using Apple Watch. There’s a reason Watch has become popular despite the price tag.
Apple even works on customer usability; or, rather, the customer experience. Does Google have a retail store with someone you can talk to about a purchase? No. Does Samsung have a Genius Bar where you can take to someone to get working whatever isn’t working at the moment? No.
Even Apple’s customer experience is a reflection of the company’s adherence to usability vs. specifications. That also explains why the Mac does not have a touchscreen. Those who have a tablet, use it as a tablet; a mobile device with touch input. Those who have a Windows PC tablet notebook hybrid with a touchscreen, use it mostly as a notebook and seldom bother with the touchscreen, an experience I see over and over again as a device system administrator in a private school with a few thousand Macs, PCs, and other devices scattered across campus.
Generally speaking, Apple loses the specification wars, but wins the profitability battle by creating products that people want to use, and who are willing to pay a little more for that usability.