There Will Be No Accounting for (Other People’s) Taste in Tablets

For more than a decade, legions of Apple fans have been wondering how it is possible that people will choose a Windows PC over a Mac. After all, user experience is critical, right? And there is no question, at least in the mind of a Mac user like me, that Apple’s neatly integrated hardware+software experience is vastly superior to the franken-machines that Microsoft and its OEMs conspire to put in Best Buy.

Yet people bought, and are still buying, PCs in far greater numbers than Macs.

It must be the file formats, we say. Microsoft Office dominates word processing and spreadsheets and people need to share those documents. Yes, there is a pretty good version of Office for the Mac, but it is never quite as good as the Windows version.

It must be the Windows hold of the enterprise market. It is much more convenient to have a computer at home that is similar to the one you have at the office.

It must be the ubiquity of Windows. The fact that so many people have Windows PCs makes it much easier to find help and advice.

These are all true, but there is another factor that is much harder for Apple fans to understand: Not everyone sees the beauty. We’re wine connoisseurs watching, with condescending bewilderment, as the rest of the party happily drinks $8 box wine.

Sure, the simplicity of Apple design makes a huge difference for users in the early stages of a new concept’s introduction. What the Mac was to the GUI, the iPod was to MP3 players, the iPhone was to smartphones, and the iPad is to tablets. Apple does a fantastic job of introducing the world to these complex new product categories. But as we as a society begin to get comfortable with the concepts, we can tolerate more complexity. Simplicity is always important, but it becomes relatively less important over time. Other things — like “is it the cheapest one”, or “does it come in neon pink”, or “does it have a USB port” — become more important.

We thought people were choosing the Apple product because of its elegant simplicity, but most of them were really just choosing the simplicity. And to someone who doesn’t resonate with Apple’s aesthetic sensibilities, the elegance becomes a constraint when Apple prioritizes it over things like extra ports, customizability and expansion options.

So it will be with tablets. And while it is too early to tell whether Surface the product will be successful, Surface the concept of a credible, non-Apple iPad alternative is inevitable. And who better to deliver it than Microsoft, a brand on more of the world’s computers than any other.

Ha ha, we scoff. Who wants to do Microsoft Office on a tablet? Office is boring. And tablets have a completely different use case to laptops. Who would want one to run full Windows?

Answer: Lots of people. People with different priorities, working different jobs, living in different countries. People we don’t quite understand.


The dangerous gap between those who make software, and those who use it said on July 17, 2012 at 11:15 am

[…] reviewing a tablet that doesn’t exist yet. Speaking of the Surface, let’s not forget Greg Cox’s point about the people who are likely to buy it, which serves as another example for the point I’m trying to […]