Our latest reviews are inevitably populated with key products from that most influential of computer companies. It was Apple that kickstarted the modern computing age, and in its renaissance is turning the consumer electronics world upside down with its phone, tablet, music and PC offerings. Now we see the eighth iteration of OS X in Lion, along with a new entry-level PC, the Mac mini.
Perhaps Apple’s latter-day PC and gadget success is down to focusing on the whole experience, designing decent hardware under the control of its own software. Compare this to first Microsoft and now Google, which develop software to power PCs and smartphones, then leave hardware makers to adapt it for their own devices.
Microsoft and Google are starting to realise that more say over the hardware is essential, if the user is to be satisfied. Strict hardware specs have been laid down for Windows Phone 7, Chromebook and tablet devices. But ultimately, as long as we have different companies signing off the hardware and the software, there will be a circle of blame when things don’t work. As we’re regularly reminded in the Test Centre: integration failures outnumber successes.
By keeping all aspects of design in-house, Apple has the edge. No other manufacturer gives the same experience out of the box, or maintains it throughout the lifespan of a product.
A down side is the higher initial cost of Apple kit. We Brits are very sensitive to price: when two seemingly similar computers sit side by side, and one carries a premium over the next, you’d be daft to pick the pricier one, wouldn’t you?
With the web taking the place of high-street shopping, consumers are now more reliant than ever on product specs and feature lists to aid their buying decisions. Problem is, judged this way, the popular iPhone 4 and iPad 2 are overpriced frauds when compared to same- or better-specced phones and tablets that cost less. Yet most people who’ve spent time playing with either will agree that they’re still streets ahead of their imitators.
It’s all about the user experience, which is impossible to quantify in a spec list; and almost as intangible to distil into a 350-word review. Innovation is a much over-used word. Nevertheless, we try our best to indicate the little extras, the attention to detail, and the bigger picture, which differentiate a poorly executed me-too product from an original innovation.