A Game of Two Halves

There used to be 4 people living in this apartment, now there are only 3. My youngest step-son is now 14 years old, and my sister is 46. One of my very best friends is now in a relationship. A young lady who was once my step-daughter is now married and living in Germany. And, the smallest of our two cats has died…

All of these things happened in the time it took me to play through a video-game.

Now, it is true that I have a tendency to lose myself entirely in whatever I am doing; a new love makes everything else simply blurred, background noise; a new hobby can take away all my time and money, and if I’m editing a film the sun will rise and set so many times without being noticed, that when borderline malnutrition finally drives me toward the kitchen, I discover that my computer chair and I have formed a symbiotic relationship and can no longer live independently of one another. Nothing that 45 minutes and some 24th century sickbay wizardry couldn’t fix, but still, not good.

However, in this case, all the changes I mentioned above happened in the space of a single month. If that still seems like a long time to you well, that is how I like my video-games… but I’ll come back to that.

The point is that the world changes very fast these days. Perhaps it always did. Perhaps the fact that I’m turning 40 in February is colouring everything in mid-life-crisis-purple and the speed at which the world turns is starting to make me feel a bit nauseous (although that could be the purple again), but I rather think the world is changing in such a haphazard, erratic manner it is often really difficult to see how fast things are happening, or how far we have come unless you stop and really look around now and again.

When I was born, for example, human beings had decided that lunar exploration was old hat. We had been to the moon and returned often enough to have become bored of it, so naturally my generation had ludicrous expectations about how space travel would evolve in our lifetimes. What has actually happened? No human being has been anywhere near that far out into space for over 40 years.

On the other hand, people watching Star Trek in the 1960s thought that personal communicators, 2-way video conversations, electronic books, and tiny plastic data discs were the stuff of outrageous science-fiction… iPads, Kindles, and Skype are now part of our daily lives, and most of us have Gigabytes of data storage in our phones, on memory cards so small you have to be careful not to breathe too heavily whilst changing them.

The future is always closer than you think. In some ways we are far behind where we expected to be by now, but in so many other ways we are far ahead of where we expected to be in 200 years from now. Occasionally we get it more or less right (Volkswagen’s newest electric car looks EXACTLY like it came out of 1990s sci-fi movie)

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…but more often than not, we are way off the mark.

Predicting the future is a risky business, and few industries are worse at it than the very industry that is responsible for most of the changes that we see: the computer industry. Over the years, some of the world’s most ingenious computer boffins have given some of the most idiotic predictions about the future…

  • “But what… is it good for?”An engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, commenting on the microchip in 1968
  • “Computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps only weigh 1 1/2 tons.”Popular Mechanics, 1949
  • “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”Ken Olson (President of Digital Equipment Corporation) at the Convention of the World Future Society in Boston in 1977
My own prediction is that in just a few weeks from now, this cartoon will make no sense to anyone.

My own prediction is that in just a few weeks from now, this cartoon will make no sense to anyone.

We would be foolish however to completely ignore predictions from an industry so totally responsible for technological advancement… and one company knows it.

It’s no secret to those who know me that I am no fan of Apple products, but it may surprise them to discover that my reasons for this are many of the same reasons behind the company’s success.

One of the things that makes Microsoft products so mediocre is that they have their fingers in too many pies. They have tried to compete in so many areas and do so many different things, that they ended up doing none of them particularly well. Apple on the other hand have learned several important lessons… not necessarily about computers, but about PEOPLE.

Firstly, Steve Jobs knew that most people will pay 3 times as much for something, as long as it is shiny. I find this an upsetting philosophy for a computer company, but it is nonetheless true of all of us, myself included.
Secondly, and much more importantly, Apple have realised that predicting what the consumer will want/need is a mug’s game, and have decided that it is much simpler and easier simply to TELL people what they want.

Bill Gates famously said “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” Well… luckily for Mr. Gates he has a lot of them. It would have been easier to follow Apple’s business strategy:

  1. Tell consumers what they want.
  2. Make it shiny, so that they will feel like they always wanted it and it was their idea to want it.
  3. If people are unhappy because they want your product to do something and it won’t… simply tell them that it was never supposed to do that and that they are morons for wanting it to. If the product can’t do something, it’s because human beings don’t want that thing, and if any human being does want that thing, then that human being is wrong!

“What do you mean you want your watch to tell the time? You idiot! What you really want is a watch that enhances your sex appeal… doesn’t everybody?”

Y’see? It’s hard to argue.

But finally… if there is something an Apple product is supposed to do that you can’t MAKE it do… it’s obviously because you are too stupid, and probably don’t deserve to own our shiny, sexy product in the first place.

The most telling thing for me about Apple consumers can be summed up in the following conversation, versions of which I have had with several of them in the last few years:

“Why don’t you have the new iPhone yet?” (as though asking why your head isn’t on your shoulders where they keep theirs)

“I can’t afford it, even if I wanted one.”

“But it’s better for XYZ reasons!”

“But I don’t have the money.”

(roll of the eyes) “But it’s better!”

“Yes… but I – CANNOT – AFFORD – IT!”

“Why not just try it?”

“You’re not listening are you?”

…and so on.

As an old boss of mine used to say “You can’t take a sock off a bare leg”, but I have met very few Apple consumers who understand this simple concept.

Imagining for a moment that Apple is Ferrari and Microsoft are Volvo (an idea I’m sure Apple consumers will have no trouble accepting), take this fictional scenario where a Ferrari driver asks a Volvo driver in the pub why he doesn’t drive a Ferrari instead. The Volvo driver explains that he could never possibly afford a Ferrari, to which Ferrari driver looks puzzled. Changing tack, the Volvo driver says “Anyway, where would I put the children?” to which Ferrari man calmly but seriously responds “Just don’t have any children.”

Volvo man begins to tire of this conversation after explaining that he already has children, and no he can’t just make them walk everywhere, so he changes tack once again to avoid becoming enraged. “Look” he says “Even if I didn’t have children, and could afford a Ferrari, how would it manage to get me to work in the snow?” to which Ferrari driver responds “Elementary young fellow: simply move to a warmer country. I’m beginning to think you might be a little slow, old chap!” …a fight ensues and…

Well, I don’t think I need to pursue that line of thought any further. There is a class war going on in the world of technology, and as much as I dislike Apple and their army of unwitting recruiters, I honestly believe there is room for both philosophies, just as there is room for both Volvo and Ferrari.

So my advice to Microsoft is this:

Don’t try to make Ferraris. Don’t try to follow Apple… that’s what everyone else is doing. And certainly don’t try to be like Apple, because you suck at it!

I KNOW that a lower price means your product won’t be as shiny.

I KNOW that affordability means greater margin for things to go wrong.

I KNOW that the Sony Playstation can do certain things better than the Xbox, but it’s much more expensive and their customer service is crap!

Stop trying to compete with Apple on their own ground. You will lose!

Instead, be there for us; the ones who don’t like being told what they want; the ones who would like a company that listens to what we actually need and says “Okay… we’ll do our best!” Be there for those of us who know what WE want, and are prepared to wait while you try to provide it.
I am one of those people. It is why I don’t have a SONY Playstation. It is why I don’t have an iPhone. It is why I don’t have a fucking giraffe on my facebook wall this month!

So endeth the rant. Until next time… don’t bend over for the soap.

EDIT: Thanks to my awesome brother-in-law, who shared THIS VIDEO with me, because he knew it would make me happy… it did.

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One comment on “A Game of Two Halves

  1. To me, lunar exploration will never be old hat. And can we get that car, if we ever get rich? There may be cooler ones around by then, but something like it. Oh, only, it has to be matt black, of course. Also, I think you know very well that I agree with you completely on the iPhone front. We’ll see, one day there may yet come some Apple-product that we feel we can’t live without. Till then, let’s.

    Like

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