Style over Substance?

I had been mulling this question over for some time, in fact ever since I purchased my PowerBook in January, but the recent MacRoundtable 007 made me think somewhat harder about it!

The show had an interesting discussion on the quality of Apple products set against the style of the products.

As far as the style goes I don’t think there can really be any debate as to the overall quality and general "wow" factor. Whether it is the minimalist layout of the stores, or the detail of a cable clip, Apple have a superb image and brand. Many things have been said about this, and even none Apple users admit that they "look great". I think the best way to describe it is that they just "make you want to touch and play with them".

With respect to the substance I have somewhat limited experience, but when I stopped to think about it it hasn’t actually been as great as my perception.

The first purchase I made was a 3G 20GB iPod. I loved it but it did suffer from the poor battery life problem that we know about, and although I got the $50 voucher it was several years after the initial purchase. Not brilliant.

A short while after the above purchase we bought my wife a silver 4GB iPod Mini which she loved and in fact still does. I would say though that once again the battery life has diminished and is now at an unacceptable level – it ran out on her the other week on a 2.5 hour flight to the UK.

A couple of months after they came out we both bought a 1GB iPod Shuffle. Mine lasted about 3 months before it packed up and had to be replaced. I went on line and was somewhat depressed to see how many people where having problems in the forums (but heh, you go into a hospital you see sick people right?) and was really disappointed when the web site said my product was out of warranty even though it was only 3 months old. I decided to take it back to the store and to be fair Apple swapped it out in the store straight away so I can’t complain at that, but once again I would have to say that it wasn’t that impressive.

In January this year I bought a PowerBook G4 (yep a week before they announced the MacBook Pro!) and a 60GB iPod Video. The iPod has performed brilliantly but (again) I have to admit that it scratched really easily – and that was just sliding it in and out of the case that I bought to protect it! The PowerBook (touch wood) has been excellent, no complaints, love it to bits …………. but I have been somewhat suprised at the number of upgrades and force quits that I have had to do. Now in no way is it anywhere near as many as with my PC’s but it is more than I had been led to believe from the research, forums etc that I did before I bought it.

I had always thought that the packaging was a pleasant introduction to the experience that awaited me, but I must confess to a (very) slight feeling that maybe the packaging is setting a perception that isn’t as good as the reality. This of course is a masterful piece of marketing, but I think it may create a few problems down the line when you have to contact Customer Support. Today is not a good day for me and customer support (see this post) and in no way have I had big problems with Apple’s Customer Support, but (that word again) every time I have had to deal with them I have had to forcefully explain to them that I am not an idiot, I can (and do) read manuals, I take the advice offered on their forums and I am phoning them because despite all that I still have a problem – so thanks very much but NO I don’t need first line support I need second line support thank you very much!

At no stage have I ever regretted my purchases, but neither have I ever bought a "first of" product. Everything that I have ever bought has been established and in theory had time for the initial glitches to be resolved yet I have still had problems with 70% of my purchases – yet without hesitation I would tell anybody that Apple products where great and they should buy them without worrying. So Apple don’t have a problem then, or do they?

I have a reasonable amount of disposable income to spend on "techy" stuff, and I put a high personal value on the look of a product, but how many people that currently don’t buy Apple products will have the same view? I am not sure that they will. I listen to a lot of podcasts and sure a lot of people are switching, and a lot of people are following the iPod to iBook route but the general impression I get is that those people that already have Apple products are buying more and more Apple products (I for example have an iSight, an Airport Express, and have just bought a Airport Extreme Base Station and will be getting a Mac Mini at some stage I am sure when they have the home theatre set up as I want it), but my friend – well he may be more indicative. He likes the iPod, would love an iPod, can afford an iPod, but has the view that as he will only use it to listen to music why pay $200+ for an "MP3 Player" when he can get one with enough disc space for him for $50 – and you know what, I found that I couldn’t disagree with him!!

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