A few years ago, using a Mac was an act of faith: every newspaper and magazine was claiming Linux would take over the market in a matter of months, that Windows mobile would simply make it impossible to use a telephone without relying on Microsoft software and that the low-end MP3/USB drives combo would make anything else outdated.
Somehow, though, people kept using their Macs, they kept using Open BSD on handhelds, some even switched to these platforms or embarked in even more esoteric choices. The iPod was at the time at the beginning of its career and started to be followed by an enthusiastic crowd… Why?
Despite my many attempts at finding a rational explanation, I must admit I still haven’t found one that satisfies me entirely. After all, these arguments about Mac OS X having a small market share, Open BSD not having an interface and the iPod lacking an FM tuner were all valid and it was sometimes hard to justify a choice.
Things fell into place when I sat up an IBM laptop for someone last week — a someone who has since switched to the Mac, a mere 3 days later — and realized that, despite the high-end designation of that machine, I still didn’t want to use it. It somehow, felt wrong, felt cheap. The plastics were nice indeed, the thing was not too poorly designed overall and I couldn’t really find anything wrong with it but it just didn’t click. The OS? Well, seeing an IBM boot screen followed by an Intel Inside one, then a DOS prompt and finally a Windows logo didn’t give a feeling of high consistency either — kinda like when you buy a jacket and realize that all the pieces are sewn together in different ways that won’t last past cocktail hour.
We have accepted there is such a thing as a luxury brand in cosmetics, leather goods, fashion. And we have even accepted that sometimes, investing in a luxury good is less expensive in the long run than purchasing junk in bulk — ask many men how much they invest in their shavers / blades / … and the reasoning behind it. So, how come we cannot accept this for computers and, generally speaking, electronics? Why do we need to dissect every device or every piece of software feature by feature, reducing them to a spec sheet that does not take into account the overall idea, the attention to detail that, in the end, make more difference than anything else?
Of course, I am not equating expensive with quality here. I would without doubt call some very expensive applications “cheap” and some open source projects “luxurious”, as it is the attention to detail and the quality of the craftsmanship that is of interest here, not the price tag. Regardless of price, there seems to be a very clear gap in the computing market today: There are the cheap brands that knock you over with tempting specifications but somehow keep producing products that won’t go anywhere and another group that cares about what it does and wants to use their tools for the best. Thanks to the work of many, we have made the internet a financially very democratic space (which I can only applaud) but it would be hasty to think we have put the divides of the past behind us.