Apple's Simplification Of Consumer Choice
October 23, 2013
Yesterday’s Apple Event introduced a host of new products: Mavericks, iLife, iWork, Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, iPad Air and iPad Mini. Many of these products displayed incredible leaps forward, and after the event the Internet was abuzz with discussion of the new features, designs, price tags and release dates. However, amongst all the new releases Apple announced yesterday, all the revolutionary innovations and rejuvenating iterations, there was one new feature that went largely under the radar: Apple quietly announced a huge simplification of consumer choice, greatly reducing the difficult decisions that the average consumer must make when deciding whether to purchase an Apple product, and which Apple product to purchase.
Before yesterday’s event (▼)(▲)And technically continuing for certain products until the new models are released., if you’re a consumer looking to purchase an Apple product, you have an intimidating amount of decisions which you must make before pulling the trigger, and once that trigger is pulled, there’s basically no going back. If you’re looking to purchase a MacBook, you have to decide between the Pro and the Air. Each comes with a variety of advantages and disadvantages that may be difficult for the average consumer to make, or possibly even completely over their head. The best MacBook Pros have retina displays, something that anyone who owns a recent model of iPhone or iPad may find difficult to go without. However, that retina display comes with a price tag at least $500 more than the basic MacBook Air. If you’re willing to forgo the retina display to save the money, you can get an older model MacBook Pro, which is a few hundred dollars cheaper, but far thicker and heavier because it still ships with a SuperDrive which you likely never need to use anymore. Furthermore, it’s running on much older technology. Do you really want to spend over a thousand dollars to purchase a machine that is already slightly obsolete, and will only become more so in the near future? Then there’s one more issue to consider: battery life. If you buy a MacBook Pro, no matter what model, it is going to have significantly lower battery life than the MacBook Air. So perhaps a MacBook Air is the better idea, but then you lose the retina display and the processing power of the Pro models…
These are the types of decisions that every potential new Macbook owner had to make until yesterday. A spiderweb of complexity and choosing between tradeoffs. How could you ever know if you’re going to desperately need longer battery life, or if you’re going to really want that extra processing power, or just how much you will miss not having a retina display? Well yesterday, Apple launched a massive offensive on the variety and difficulty of these decisions. The new MacBook Pros with retina displays now have significantly improved battery life, the 15 inch models claiming eight or more hours and the 13 inch models boasting at least nine. This battery life, while still not quite as good as that of the longest lasting MacBook Airs, is competent enough to be negligible on your decision. The price of all retina MacBook Pro models has dropped by $200, and all but one non-retina model has been eliminated. Basically, if you absolutely know that you will need a SuperDrive for some reason, you should buy the non-retina model, but for everyone else, $100 extra is not very much when you’d already be spending $1,200 on the non-retina Pro: another tough decision vanquished. If you’re an average consumer looking to buy a MacBook, now you only have a few things you need to think about: size, resolution, and power. If you know you want the smallest device possible: 11 inch Air. If you want the biggest: 15 inch Pro. If you don’t care about size, or you want the middle range, now you choose based on resolution: want retina? 13 inch Pro. If you don’t care about that either, its just down to power. If you don’t need a work horse for processor intensive tasks, go for the Air. If you do, go for the Pro. The beauty of this new decision making process is not only that it is simpler, but that each decision is exponentially easier, because there are virtually no tradeoffs. No longer must you agonize about whether or not you are going to need longer battery life, whether that extra power is worth paying hundreds of extra dollars for, or if buying outdated hardware is a good middle ground. Your decisions are simple and easy, and best of all, if you end up making the wrong one, it’s highly unlikely that your mistake will be fatal. Your battery dying in a place where you desperately need your Mac but don’t have access to power could signify a huge mistake in your purchase, but now batteries are similar enough that that case would probably have occurred no matter what model you bought. If you purchase a 15 inch and you decide you should have bought a 13, not really that huge a deal.
You’re an average consumer, and you just bought a new Mac for thousands of dollars. You open it and want to dive in and get to work, but you come to the realization that it comes with very little preinstalled software for some of the most basic tasks like word processing, spreadsheet making, etc. Now you have another decision to make: Microsoft Office or iWork? Either one is going to cost, but Office is better known. Now you’re going to spend over $100 more (or sign up for a $20/month subscription) to buy Microsoft’s software for your Apple hardware. On the other hand, you could purchase iWork, which you are probably less experienced with, and then have to waste time learning how to work these new apps. Well as of yesterday, these decisions too have been hugely simplified. iWork is now completely free. While it may not have been worth spending money on new applications and then trying to learn them when you could have just bought Office and gotten to work, now you’re deciding between a $20/month subscription or a completely free, fully featured productivity suite which also comes with free apps for your iPhone and iPad, and syncs automatically and flawlessly between the three devices. Oh and you can access all documents online for free from any computer in the world. Is this even a decision anymore? (▼)(▲)Furthermore, since people will actually be using iWork apps now, maybe Apple will update them more frequently than every five years.
iLife already comes preinstalled on new Macs, but now you can view and edit your projects on your iOS devices too. Just one more reason to stay within Apple’s ecosystem for all your technological needs.
Mac OS X
In past releases of Mac OSX, many people chose not to update despite it only being twenty or thirty dollars. Their Mac functioned just fine, so there wasn’t necessarily much point. OS X adoption was still very strong, but not as strong as it could be. This year, Apple made the decision as easy as it could seemingly get. You now have the option to get the newest and most advanced desktop operating system completely for free. I can think of no reason that the average consumer would not want to do that. (▼)(▲)This could also be bad news for Microsoft, now the only company still selling an operating system.
The greatest area in which Apple has eliminated difficult consumer choices is in regard to buying an iPad. Previously, if you wanted an iPad, you had to decide between the full size iPad and the iPad Mini, but this choice could get quite difficult. The full size iPad ran Apple’s A6 SoC, state of the art until last month’s iPhone event. The iPad Mini, however, ran the notably slower two-year-old A5 chip. Furthermore, the Mini still maintained a non-retina display, something that is a much bigger deal on tablet devices than it is on laptops. Particularly in regard to running iOS 7, many iPad Mini owners reported the new OS really brought the A5 chip to its limits, and that the new, thinner UI was really made for a retina display. If you purchased an iPad Mini, there was no doubt going to be difficult tradeoffs. The full size iPad, on the other hand, may have housed state of the art technology and powered a retina display, but it was far heavier and thicker, making for a significantly worse experience when trying to use it with only one hand. The bigger screen as well could be a bit too much than some people needed. When purchasing a device that becomes so ingrained in your life, these decisions become exceedingly difficult to make.
With yesterday’s Apple event, more than with anything else described above, Apple has simplified the choice between which iPad to buy to as small a level as it possibly could. The iPad Mini made a huge jump forward, completely skipping the A6 chip to now power the top of the line A7, as well as the M7 motion co-processor chip introduced with the iPhone 5S last month. At the same time, it also received a retina display, and all of this with no effect on battery. The Mini did become 0.3 millimeters thicker, and 29 grams heavier, but the highly upgraded internals and retina display make up for the increase.
The full size iPad made similarly incredible leaps, but in different areas. Now dubbed the “iPad Air”, this new iPad shaved off a full 28% of its weight, dropping from 1.4 pounds to only one. At the same time, the iPad Air is now 20% thinner than its predecessor, making it only 7.5 millimeters thin. The bezel on either side of the iPad Air has also been reduced, and the taper changed to match the new form factor introduced with the iPad Mini last year. That means the iPad Air has become an overall smaller device in every dimension except hight, while still maintaining the same screen size, the same retina display, the same battery life, and of course being upgraded to the state of the art A7 SoC, and the M7 motion co-processor. That apple managed to decrease the size, weight and width of the iPad Air, while at the same time greatly increasing the power of its processor, and having no effect on battery life, is truly magical. Unlike the shift from the iPad 2 to the iPad 3 (or the iPad Mini to the iPad Mini 2), where size and weight were sacrificed for graphics and power, the new iPad Air is, amazingly, a completely uncompromising device. This is the kind of thing that only Apple can do.
So what do these new iPads mean for the average consumer trying to make a choice between them? It means that that choice has been ground down, in classic Apple fashion, to the simplest, most basic possibility: screen size. The internals on both iPad models are identical, the size and weight are comparable. The only thing you need to decide on is whether you want a bigger one or a smaller one. This amazing, no compromise approach clearly shows that Apple doesn’t consider the iPad Mini a second class citizen. No longer is the big iPad the flagship model, they both are. This is also fantastic for less tech-savvy consumers. Trying to explain to someone who doesn’t know much about technology that one iPad has a slower processor and less pixels is difficult, but now Apple store employees can simply say, “do you want the big one or the small one?”
With yesterday’s Apple event, not only did the tech giant release a host of revolutionary new products, but they also made huge strides towards improving the difficulty consumers face when choosing what devices to purchase or what software to buy. If you want an Apple product, no longer is it necessary to make compromises based on models or money, resulting in a poorer experience in some manner depending on which model you choose. If you purchase a MacBook, you’re going to have the amazing Mac experience with incredible battery life no matter what model you pick, so deciding on power, size and resolution is far easier than before. Once you own your Mac or iOS device, the problem of getting powerful software on it no longer exists, because Apple provides everything you need to be up and running free of charge. Deciding if upgrades to your Mac are worth the price or not, regardless of how low, is now completely negligible, because there is no price. Finally, the decision of which iPad to buy is now hugely simplified to the easiest, and most obvious decision of screen size. It may be hard for us Apple nerds to decide what we want in advance, but for people to walk into a store once both models are available and hold one in each hand, it’s going to be a much easier choice now that all the compromises have been removed.
All things considered, yesterday’s Apple event was revolutionary in more ways than are easily visible. It was an event to be remembered.