I’ve recently been on a committee at work to select a Windows touchscreen laptop. We’ve tested a number of machines, and it’s only served to reinforce what I already knew to be true: most mainstream Windows hardware is trash.
No. That’s a bit too harsh.
Overall, Windows hardware can be ok, but it never feels cohesive. There’s always something that feels janky at best and downright awful more often than not. Why?
Any piece of Windows hardware comes from multiple vendors (as does Apple’s, but there’s a different level of quality control happening there): the trackpad feels disconnected from the UI or has flimsy buttons or strange scrolling behavior or unreliable tap and drag functionality or sketchy multi-finger gestures. And, even if the rest of the computer works and feels like a nice machine, the trackpad feels like a car that’s had the matching rims stolen and replaced with bicycle tires.
The same can be said for touchscreen materials and behaviors, keyboards (including key layouts!), fingerprint readers, charging solutions, hinges, speakers, and so on. On every machine, there’s at least one (usually a couple) that come from a subcontractor and more importantly feel like they do.
The truth is that these machines are a hodgepodge of commodity components slapped together into a box cheap enough that customers will buy it based on one of its better qualities.
Alright, enough bashing of Windows machines. Let’s get to the point.
In recent years Apple software seems to have the reputation of being in decline. I’m not here to say one way or another, but I have noticed that Apple software has become increasingly like the Windows hardware described above—a hodgepodge of components that against all odds seems to work most of the time (less and less often as time goes by).
I understand that software in general is a clever illusion built atop a cacophony of Rube Goldberg machines.
In Apple’s case the poster child for this theory is Siri. Each of its features, while intriguing and even impressive in some cases when they work, don’t function as a coherent whole. Context works, sometimes. But not when referring to certain topics. Trivia works, in a few particular domains. Apps can use Siri, but only specific types, and even then with bizarre results and incoherent behaviors.
Thing is, it’s not only Siri.
MacOS has slowly been working its way toward the same state: tags, tabs, back to the Mac visuals and their removal, iOS influenced app designs, apps that live mostly in the Menu Bar, Save As, and so on.
WatchOS for sure has the problem, with its first gen apps versus newer versions versus companies discontinuing their WatchOS apps altogether, the honeycomb launcher, differing notification types, and a somewhat confused mixed interaction model (touch, force-press, crown).
Even iOS has come to this with different behaviors on different phone models (and iPad models) and legacy apps that haven’t been updated for recent hardware like the iPhone X.
Meanwhile Apple’s hardware has none of these problems. Oh, it has problems of course (I’m looking at you, ever worsening butterfly key switch situation) but even when it does, the user never gets the sense that it is because the components aren’t from the same company. At least on hardware, users get the sense that it’s all from Apple, and any issue is due to a mistake in the design rather than assuming that the keyboard sucks because they cheaped out and bought a component from a lesser subcontractor.
Unfortunately with software it increasingly feels as if there are at best multiple Apple software companies that all do things a little differently from one another, and at worst that even under the umbrella of one product, the components of that software are made by entirely different companies with different priorities, and severely differing quality levels.
When this is the case, the whole product suffers and likely gives the user a lackluster experience when things go right, and a broken, miserable experience when they don’t.