The Macalope Weekly: Comparative studies

Microsoft claims Siri is just like some Windows Phone 7 technology no one’s ever heard of and then the Macalope comes up with reasons to use Android! Can you believe it? And why is it that bad wireless carriers are supposedly a bigger problem for Apple than anyone else? Because people are used to crappy user experiences from everyone else!

Uncle Rico

It’s been a while, but wacky statements from Steve Ballmer made it inevitable. Yes, it’s time for another chat with the Winotaur.

Macalope: Dude, your guys are starting to sound like they need an intervention.

Winotaur: What are you talking about?

Macalope: Well, Ballmer for starters. “We are in the Windows era—we were, we are, and we always will be.” Yeesh. And then Craig Mundie claims Windows Phone 7 had Siri-like functionality first? Delusional.

Winotaur: How are those both not one hundred percent accurate?

Macalope: Buddy, your biggest innovation over the last ten years has been tricking Google into making a new revenue stream for you.

Winotaur: Ha-ha! That was pretty good, wasn’t it?

Macalope: Oh, totally. The Macalope tips his antlers to you. But, you know, he kind of assumed you were just, well, you know…

Winotaur: What?

Macalope: Oh, you know. A company reaches a certain age… It starts thinking about retirement.

Winotaur: Retirement? Blogger, please! We’re just biding our time! Lulling you into a false sense of confidence…before we strike! Like a cobra!

Macalope: OK. OK. Stop…stop doing the cobra thing with your arm. It’s embarrassing. You’re like the Uncle Rico of technology company mythical anthropomorphisms.

Winotaur: Windows Phone 7 is going to take off any day now! And just wait until Windows 8 comes out! Oh, man! Then you’re gonna see how retired we are. Retired like a fox.

Macalope: “Retired like…?” I’m not sure what that means.

Winotaur: It means not retired at all is what it means!

Macalope: Huh. But, the saying is “crazy like a fox.”

Winotaur: So?

Macalope: Well, see, “crazy like a fox” makes sense because foxes are crazy smart but “retired” doesn’t make sense because foxes don’t…

Winotaur: Forget about the foxes, already! The point is, enjoy your head start, because this race is just beginning. Like Ballmer said, this tablet and smartphone trend is only helping us.

Macalope: Uh, yeah, helping you right in the eye. By the way, you know you can’t count all Windows 8 installs as tablets, right?

Winotaur: I can do anything I want!

Macalope: Anger, denial, addictive behavior… You’re the complete package, you know that? Just like your sweaty boss.

Winotaur: Hey, it’s hot under the lights at those developer conferences!

Macalope: This pendulum isn’t exactly swinging in your direction, buddy, even in your traditional strongholds. The Macalope was just reading how the bring-your-own-device policy is getting more popular; either IT departments are just smarter than they used to be, or they aren’t as able to rule with an iron fist. You really think there are a lot of Mac-only corporations with employees who are just dying to bring in their Windows laptops? Their giant, clunking, steam-powered Windows laptops?

Winotaur: Next year’s going to be the year of the ultrabook! You’ll see!

Macalope: You don’t see a problem with the “just copy what Apple’s doing except do it in plastic” strategy?

Winotaur: I am going to hit you so hard with a Windows 8 tablet.

Macalope: Right. Sometime next year.

Winning

If Android is what winning looks like, the Macalope will take losing every time.

The other day the Macalope said offhandedly that there were plenty of good reasons to use Android. This caused some commenters to scratch their heads. “Plenty? That can’t be right. I can think of one. Well, half a reason. More like a third, really, but we’ll round it up to be generous.”

Now, now. Don’t be like that. That’s the Macalope’s job. No, really, here are some perfectly valid reasons to use Android:

  1. Price/carrier combination. You’re either unable or unwilling to spend anything out-of-pocket on a cell phone. Right now your only free iPhone option is with AT&T, the carrier with more dropped calls than your mom. (The Macalope has no idea what that means.)
  2. Open! Maybe there’s an app you’ve decided that you can’t live without, which Apple won’t allow on the App Store. It could happen. If you’re an incurable pedant or work for someone who’s an incurable pedant. (Won’t you give generously to stamp out all curable forms of pedantry?)
  3. There’s a hardware feature that you can’t live without. 4G! Great swaths of screen space your fingers can’t possibly reach across on a phone that won’t fit in your pants! Removable batteries! The design aesthetic of a cave troll! 3D!!! (See #2 about pedantry.)
  4. Principle. You think open source is the bee’s knees. The cat’s meow. The nerd’s sniffle. And you’ve deluded yourself into thinking Google cares about open source. Or you just hate “walled gardens.” Because a walled garden killed your brother. Or Steve Jobs literally ran over your dog. Literally. Black Mercedes with no license plate came bombing down the road and boom—no more Mr. Barksdale. You have your reasons. Whatever they are. (See your mom about pedantry.) (Again, no idea what that’s supposed to mean.)

Is that it? Who cares. Four is enough. The Macalope’s not running some kind of outreach program for wayward Android users here.

People have this annoying tendency to declare that Android is “better” or that it’s “winning.” It’s certainly not winning in app revenue. Nor is it winning in profit, of course.

The one metric Android leads in is market share. In case you hadn’t heard. Today.

What about better? Android might be better at some things, but interface consistency certainly isn’t among them. And neither is security.

Is the iPhone categorically better than Android? No. It’s better at some things. Many things. Most things? The important thing is, they happen to be the things that matter to us.

Saturday Special: Getting it backward

Just in time for Turkey Day, Felix Salmon keyed up a barf-inducing piece titled “Why Apple’s customers cripple its user experience.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Shawn King.)

Apple products have always cost more than the equivalent products elsewhere.

Wow! First sentence and already wrong. Not that Salmon has set a record or anything. Someone would have to be wrong before the title in order to set a record in being wrong about Apple. The Macalope’s sure that’s happened already, too, but it’s kind of hard to check.

So, first of all, Apple’s prices are usually perfectly in line with name-brand options available from competitors. But, more importantly, Apple products do not cost more than equivalent products. Because there are no equivalent products.

But now that Apple has become a mass-market brand, it’s reaching millions of sensible people, who like to save money.

Anyone who bought Apple products before was apparently not “sensible” because blah blah Apple zealots blah blah buy whatever Steve Jobs told them to blah blah blahddity blah blah.

As it seeks to increase its market share, Apple has to sell its products to more and more of these people, who will often be buying an Apple product for the first time. And the last thing that Apple wants is for its carefully-crafted user experience to be sullied by something as banal as an attempt to avoid text-messaging charges.

What’s got Salmon’s knickers in his bonnet is the unfortunate reality that Apple has to work with money-grubbing cellular service providers that charge too darn much for data. Does this make the user experience on the iPhone and iPad worse than it might be? Sure. But there are any number of problems with Salmon’s thesis here.

Such as the word “crippled.” The joy of working with cellular providers is certainly a detraction, but it’s not exactly crippling the entire experience. And if it is, it’s one that every other mobile device in existence has to contend with as well. You could be stuck with a second-rate operating system and the usual crappy and expensive cellular service. Imagine how bad that would be.

And in the meantime, if you buy a wireless Apple product, it’s a good idea to be aware that the premium you’re paying for the hardware is not the end of the story.

Yeah, those free iPhone 3GS’s really break the bank.

Apparently this problem is only notable in how it affects Apple because nobody else ever promised a good user experience.

Salmon goes to great lengths to describe how hard it is to try to minimize your cellular fees and how terrible jumping through all these hoops makes the user experience. But most people don’t go to these great lengths; they either keep their data usage down or cough up for heavier plans. The one big thing Apple’s done to keep these charges down—iMessage—gets a parenthetical mention from Salmon.

Yes, it’s sad we have to pay so much for lousy data services. But what Salmon seems to be pointing out here is that Apple actually makes things that are nice to use while crappy cell service just blends into competing products seamlessly. How this problem is a problem rather than a strength is beyond this pointy pontificator.

[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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