Our industry is divided. Whatever you might think, people are aligned to one of the big technology players, whether that be Apple, Google, Microsoft or someone else, and we all come up with a whole host of reasons why our allegiance is better than someone else’s. One reason that’s commonly played for Apple is their user experience, based in a tied-up, seamless ecosystem that’s known to “just work”.
Ultimately, however, when dealing with Apple vs Google or Apple vs Microsoft, this argument is just not valid. Google and Microsoft both have fantastic user experiences built into their product, and some, quite frankly, fantastic user interface design. However, the difference between them and Apple is the customization options give to third parties who use the companies’ software on their own devices. It’s my opinion that these options ultimately taint the reputation of companies who do some superb work; let me explain.
Honestly, I’d take a Mac over a PC any day. That’s mainly down to the hardware; Apple just makes products with a much higher build quality and overall better feel. The stuff they produce isn’t some thick plastic box emblazoned with stickers and markings. Instantly, just at face value, Apple’s products already seem to reign supreme with generally cleaner, more stylish designs. The thing is, Microsoft doesn’t make computers, it’s all third party work. However, those third parties control the first impressions a user will get with Windows.
Moving into the software itself, where Microsoft probably has most control, we still see PC makers preloading computers with a load of useless bloatware that does nothing but take up valuable storage space (and, in some cases, processing power as quite a few of these like to run in the background). This really doesn’t help the case for Windows when compared to Mac OS X, which never comes loaded with anything but the stock apps. Quite frankly, everything on my Mac is useful to me, yet the ASUS laptop I once used as my daily driver still has a load of useless rubbish installed that I never wanted.
Apple’s vision gets to make its way to the consumer, whereas Microsoft’s is limited to a virtual presence.
Apple lives up to its reputation. When you unbox a Mac, you get a beautiful, clean computer that’s loaded with only stuff of real use. It just works. They get to offer this experience due to their control of the entire process of building said computer, manufacturing both the hardware and software in unison. Apple’s vision gets to make its way to the consumer, whereas Microsoft’s is limited to a virtual presence.
Unfortunately, Microsoft’s place in this marketplace comes via the proxy of third parties who have their own agendas and are willing to reduce the experience of pure Windows if it means they can push a few of their own products.
Microsoft does have one excellent product that they’ve created in a similar fashion to how Apple works on its own products. Microsoft’s contribution to the Xbox isn’t merely software that’s given to third parties to put on proprietary hardware. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; the Xbox is Microsoft’s software in Microsoft’s ecosystem on Microsoft’s hardware and it lives as the best games console out there.
The Xbox is a fantastic example of great product coming out of Microsoft. The uncontaminated experience is top notch because it’s just pure Microsoft. Similar examples can be drawn from Microsoft’s line of peripherals, where their hardware products are highly praised.
Google’s suffered from similar circumstances themselves. Pure stock Android in its current iteration looks fantastic, being arguably the best mobile OS interface currently available on any phone. Seriously, Ice Cream Sandwich looks fantastic and Google’s flagship phone, the Galaxy Nexus, is a critically acclaimed product.
Yet, third parties who use Android to power their devices tarnish the stellar OS by adding skins and horrible bloatware that few users actually benefit from. Unfortunately, we don’t see Android in its pure most of the time; normally it’s the horrible offspring of Google and the very different agendas of smartphone makers.
Microsoft’s shift to Metro not only signifies a pretty radical change in design language, but also is coming hand-in-hand with better user experiences.
The Metro-style Xbox dashboard is one of my favourite UI designs of all time; it just looks fantastic. And while Microsoft still relies on third parties to produce hardware for Windows Phone 7, the requirements they launched the OS with for hardware manufacturers guaranteed a high quality, premium class of product was produced. While not yet at Apple’s level of control, Microsoft are clearly trying to push hardware makers in the right direction.
In a nutshell, Apple, Google and Microsoft create some amazing products. Microsoft have the best games console on the market, and Google have the best phone (of course, these are only my educated opinions), but by offering their platform openly to third parties, the visions of these companies get warped into something that can’t compare to the products of other companies who didn’t make that mistake.