Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Price of Popularity

It seems like there's been a constant trickle of news about problems with Apple products, from iPods that carried Windows viruses to flaky MacBook laptops. Kind of a blow for a company whose reputation is that of the computer company whose stuff just works without all the headaches of Windows machines.

But as this Wired News article points out, this may not reflect any quality problem at Apple... it could just be a side effect of their rapid growth:

It's my impression that Apple's quality control is no better or worse than before -- we're just hearing about it more.

Consider that Apple is growing like crazy. The company shipped 1.6 million Macs and 8.8 million iPods last quarter. That's more computers and iPods than in any three months in the company's history, representing a 30 percent to 35 percent annual growth rate...

I think Apple's problems are the corollary of falling crime statistics in the 1990s, which had mostly to do with demographics. In Apple's case, it's effectively doubled its market share for portables, and all of a sudden there are double the number of customers complaining about problems.

Welcome to the mass market, Apple.

Apple's "it just works" positioning has always been a bit of a myth; its computers, like all computers, are complex beasts, and sometimes a bad part will get through. And even when the hardware is perfect, any operating system and software can interact in strange, unexpected ways that make users tear their hair out.

I'm a longtime user of both Mac and Windows machines, and have never seen a difference in quality; I can point to my old iBook that shipped with a defective motherboard, or my lovely flat-screen iMac that is the most cantankerous computer I've ever owned as evidence. So I think Apple's problem here is partly its newfound popularity, and partly the result of building a reputation around a claim that's not really sustainable.

But for anybody, more customers means more people to complain, and that's something you've got to be prepared to deal with.


Barrett said...

I agree with everything that you have said, even though I have never been an heavy Mac user. I think that Apple got so popular so quick that they kind of assumed that they couldn't miss, and that anything they made would be popular and sell.
This may have been the case a few years ago, not now though. Hopefully it won't affect their already great reputation and "cult" following.

gianandrea said...

i'm a huge mac fan since years now. i had my first mac back on 1992 and then three powerbook and one i-mac and .....
probably they know i'm such a fan because i never experienced a problem. but indeed as numbers get bigger and bigger, statistically tech issues may grow together. i think that being so cutting edge allow apple to experiment some problems without getting much blame.
anyway, and hopefully, the aura of the brand should survive and so the company.