Paying for Fewer Features

I’ve heard many people complain that Apple is charging too much (or that they shouldn’t be charging at all) for the “point releases” (10.2, 10.3, etc.). I completely sympathize with these complaints. The last two point-releases, 10.2 and 10.3, each costs $129 US ($179 Canadian).

However, I have to stick to the position that I’ve long since taken on software upgrades and pricing. I would love it Adobe would stop cramming crap new features into Photoshop and Illustrator. Rather, I would like them to spend a few months without adding any new features and just make everything better. Take the startup time down a few seconds, subtly refine the UI, fix bugs. I would pay.

This is what Apple has done with OS X 10.3. There are some new features, but the important improvements are subtle and all over the place. The end result is that the system just feels better. That’s worth the money for me. I wish more developers would focus on solidifying and simplifying rather adding more and more features.

My favourite part of the design process is the latter stages, even post-launch/release, when a slew of tiny improvements that seem independently insignificant add up for make the end result seem more mature and mysteriously better. For example, I would love to see the subtle changes that Matthew Haughey has suggested for the new A List Apart site implemented.

In the early stages of development of Mozilla Firebird there was a rule that each release (and there were frequent releases) had to be smaller (file size of the download) than the previous release. This forced the developers to keep simplicty and efficiency in mind and encouraged the optimization of existing features as much as adding new features.

I think where this gets lost is when the marketing department (curse them!) starts to get control over the feature list. I’m convinced that Microsoft Office changes its “skin” with each version just to look like something new and worth paying for.


9 thoughts on “Paying for Fewer Features

  1. We tried to migrate our users to a subscription model, i.e. from say $49 for ActiveWords Plus, to say $29 per year for ActiveWords Plus, but the $29 always included all upgrades, and we tried to expand the tech support that we would provide.

    We got a fire storm of criticism, notwithstanding the fact that we can demostrate the enormous payback of ActiveWords, plus the notion that by always having the latest version, everyone wins. The user has the best software, and we don’t have to focus on supporting prior versions of ActiveWords. Didn’t make a difference, we had people going ballistic, even though we felt it was in everyone’s best interests.

    When I was a Mac user, I always, always felt like Apple was trying to find ways to not to benefit their users, so seeing them do this is no surprise to me. They will do it if they can get away with it, and won’t stop until the users balk.

    Sorta like the iPod, they went through this huge advertising pitch to get users to switch to the Mac, and then wouldn’t make a Windows version of the iPod. What bettter way to induce someone to try your stuff than to have killer device that would cause them to look at the rest of your products?

  2. Buzz–you’re looking down on Apple for using the iPod as a means to get people to switch to Macs? That’s crazy talk. That’s the _whole point_. You get someone interested in one product, and that product links them to others, which eventually convince someone to make a larger investment/purchase. This is not a negative thing, it’s good marketing.

    I have a friend who got an iPod as a gift, but she’s a PC user. Now that she has the iPod and iTunes for Windows, she’s considering an Apple computer for her next machine. Does she feel used? No. She likes the products, and they all connect for her.

    As far as the yearly-OS-release-for-$130 thing goes, I’ll say this much–Windows versions come out every, what, 3-4 years? And how frequently, when you finally do get to update, do you feel like your $99 or $129 to upgrade is worth it? I’ll tell you, having to wait between Windows 98 and Windows XP, so that your computer actually ran _decently_ was ridiculous. I would rather have paid $100 a year for steady improvement.

    Apple is not “trying to get away” with anything here. They’re doing the smart thing–releasing often and releasing worthwhile upgrades. They’re keeping their users happy by constantly improving at a cost that can easily be negated by the amount of new features/speed improvements/etc. I’m glad to pay $130 a year, because I know every year my Power Mac is going to be even better to use.

    Apple isn’t screwing me, and I’m never going to balk.

  3. Good post, Garrett.
    I must admit, 2 years ago, I would never have even considered buying an Apple – they were the spawn of satan, in my eyes.

    Over the last 18 months or so, however, I’ve joined communities such as Aqua-Soft and Aqua-XP (the two biggest Windows->Apple skinning communites on the net), initially because I thought that some of the bits of OSX’s UI looked cool. I’ve gradually become more and more enamoured with Apple products (which was furthered by the iPod and later iTunes/Win), to the point that I released my own iTunes-style skin for Windows Media Player (iTunes 4 For Windows Media Player 9). Admittedly, my skin was very much a “wasted effort” in the long term, with the release of iTunes/Win, but it was still well received, at its launch, and hailed as “the best iTunes clone ever”. Ahem. I ‘ll stop the blatant self promotion now.

    Now I’ve reached the point that I can say that, for my next main PC, it’ll still stay a PC, but for my next laptop or secondary machine, I’ll seriously be considering a Mac. But I know lots of people who did that, and ended up using the Mac as their main machine, so who knows?

    I think, in all honest, neither Apple’s nor Microsoft’s release models are better or worse than one another, just different.

  4. Are you all missing out the fact that you DONT have to upgrade? What IS it with us Americans that we are willing to spend ourselves into debt just so that we can be better than the Jones’?

    I have had a Mac Powerbook since 2000. I upgraded once from OS 9.1 to 10.2.8 now for $50! Why? beause I waited almost a year to upgrade. So I have a 3 year old laptop that runs all my programs at a decent pace. I will probably buy another Powerbook next year. I also bought a Windows laptop that same year as my Mac – it is already outdated. Win XP Pro will cost me $199 (?) and will run slower according to others. Why should I upgrade?

    Why should I switch away from a Mac when it stays productive so long?

  5. Or even, get a copy of Linux for staying productive, get free upgrades, and eventually move away from Mac. It’s a valid possibility, but with Mac, expect to pay more and get more of what you expect. Mac is great if you don’t want to deal with a computer as a computer and more as an appliance. Windows is better if you want to have something more common, and have something that breaks often and gives you zero back on your investment. If this seems unappealing, just pay for the upgrades and stop complaining, right?

  6. It’s hard not to want to upgrade. I have to admit, I’m the type who gets “used” to the way my system works, and I’m not one for upgrading things. I don’t get the latest and greatest of all software and so forth. However, with the Apple OS, they make it worth the upgrade. For me it was like getting a new system. I’m still in the stone ages with a G3 400 iMac, but it really made a difference. As you said AlexM, Apple is very productive for a long time.. this upgrade I can justify because it made my system that much more better.

  7. Well, I hope Microsoft doesn’t stop changing the skin of each office version – it’s the only new feature I see. Honestly, all I do usually is just type, and maybe use some of the drawing things.

    It’s not as if I have a choice. I don’t update Office on my own accord (it’s usually a bad idea, it seems, anyway. I upgraded from Office 95 to 98 once and it started killing my computer). When I pay $200 to get it packaged with my new computer, it’s because they’re only offering the newest version, and people start sending me documents in the new formats…

  8. I’m an Apple and Windows user. I purchased my computers around the same time. My PC was much cheaper and I have to say that my overall experiences with my Windows PC have been mixed. There are issues with Windows but the utilities are great. I record music and quickly eat up disk space and because of the processes involved I get a lot of fragmented files and extra sound file scraps that get stored on my hard drive. Two Days ago I compressed 7 projects (which don’t need to be decompressed to work) and gained 20 Gigs of memory back. Also, I can completely uninstall programs, defragment my hard drive, monitor nearly every aspect of my computer and generally surprise and impress myself with how much I can keep getting out of that machine. When improvements come out and new applications pop up I don’t have to worry about having .2 or .3, etc. I have XP and it works very well. Well enough to run multiple VSTs and realtime effects without crashes!

    On the other hand, my Mac. seems to have all these barriers set up so that I can’t really do anything to make space on my hard drive or to properly diagnose and solve issues. It also doesn’t let me burn a cd and keep it open for changes, not to mention that in order for it to “burn” a cd it has to duplicate it on the hard drive first. It just goes on and on and on like this. Mac forces you to buy the utilities really necessary to properly run your computer. Now I can defragment my drive but… oh my god, I have OS 10.2.8, not OS 10.4.1. So the Mac just fills up with mp3s and tiffs from Photoshop and I just scratch my head and imagine spending endless hours burning cds at the slowest rates possible. So, again you have to buy, buy, buy! Oh yeah, I forgot. The Apple Pro Mouse. I love the fact that that’s what Apple gives you when you spend over a thousand dollars on one of their machines.

    What really motivated this rant was the fact that I purchased an iPod Photo about a year ago and have been eagerly awaiting the release of the iPod/Linux Project to support my iPod. Well, they finally do but I don’t have OS 10.3 or higher. Meanwhile they support Windows NT/2000/XP. That means I could be running a PC from 1999 and still be able to take advantage of the latest advances in software. Ipods didn’t even exist then but NT is still supported? It’s nuts to think that a system needs to be upgraded every two years so that one’s OS can still be supported. Installing a new OS isn’t easy and it aint fun. It’s scary and no computer company has found a way to make it very safe. So why encourage it every two years? The only people who Apple screws over are it’s very loyal customers.

    Apples are a rip off! But for that first year baby, they look and feel so good.

    Yeah, I’m bitter about the sour Apple!

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