Friday, October 22, 2010

What the point is about High Quality


What the Pundits Are Missing About New MacBook Air, TMO article.

I think the article says it well. The new MacBook Air, even the delightful 11-inch model, is not a netbook, despite the highly compact size. It is not, because it's not poorly built with substandard materials, and with under-sized keyboard and screen and a slow processor, which is what netbooks are.

By the way, our token critic, the lonely-wolf-crying-in-the-night, "Anonymous" or "Josie" as we sometimes endearingly call him/her, has more than once made fun of me for being excited about excellent hardware, not the least Apple's. He compares it to sexual excitement, which I guess is intended to downgrade the experience to something vaguely sordid.

Well, if he thinks sexual excitement is sordid, that's okay with me. And if he thinks that getting highly interested and excited about fine products is... I don't even know what he is hinting at... somehow wrong... then he is free to think so. I am proud to be associated with a group who cares about good tools, tools which make work and play a pleasure, rather than a constant battle with software updates and patches and conflicts and obscure files. I love products which lets you be productive four minutes after you start opening the box, instead of making you spend all Christmas day trying to whip the system into shape and do what you want.

I love and care about not only fine tools and machines, but all products of extraordinary quality, not just from Apple, but any company. Take for example the lenses and cameras made by Pentax, or the chairs made by Herman Miller, or the bags/cases made by Waterfield Designs. They clearly care about making the best products they possibly can, they care about giving their customers a superior experience every time they use their product. This is what makes the world bearable to live in. I would hate to live in a world where everybody was only competing only on price, so every product you could find was shoddy and ugly and unreliable. But I love that we have a world where in almost any field we can find the exception, something which is made with thought and care. Sure, they often cost a bit more, but they give better and longer-lasting joy.

14 comments:

dave_at_efi said...

Quality is not universal, and undefinable. Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

If McDonalds satisfies you, why eat elsewhere? Gallo makes reasonably priced wines; why learn to detect oak, buttery texture, or varietal character? Why buy a nice car, when used ones go for cheap? Why look for a lover when Five Finger Mary comes built in?

There is something appealing in quality, something that releases endorphins. When those endorphins are released, then value goes way up. And value should determine price.

An anecdotal story (related by John Sculley): A friend of mine was at meetings at Apple and Microsoft on the same day and this was in the last year, so this was recently. He went into the Apple meeting (he's a vendor for Apple) and when he went into the meeting at Apple as soon as the designers walked in the room, everyone stopped talking because the designers are the most respected people in the organization. Everyone knows the designers speak for Steve because they have direct reporting to him. It is only at Apple where design reports directly to the CEO.

Later in the day he was at Microsoft. When he went into the Microsoft meeting, everybody was talking and then the meeting starts and no designers ever walk into the room. All the technical people are sitting there trying to add their ideas of what ought to be in the design. That's a recipe for disaster.

Microsoft hires some of the smartest people in the world. They are known for their incredibly challenging test they put people through to get hired. It's not an issue of people being smart and talented. It's that design at Apple is at the highest level of the organization, led by Steve personally. Design at other companies is not there. It is buried down in the bureaucracy somewhere� In bureaucracies many people have the authority to say no, not the authority to say yes. So you end up with products with compromises. This goes back to Steve's philosophy that the most important decisions are the things you decide NOT to do, not what you decide to do. It's the minimalist thinking again.

emptyspaces said...

There's a nice rundown at the EOSHD blog, entitled "Inside the Mind of a Forum Troll." I believe it plumbs the mental state of anonymous posters very well.

eolake said...

Dave, I have indeed read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And the undefinableness of quality was my one beef with it. Here he goes on this long quest for the holy grail, and ends up saying it does not exist, what a let-down.

I think quality is many-facetted, and depends on many things, such as taste, and purpose, etc etc. So it's virtually impossibly to pin down succinctly, but saying "undefinable" is not right, methinks.

Anonymous said...

Right On, Eolake...

You give us all an example of high quality with your written expression of fine and well-organized thought. Thank you

Poor Josie... he or she must have a pretty pedestrian sex life... what an abysmal twist of one's fate, to have to endure that. Seems it would be enough to sour anyone, and he/she also must use a PC, which is an acronym for Pretty Cheap. We who pray, pray for you, Josie.

High quality seems to attract high quality folks who appreciate genuine beauty... who know the, "Simplicity of true elegance." Steve Jobs and his folks seem to have that down pat.

Good to have your thoughts, Eolake. This election may surprise lots of pundits and pollsters. Seems the polls cannot call folks who only use or answer their cell phones, which Pew has found skews things in the wrong direction by 6-8 percentage points.

gently, Richard Conolly
Corpus Christi, Texas, while I care for my 97 year-old Dad.

Dave Nielsen said...

Well, if he thinks sexual excitement is sordid, that's okay with me.

I think the idea was just that getting excited about technology in the same way was somehow wrong. Or something. Apple product fans do have that reputation, but of course people get that nuts over a lot of things. A rule of thumb is that if it's to do with sports, no amount of fanaticism is wrong. Anything else, well...

Dave Nielsen said...

Just to clarify, that's not my opinion, but does seem to be the way most of society thinks.

eolake said...

*Sports*, yes, good point. The excitement goes well beyond anything else, but is widely accepted despite the fact that today few players even *live* in the town they supposedly play for, much less were born in it. And they are swapped like cattle. To keep up allegiances under these circumstances is an admirable mental trick.

TC [Girl] said...

I get what you're saying, Eo, and agree, completely. There is nothing more annoying than to have to settle for "crap!" Like the saying "garbage in; garbage out," I believe the same of the quality of people's workmanship and the integrity of the company; what it makes; what it stands for which trickles on down through the layers! It would be nice to cut out much of the middle "fluff" and...it definitely seems that companies have gotten to a level beyond "lean and mean;" but...also...when a worker is sitting under a guillotine, on a daily basis...where time is money and stockholders are the "real" bosses, it's pretty difficult to find "talent" or even motive (or time?!) to do anything more than "the minimum." It's disgusting but somehow, like Hitler, it has been allowed to rule our working society. I keep wondering WHEN - if ever - this downhill spiral of "shoddy" is going to end; but...I think it really needs to start by having someone say "ENOUGH! We're going to start producing QUALITY rather than QUANTITY." But...it's going to have to take MANY BRAVE SOULS who have had ENOUGH of the way that they are being treated. And...it sure wouldn't hurt if we brought back ALL of the industry that went off-shore and, perhaps, helped create jobs in other countries (it seems that the entire world expects America to stand around in our underpants, while the rest of the world gets up and running, after having damn-near stripped us nekkid of anything decent...including MUCH-NEEDED JOBS!!!! The fucking IDIOT who chose to move those off-shore is sitting happy, in retirement! The rest of us are damn-near standing at soup kitchens because of him!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-(

So, yeah...damn-straight it's a political thing; and...damn-straight it a personal thing! How many, in America, aren't being affected by this AND watching the same happen to good, hard-working, law-abiding middle-class citizens ALL around us?! :-(

Sorry...I usually don't have a political bone in me but...quality goes DOWN when unreasonable demands - like cutting corners to save 'The Almighty Dollar' - creep in! And...it has gone WAY TOO FAR and it's time to swing it back to REASONABLE, again!!!!!!!!!!!

FB said...

didnt see the original post, but nothing wrong with a little sexual excitement, I'd take it over a quality product any day

eolake said...

Judging by the success of the Dodocase and of SFbags, there *is* room for premium products. But I think it takes not only guts to do it (and use local labor and such), I think it also takes a special vision, because the product has to speak to the public for them to cough up double the price, which is understandable.
In other words, it can happen, but only gradually, company by company.

dave_at_efi said...

Eolake said: "I think quality is many-facetted, and depends on many things, such as taste, and purpose, etc etc. So it's virtually impossibly to pin down succinctly, but saying "undefinable" is not right, methinks."


I came away from Zen and tAoMM satisfied(!). Some things just can't be defined, and I'm OK with that.

At what point does "lack of succintness" become "undefinable"? 200 words? 10 pages? And if all the facets point to things that are also subjective, methinks "undefinable" is correct.

"High Quality" has to be a consensus thing. If the average bloke thinks it is, then it is. If it takes special knowledge to appreciate something, then should the consensus only include those cognoscenti? Keep devolving this down, and the knowledgeable group gets smaller and smaller, until only a few can truly appreciate the High Quality.

Well, how is that a useful definition? Some people will like something, and others won't.

I know what High Quality is for me, but couldn't hope to define it for anyone else. And I'm OK with that.

eolake said...

I once defined it as "how well something works according to its purpose".
Then the battles become about purpose.
If the purpose of a movie is "to entertain many uneducated people for two hours", then a good film is different than one with the purpose: "to see death and humanity in a new and thoughtful light".

dave_at_efi said...

Hmm. Define its purpose, and you can determine quality.

B'gosh, that might work. Let's lok at some examples. DOMAI.com, Scoopy.net, redclouds.com, Google, Wikipedia, fuel efficiency, iPhone/iBook/iPad, Macbook Air -- all of these have an overriding, obvious purpose, and hence can be judged for relative quality.

Let's try a more complex example. What is the purpose of a closeup picture of a multi-colored leaf, distributed to friends for comment? "Technical correction?"; "What do you think of my taste in pictures?"; "I feel good about myself for giving you the gift of this lovely picture."; "Can you empathize with my feelings when I took this?" All of these and many more could be the purpose, and the individual responses to the guessed purposes cannot be averaged together for purposes of quality.

That definition only works with simple, obvious purposes, as defined by the observer. Again, subjective most of the time, and very judgmental.

I've abandoned the quality label entirely. "Wow, I really like that.", without analyzing why, suffices quite well.

eolake said...

For some things, that might make more sense, yes.

And indeed I think one hears the term "quality" used less for art, for just those reasons. The purpose of art is nebulous and multi-faceted.