In Search of Acceptable

I was a Microsoft-man for two decades. Unlike most other people, I thought Microsoft did well with quality. I acknowledge that they shipped too many bugs. Every now and then they failed miserably with the user interface. Sometimes there were compatibility problems too. However, the products were designed for purpose and they were easy to learn.

My perception about Microsoft changed fundamentally on December 23rd, 2012. I had bought a new PC as a Christmas present for the family. I had wisely decided to set it up so that it was ready for use immediately after unwrapping the package. After seven hours of rebooting and installing updates I threw the PC and its cords to a plastic bag, took it back to the shop, and bought an iMac.

Elevating Perceived Quality

My first Apple product was not the iMac but an iPad. It felt like a miracle in the beginning. It was comfortable to hold, like a thin book. It was extremely smooth to use. I learned it very easily. It was connected both at home and on the road. App Store was full of innovative, affordable, and nice-looking apps. IPad became my trusted companion that followed me almost everywhere.

Apple had elevated my perception of quality to a next level. They did it through elegance and simplicity. Apple products were not as rich in functionality as those of Microsoft. But they felt good, they worked smoothly and correctly, and they did not annoy me with continuous ”notifications” and ”install updates and reboot” requests.

When your quality awareness elevates to a new level you become less tolerant of poor quality.

Business Decision-Making Affecting Quality

My next few years with Apple products taught me that ill business decisions are the primary source of poor quality. The first hit was the horrible maps application that replaced Google Maps. The replacement was made without a warning, as a side-effect of an operating system update. It did not deliver any new value but removed part of the value delivered before. For some strange reason, such an odd move would have been quite alright if done by Microsoft but not by Apple. I felt betrayed.

In the next phase I began receiving frequent operating system updates just like in Windows. I never understood why these updates were made but quite often they changed something I was accustomed to. I had to learn a new way to scroll my calendar. I had to accept that ”search inbox” returns random results. Each update made my iPad slower and more cumbersome. It did not feel smooth and responsive anymore. Again, something that is quite normal in the Microsoft world but totally unacceptable in the Apple world.

Meanwhile, I had become an iPhone owner, too. I still am. My iPhone runs iOS 7 because it does not have enough memory to update the operating system. The phone kindly asks me to remove my photos and apps so that the operating system can be updated. It also sometimes prompts me to back up my data into the cloud but, for some strange reason, it cannot do, or even suggest, such an operation when it needs space for an operating system update. This, too, would be perfectly normal and acceptable in Windows.

This year, I bought my first MacBook. It was a hard decision because I have deep-rooted Windows habits. Luckily, some of my Windows habits are relevant also as a Mac user, like biting my fingers while waiting for the computer to respond and rebooting twice a day after realizing that the computer is not going to respond at all. As a Windows user that felt quite alright but as an Apple user it feels horrible.

“…ill business decisions are the primary source of poor quality.”

Recently, I have stopped buying apps from the App Store. I’d really like to try some of the new apps but because I am sick and tired of reviewing and accepting the new terms and conditions, I cannot buy apps anymore. I also feel a bit uneasy about doing business with someone who needs to update the terms and conditions so frequently.

Last week I stopped carrying my iPad with me. My trusted companion had become a slow and non-responsive irritator.

Creating Value Has a Direct Line to Quality

I have learnt that quality is the ability to create value. Value comes in three basic forms: joy, productivity, and security. While value is absolute, quality is proportional to one’s own expectations. Therefore, direct comparison of the quality of two products can only be done in the context of expectations related to these products.

Because quality is proportional to expectations, one may achieve excellent quality only by understanding those expectations and staying true to them. Whenever you put your own business interests ahead of your customer’s expectations, you are bound to compromise quality. When you compromise quality enough times, your customers gradually lower their expectations. But instead of accepting the new standard of quality they will start looking for alternatives and for a lower price.

“When your quality awareness elevates to a new level you become less tolerant of poor quality.”

Quality can be observed only in comparison. You cannot determine quality of anything without comparing it to something else, either real or imagined. The quality of your product is determined by your customer’s expectations and the comparison they choose to apply.

In this text I have used two well-known companies as examples to illustrate my point about the nature of quality. I hope Apple, Microsoft, and any of their supporters don’t feel bad or angry about this text. I wish the best for both companies and their customers.

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Originally published in LinkedIn.