TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Complexity Dilemma
Volume Number:10
Issue Number:1
Column Tag:Inside Information

The Complexity Dilemma

Elegance vs. greed

By Chris Espinosa, Apple Computer, Inc., MacTech Magazine Regular Contributing Author

One of the tenents that I’ve held for a long time is that the best solution to a given problem is the simpler one. An Occam’s Razor of business, I’ve used this in everything from manuals to products to business contracts.

Of course, universal simplicity is hard. Sometimes you have to shift the complexity: for example, GUIs are easier to use, but harder to program. So another of my tenents is that you keep things simplest for the end user. Some of this I believe for esthetic reasons, the fundamental elegance of good simple design. But I’ve also believed that simplicity is good business, that the effort you put into a simple design pays itself back in more usefulness to more people, with less expense and trouble later on.

Lately, though, I’ve been proposing to people at Apple that complexity is better for business. And I’ve lived to tell the tale, surprisingly. Here’s my argument:

People understand the value of solving a problem. But they’re afraid that a solution that’s too simple might somehow hold them back. (Haven’t you ever recommended to a friend to buy a Mac model a little better than they really need, because they’ll grow into it?) So a little complexity actually justifies a higher purchase price. Of course, there are controls, because there’s a limit to how much somebody will pay; the market sets an acceptable price for acceptable complexity.

In itself that’s not so dishartening. You want your product to have “legs,” so that your customers can find their own level with it. This all explains why most of the top-selling applications and systems always have a few things that are Just Harder Than They Ought To Be, but still sell well. But there’s a second, more insidious, mechanism that rewards developers who make things too complex.

After the user gets comfortable with the simple stuff, they hit the part that’s just harder than it needs to be. Or they find the parts of the system that don’t fit their needs or desires. So what do they do? They buy more hardware or software, or books, or training classes. They amass a lot of shareware and need more RAM. Then they get an upgrade to an application, which means they need to get the latest OS release, which means that they need to upgrade all of their other applications, too. Then companies network the computers together, and have the IS people write applications, and start hiring people to work on the Help Desk to answer user questions and “improve productivity.”

This is a tremendous amount of economic activity to overcome complexity. It keeps a lot of companies in business and employs a substantial number of people. And I believe that a lot of it wouldn’t happen if the computers were simpler in the first place.

At this point I start sounding like a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, accusing the masters of the computer industry of turning a billion dollars worth of technology into a hundred billion dollars of revenue by intentionally making things harder than they need to be. And sometimes I feel that way, especially when I see Microsoft selling a $49 upgrade to Windows 3.2 as having “air bags and anti-lock brakes” -- and what they mean is they fixed the bad design of the data compression “feature” that was the key reason to buy the previous $49 upgrade. The customers are so conditioned to paying to overcome complexity that they don’t realize that, in the same stroke, they’re buying more complexity.

If you intentionally created complex products to take advantage of this cycle, your finance manager would probably call it an “annuity stream” while your customers may call it planned obsolesence (or worse). But if you create the simpler solution, and your competitor creates one just slightly more complex, which one will get the support of the training providers, the magazine editors, the book authors, the distribution channel, and the rest of the infrastructure that lives off of complexity?

My moral here is not that greed should win over elegance. It shouldn’t. But if you are gifted enough to create truly elegant solutions, remember that you have to work harder to make customers appreciate how much money and effort they will save over the life cycle of the product. You’ll have to encourage support, training, and auxiliary information providers that the opportunity lies in helping people build real solutions, not in documenting “tricks and tips.” And plan for your product to stay simple over time, while you spend your effort coming up with solutions for users’ REAL problems - not the problems that your last product created.

 
AAPL
$102.25
Apple Inc.
+0.12
MSFT
$44.88
Microsoft Corpora
+0.01
GOOG
$569.20
Google Inc.
-1.80

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cloud 3.0.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.1.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
SlingPlayer Plugin 3.3.20.505 - Browser...
SlingPlayer is the screen interface software that works hand-in-hand with the hardware inside the Slingbox to make your TV viewing experience just like that at home. It features an array of... Read more
Get Lyrical 3.8 - Auto-magically adds ly...
Get Lyrical auto-magically add lyrics to songs in iTunes. You can choose either a selection of tracks, or the current track. Or turn on "Active Tagging" to get lyrics for songs as you play them.... Read more
Viber 4.2.2 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device,... Read more
Cocktail 7.6 - General maintenance and o...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
LaunchBar 6.1 - Powerful file/URL/email...
LaunchBar is an award-winning productivity utility that offers an amazingly intuitive and efficient way to search and access any kind of information stored on your computer or on the Web. It provides... Read more
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more
BBEdit 10.5.12 - Powerful text and HTML...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
Microsoft Office 2011 14.4.4 - Popular p...
Microsoft Office 2011 helps you create professional documents and presentations. And since Office for Mac 2011 is compatible with Office for Windows, you can work on documents with virtually anyone... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Hyperlapse Review
Hyperlapse Review By Jennifer Allen on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SPEEDY VIDEO SNAPSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Want to make a great time-lapse video quickly? Hyperlapse is perfect for that.   | Read more »
Back To Bed Review
Back To Bed Review By Jennifer Allen on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: STYLISH BUT LIMITEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It looks gorgeous, but Back to Bed is actually a fairly simple and uneventful puzzle game.   | Read more »
New Cars, New Locations, and a New Seaso...
New Cars, New Locations, and a New Season in Asphalt 8: Airborne Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on August 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Award Winning Children’s Book Bedtime fo...
Bedtime for Sarah Sullivan is a children’s storybook that emphasizes the importance of going to bed, dreams, and those magical moments right before being tucked in. Now Kelly Paniagua, author of the award-winning children’s book, is planning to... | Read more »
Happy Cube Death Arena Review
Happy Cube Death Arena Review By Jordan Minor on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CUBEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Happy Cube Death Arena is adorably violent, but very, very shallow.   | Read more »
8bit Doves, the New Game from Icebreaker...
8bit Doves, the New Game from Icebreaker Developers Nitrome, is Now Available – and in Four Colours Posted by Ellis Spice on August 28th, 2014 [ | Read more »
Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace Review
Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace Review By Nadia Oxford on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: DINO-MYTEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace combines space combat and weird humor into a fun game... | Read more »
Draw Stuff, Win Prizes. Glorkian Warrior...
Draw Stuff, Win Prizes. | Read more »
Lots of iOS Games Have Been Deeply Disco...
Labor Day is fast approaching, and so are the sales. Lots of sales, by the look of it. This list is already pretty sizable, and we haven’t even made it to the weekend yet. Naturally that means you can expect there to be plenty more price drops and... | Read more »
Letter Pix Review
Letter Pix Review By Jennifer Allen on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FLAWED WORDPLAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Create words to clear the board and guess a photo underlay correctly in this fun but flawed word... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Save up to $60 with Apple refurbished iPod to...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 5th generation iPod touches available starting at $149. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Many, but not all... Read more
12-Inch MacBook Air Coming in 4Q14 or 2015 –...
Digitimes’ Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that according to Taiwan-based upstream supply chain insiders, Apple plans to launch a thinner MacBook model either at year end 2014 or in 2015, and that... Read more
Sapphire Screen “Most Wanted” iPhone 6 New Fe...
According to the ‘uSell.com iPhone Most Wanted Survey’ — a representative survey of 1,000 U.S. smartphone users conducted by used iPhone marketplace uSell.com — close to half of all smartphone users... Read more
The iPad’s Real Competitive Challenger (Not S...
It’s been my contention for some time that the iPad is suffering from something of an identity crisis, and I suspect that may be a factor in slackening sales this year. Apple can’t seem to decide... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pro on sa...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1379 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. Read more
Life Inventory iOS Apps – Learn to Know Thyse...
James Hollender’s Life Inventory apps s are now on sale with 20% off thru Labor Day, 09/01/2014. This is a great opportunity to get started on that Moral Inventory you’ve been putting off doing for... Read more
Pocket Watch, LLC. Reveals Cloud Server For P...
Beaumont, Texas based Pocket Watch, LLC. has announced the availability of its new ActivePrint Cloud Server Powered by Raspberry Pi. With this small standalone box almost any USB printer or available... Read more
902it Simplifies Area Code Changes For Nova S...
The east coast Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are phasing in 10 digit telephone dialing, to be fully in place by November, in order to accommodate a second area code to... Read more
Boomerang iPad Stand Mounts Your iPad Anywher...
Boomerang, a Mountable Stand with Multiple Viewing Angles, is now available for iPad Air. Boomerang combines several functions that aim to expand your iPad’s potential in one, elegant product. The... Read more
Retina MacBook Pros available starting at $10...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros available starting at $929. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros (4GB RAM/... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.