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.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

WebSnapperPro 2.0.5 - $20.00
WebSnapperPro lets you capture full web pages exactly as they appear in your browser, with a single mouse click, without the need to "stitch" or cut-and-paste. Save the page as an image file or as... Read more
Cocktail 11.3.1 - General maintenance an...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for macOS 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
Fantastical 2.4.6 - Create calendar even...
Fantastical 2 is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event... Read more
Fantastical 2.4.6 - Create calendar even...
Fantastical 2 is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event... Read more
Cocktail 11.3.1 - General maintenance an...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for macOS 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
WebSnapperPro 2.0.5 - $20.00
WebSnapperPro lets you capture full web pages exactly as they appear in your browser, with a single mouse click, without the need to "stitch" or cut-and-paste. Save the page as an image file or as... Read more
VOX 3.2.1 - Music player that supports m...
VOX just sounds better! The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features and support for all audio formats you should ever need.... Read more
Evernote 7.0 - Create searchable notes a...
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from... Read more
Hopper Disassembler 4.3.16- - Binary dis...
Hopper Disassembler is a binary disassembler, decompiler, and debugger for 32- and 64-bit executables. It will let you disassemble any binary you want, and provide you all the information about its... Read more
VOX 3.2.1 - Music player that supports m...
VOX just sounds better! The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features and support for all audio formats you should ever need.... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Our top 5 characters from casual RPG Cre...
Creature Quest definitely lives up to its name with a host of collectible creatures based on fantasy tales and world mythologies. To celebrate Creature Quest’s first birthday, we’re going to lay out what we think are the five best characters in the... | Read more »
Around the Empire: What have you missed...
Did you know that Steel Media has a whole swathe of other sites dedicated to all aspects of mobile gaming? Sure you'll get the very best iPhone news, reviews, and opinions right here at 148Apps, but we don't want you missing out on a single piece... | Read more »
All the best games on sale for iPhone an...
Oh hi there, and welcome to our round-up of the best games that are currently on sale for iPhone and iPad. You thought I didn't see you there, did you, skulking behind the bushes? Trust me though, the bushes aren't where the best deals are. The... | Read more »
The Battle of Polytopia Guide - How to H...
A new update just released for The Battle of Polytopia (formerly Super Tribes), which introduces online multiplayer. For all the fans of Midjiwan’s lite take on Civilization, this is certainly welcome news, but playing online isn’t as easy and... | Read more »
Here are the very best mobile games to p...
It's Valentine's Day! Did you get loads of cards and chocolates and other tacky, simple expressions of human affection? Did you send out tat because you find it almost impossible to express emotion unless there's a section dedicated to it at your... | Read more »
Florence (Games)
Florence 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Florence is an interactive storybook from the award-winning lead designer of Monument Valley about the heart-racing highs and... | Read more »
Purrfect Date (Games)
Purrfect Date 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Cats are a lil’ like marmite. Either you absolutely head-over-heels love’ em, or… nahhh, who are we kidding?! Everyone... | Read more »
More monsters to collect and evolve in C...
A laid-back mix of RPG and TCG, Creature Quest is all about building your deck, evolving your creatures and winning in battle. It’s the creation of VC Mobile, set up by Might and Magic producer Jon Van Caneghem. There are elements of that classic... | Read more »
Check out this awesome hands-on with the...
Well, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has come out on mobile. This isn't a clone, this isn't a riff on the battleroyale mechanics of the game, it's the official mobile port by Tencent. But there's a little bit of a hitch. [Read more] | Read more »
Hostage Negotiator (Entertainment)
Hostage Negotiator 1.1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Entertainment Price: $3.99, Version: 1.1.0 (iTunes) Description: Official app of the board game by AJ Porfirio and Van Ryder Games. In Hostage Negotiator, you play the part of... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Silver Touch Bar MacBook Pro...
Amazon has the Silver 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Touch Bar MacBook Pro (MPXX2LL/A) on sale for $1649.99 including free shipping. Their price is $150 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for a new 13″... Read more
Saturday Sale: Amazon offers 13″ 1.8GHz/256GB...
Amazon has the 13″ 1.8GHz/256B Apple MacBook Air on sale today for $250 off MSRP including free shipping: – 13″ 1.8GHz/256GB MacBook Air (MQD42LL/A): $949.99, $250 off MSRP Their price is the lowest... Read more
Roundup of Apple Certified Refurbished 12″ Ma...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2017 12″ Retina MacBooks available for $200-$240 off the cost of new models. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free.... Read more
Apple offers Certified Refurbished 10″ and 12...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished 2017 10″ and 12″ iPad Pros for $100-$190 off MSRP, depending on the model. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: –... Read more
Apple Canada offers Certified Refurbished Mac...
 Canadian shoppers can save up to $560 on the purchase of a 2017 current-generation MacBook Pro, MacBook, or MacBook Air with Certified Refurbished models at Apple Canada. Apple’s refurbished prices... Read more
Sale! 13″ MacBook Airs for up to $180 off MSR...
B&H Photo has 13″ MacBook Airs on sale for $50-$120 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 13″ 1.8GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MQD32LL/A): $899, $... Read more
Sale! New 8-core iMac Pro for $4799, $200 off...
Adorama has the 8-core iMac Pro on sale for $4799 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the currently lowest price available for an iMac Pro. Read more
Sale! Walmart lowers prices even more on 9″ i...
Walmart has lowered their sale price on 9.7″ Apple iPads to $80 off MSRP for a limited time. Sale prices are for online orders only, in-store prices may vary: – 9″ 32GB iPad: $249.99 $80 off – 9″... Read more
Roundup of 13″ MacBook Pro sales, models avai...
B&H Photo has 13″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only. Their prices are the lowest available for these... Read more
Roundup of 15″ MacBook Pros sale, models up t...
B&H Photo has 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 15″ 2.8GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pro Space Gray (... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 113501424 Norman, Oklahoma, United States Posted: 15-Feb-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Are you passionate about Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.