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

Safari Technology Preview 16.4 - The new...
Safari Technology Preview contains the most recent additions and improvements to WebKit and the latest advances in Safari web technologies. And once installed, you will receive notifications of... Read more
FileZilla 3.62.2 - Fast and reliable FTP...
FileZilla (ported from Windows) is a fast and reliable FTP client and server with lots of useful features and an intuitive interface. The FileZilla Client not only supports FTP, but also FTP over TLS... Read more
djay Pro 4.0.13 - Transform your Mac int...
djay Pro provides a complete toolkit for performing DJs. Its unique modern interface is built around a sophisticated integration with iTunes and Spotify, giving you instant access to millions of... Read more
Opera 93.0.4585.21 - High-performance We...
Opera is a fast and secure browser trusted by millions of users. With the intuitive interface, Speed Dial and visual bookmarks for organizing favorite sites, news feature with fresh, relevant content... Read more
AppCleaner 3.6.6 - Uninstall your apps e...
AppCleaner allows you to uninstall your apps easily. It searches the files created by the applications and you can delete them quickly. Supports macOS Ventura. Fixed an issue causing failed updates... Read more
QuickBooks 21.0.7.1248 - Financial manag...
QuickBooks helps you manage your business easily and efficiently. Organize your finances all in one place, track money going in and out of your business, and spot areas where you can save. Built for... Read more
iMazing 2.16.3 - Complete iOS device man...
iMazing is the world’s favourite iOS device manager for Mac and PC. Millions of users every year leverage its powerful capabilities to make the most of their personal or business iPhone and iPad.... Read more
RapidWeaver 8.10.5 - Create template-bas...
RapidWeaver is a next-generation Web design application to help you easily create professional-looking Web sites in minutes. No knowledge of complex code is required, RapidWeaver will take care of... Read more
Posterino 3.11.12 - Create posters, coll...
Posterino offers enhanced customization and flexibility including a variety of new, stylish templates featuring grids of identical or odd-sized image boxes. You can customize the size and shape of... Read more
OmniOutliner Pro 5.11.1 - Pro version of...
OmniOutliner Pro is a flexible program for creating, collecting, and organizing information. Give your creativity a kick start by using an application that's actually designed to help you think. It's... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Black Friday Deals Here – The TouchArcad...
After taking a couple of weeks off we return on this glorious Black Friday with another episode of The TouchArcade Show. We get into a big discussion about virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google, and their place in the greater smarthome... | Read more »
TouchArcade Game of the Week: ‘Station 1...
I’m a big fan of Glitch Games and their unique brand of point-and-click adventure/escape room/puzzle games, and while they’re a tiny outfit and there’d typically be a couple years gap in-between their new releases, they were always worth the wait.... | Read more »
SwitchArcade Round-Up: ‘Super Lone Survi...
Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the SwitchArcade Round-Up for November 25th, 2022. Today we look at the remaining releases for the week, and I’ll be honest with you: it’s not a great assortment. Still, there are at least a couple of things... | Read more »
‘Genshin Impact’ Version 3.3 Update Rele...
Following the release of Genshin Impact version 3.2 ‘Akasha Pulses, the Kalpa Flame Rises’, HoYoverse has revealed the release date and more coming in the next update. Genshin Impact (Free) version 3.3 ‘All Senses Clear, All Existence Void’... | Read more »
‘Awaken Legends: Idle RPG’ Beginner’s Gu...
Awaken Legends: Idle RPG, Webzen’s new idle game on iOS and Android, is now on soft launch in Canada and the Philippines. Players can expect to embark on an exciting fantasy adventure across Westland with over 50 heroes they can summon and add to... | Read more »
‘Haunted Dorm’ — What You Need to Know A...
Anyone who’s ever dreaded a major exam has probably woken up in a cold sweat after a terrible dream. School is a breeding ground for horrific nightmares both during the day and at night, and in Haunted Dorm, developer Mihuan has taken things up a... | Read more »
‘SpongeBob SolitairePants’ Is Out Now on...
SpongeBob SolitairePants () is this week’s new Apple Arcade game and it is out now as the final release of November 2022 on the service. SpongeBob SolitairePants has multiplayer battles, a solo quest mode, classic mode, and more alongside daily... | Read more »
SwitchArcade Round-Up: ‘Retro Goal’, ‘Al...
Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the SwitchArcade Round-Up for November 24th, 2022. In today’s article, we’ve got a bunch of new releases to check out. Nothing immediately jumps to the front of the pack, but there are several interesting titles... | Read more »
The King of Fighters Allstar introduces...
Action RPG The King of Fighters Allstar receives a bumper update bringing with it two returning characters and battle cards. Although seen before, they are back with renewed appearances, alongside a few events with some major prizes to earn. [... | Read more »
Classic Fighting Game ‘The King of Fight...
After The King of Fighters 2003 ACA NeoGeo hit iOS and Android through SNK and Hamster, we have a new release in the classics series on mobile with Top Hunter Roddy and Cathy . Top Hunter Roddy and Cathy is a side-scrolling action game from SNK... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Cyber Monday Sale: Apple Watch Ultra for $60...
Amazon has Apple Watch Ultra models (Alpine Loop, Trail Loop, and Opean Bans) on sale for $60 off MSRP as part of their Cyber Monday sale, each including free shipping, reducing the price for an... Read more
Cyber Monday MacBook Sale: 13″ M1 Apple MacBo...
Amazon has Apple 13″ M1 MacBook Airs back on sale for $200 off MSRP, starting at only $799, for Cyber Monday 2022. Their prices are the lowest available for new MacBooks this Cyber Monday. Stock may... Read more
Cyber Monday: In stock Apple HomePod minis fo...
Verizon has in-stock HomePod minis on sale for $79.99 shipped as part of their Cyber Monday 2022 sale, $20 off Apple’s MSRP. Their sale price applies to all mini colors currently in stock and... Read more
Cyber Monday Sale: Apple Pro Display XDR mode...
B&H Photo has Apple Pro Display XDR models in stock today and on sale for $300 off MSRP, starting at $4699, for Cyber Monday 2022. They offer free expedited delivery to many US addresses: – Pro... Read more
Black Friday Sale: Apple Studio Displays for...
Apple retailers are offering $100-$150 discounts on Apple Studio Displays as part of their Black Friday 2022 sales. Shipping is free across the board. Here are the latest sale prices this weekend: (1... Read more
Black Friday Sale: 13″ Apple MacBook Pros wit...
B&H Photo has new 13″ MacBook Pros with Apple M2 processors in stock and on sale today for $200 off MSRP as part of their Black Friday sale. Their prices are the lowest currently available for M2... Read more
Xfinity Mobile’s $500 discount is the best Bl...
If you switch to Xfinity Mobile and open a new line of service, they will take $500 off the price of a new iPhone, no trade-in required. This is the best no trade-in Black Friday Apple iPhone 14 deal... Read more
Lowest Black Friday Apple iPad Price: 10.2-in...
Amazon has Apple’s 9th generation 10.2″ 64GB WiFi iPads on sale for $269.99 shipped as part of their Black Friday Sale. Their price is $60 off Apple’s MSRP, and it’s the lowest price currently... Read more
This lowest-price-ever $79 Apple AirPods Blac...
Amazon has 2nd generation Apple AirPods back on sale for only $79 as part of Black Friday Week 2022. That’s a whopping $50 off Apple’s MSRP. Shipping is free. Their price is the lowest we’ve ever... Read more
Black Friday Sale: 16″ Apple MacBook Pro with...
B&H Photo has the 16″ M1 Max MacBook Pro, 10-core CPU/32-core GPU/1TB SSD/Space Gray, in stock today for $3049 including free 1-2 day delivery to most US addresses. Their price is $450 off Apple’... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Electronic Repair Technician - PlanI...
…a highly motivated individual to join our Production Department as an Apple Electronic Repair Technician. The computer repair technician will diagnose, assemble, Read more
Product Manager II - *Apple* - DISH (United...
…you will be doing We seek an ambitious, data-driven thinker to assist the Apple Product Development team as our new Retail Wireless division continues to grow and Read more
Staff Engineer 5G Protocol, *Apple* - DISH...
…metrics. Essential Functions and Responsibilities for a Staff Engineer 5G protocol( Apple ) Knowledge of 5G and 4G/LTE protocols and system architectures Experience Read more
Cashier - *Apple* Blossom Mall - JCPenney (...
Cashier - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Blossom Mall Read more
Omnichannel Associate - *Apple* Blossom Mal...
Omnichannel Associate - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.