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The Dark Box: Do Specs really matter?

Oct 31 2010, 6:39pm CDT | by , in News | Apple

The Dark Box: Do Specs really matter?
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Experience is everything.

Pull up pretty much any article of basic release coverage for a new gadget and you'll find a laundry list of hardware specifications. Processor speed, RAM and ROM complement, storage space, etc. On the surface, this would seem to make comparison shopping easy. Better specs with the same price equals a better device, right?

Except it doesn't, as anyone who has ever bought an Apple product can tell you. Take a $1000 desktop and a $500 iPad and compare the speed of browsing on both. Odds are, you'll notice fewer interruptions and slowdowns with the tablet, even though a good desktop is much, much faster on paper.

This column about the transition of Mac OS X and iOS touches on the problem of the "dark box". Geeks may find detailed spec info useful, but the average consumer only cares about how the product feels in use. He doesn't care if one machine has eight gigs of RAM and the other has 4. All he cares about is the end experience.

Modern desktop and full-size laptop computers are enormously powerful. They can handle resource intensive tasks like video editing and high-end gaming, but you sacrifice convenience for that horsepower. And all the juice in the world still won't make the average high-end machine FEEL as fast as a more limited, dedicated consumption device.

You can see Apple's recognition of this fact in the new MacBook Air. On paper, it seemed pretty wimpy compared to even the last-gen models, but Speedmark benchmarks show it as much faster. Older technology used with more intelligence will beat bleeding-edge chrome every day of the week.

One major reason for this speed difference is the fact that the new Air is 100% SSD-driven. Another is the fact that OS X has been streamlined to act a little more like iOS. If the iPhone and iPad can teach us one lesson, it is this. Customers want their computer to work FAST and with a minimum of fuss or tech knowledge necessary to ensure proper maintenance.

The desktop and the laptop will always be with us (at least until CPU-to-head interfaces become all the rage) but the financial future of Apple, HP, Asus, Google and all our other friends lies in mobile computing solutions. We'll still see spec lists pepper release articles, but customers will care less and less about what they say every year.

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