As technology progresses, the specs matter less

Quick Register
User Name:
Human Verification

Go Back   UNP > UNP Misc > Technology

UNP Register


Old 17-Mar-2011
As technology progresses, the specs matter less

One of the biggest changes in technology over the past few years has been the decreased role of specifications. At first this seems counter-intuitive. People are more knowledgeable about technology than they were in the past so you’d think they would be following the specifications of their latest phone or laptop more closely. And companies, for their part, would be pushing harder on those fronts. That’s just not the case any more.
I’m reminded of my recent meetings with companies to discuss their 2011 laptops. What did we spend most of the time talking about? It was design and new features, not CPUs, memory, and graphics. All they had to say was “Sandy Bridge” or “Fusion” and I knew basically what to expect. There would be some performance difference from Sandy Bridge laptop X to Sandy Bridge laptop Y, but not enough to make for a discernible difference if they were at the same price level. And, let’s face it, mainstream consumers don’t really have to care so much any more.
Remember buying (or helping someone buy) a desktop in the 90s and early 2000s? You made sure to go down the store with a piece of paper in hand stating very clearly the processor, the absolute minimum amount of RAM, the graphics, and so on that were needed. I can remember writing down lists like this for friends and family members dozens of times. And today? You can usually get by saying “Oh, buy the one that’s on sale” or “Make sure it has dedicated graphics” or increasingly, “Just buy a MacBook”. This is why the whole netbook thing took off: people just needed a computer to get to Facebook and check their email, the specs were an afterthought.

Apple will get most of the credit for the decreased important of specifications–they haven’t been afraid to slowly roll out new components on their computers, they’ve opted to entirely skip some selling points (like Blu-ray), and Steve Jobs has publicly talked about the “Post-PC” era–but the company isn’t alone.
AMD has been pushing a platform approach for PC buying for some time now and with Vision it looks like they are finally getting some traction. Sure, people from the company will talk your ear off if you want to know why their latest graphics card is the greatest thing ever, but they understand that mainstream buyers are much happier to deal with “Vision Black” than reading up on graphics cards and chipsets. AMD hasn’t had the same impact Apple has had thanks to a lack of platform wins, but they get it.
Recently Intel has gotten all the attention (and sales) thanks to having higher performance CPUs, but AMD often offered a better overall experience with their mainstream products. With the Fusion APU and an increased focus on Vision platform selling, things should be getting ever better for them. After all, people don’t care about the processor architecture, they care about price and capabilities (can it edit my photos and play my games?). AMD still has a long way to go (see below and the mention of DirectX 11) but it’s a start.

Another company pulling us away from specifications is Microsoft. By releasing (relatively high) minimum specifications for Windows Phone 7 handsets Microsoft decided to avoid entirely the issue of underpowered (and often non-upgradeable) phones. This meant Microsoft wouldn’t have its shiny new OS held back by sub-par devices, no one handset would be significantly worse than the rest, and buyers wouldn’t have to worry about walking out of the store having agreed to use a total dog for the next two years. And let’s not forget the Windows Experience Index, which distills the performance of a computer down to one easy to understand number.
In practice things get a bit more messy and they can often lead to people buying more powerful hardware than they actually need, but the marketplace is moving in the right direction. As hardware outpaces our software demands it’s enough for people to go to a store and buy a $500 desktop, because they know it will do the job. The diminished role of specifications means more accessibility, people getting devices better suited to them, and happier customers. It also means companies who are essentially selling the same products (say HP and Lenovo) and are constantly fighting commodification can try to differentiate their products in other areas, like features and design. Enthusiasts and professionals can still dig into the specifications and figure out exactly what chipset they need, and if their phone has hardware acceleration for Flash, but not everyone should have to.
Soon it’ll be a truism that what matters is the experience. The focus has shifted to the battleground tablet, where the companies that are focused on the specs are getting killed by Apple who basically says, “It’s fast, it surfs the web well, and it comes in three different capacities” then goes on to talk about the super cool new cover, which people a) care about and b) understand. And in the end, if the experience is up to snuff, the cover will matter a whole lot more than if it runs 256MB or 512MB of RAM. Speeds and feeds will be around as long as new technology keeps coming out, but we know we are making progress with an overall experience when it’s only the engineers and enthusiasts that have to care about them.

Post New Thread  Reply

« Flash 10.2 coming to Android, Motorola Xoom March 18th | Lenovo announces new ThinkPad X220 ultraportable laptop, tab »