Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What are you paying for?

 What are you paying for? That is the question. Suppose you’ve decided to purchase something. Not something whimsical, but something rather expensive. This may even be something you will have to make payments on, and who would want to still be paying for something that is broken and no longer usable?

I spent most of my life working in the area described as “quality.” I worked for a company that had a well known reputation for quality. But, like Mercedes Benz or Lexus, that quality came at a price. In fact, some would consider brands such as the two automobiles I just mentioned or IBM as quality exactly because of their price.

Doesn’t high price mean quality? Well, it can. A high price can mean that better materials and components were used and that the design and engineering is superior. Sadly, that is not always true. The best isn’t always the most expensive. But simple economics would tend to predict that the cheapest product on the market may have cut some corners in manufacturing and components, and that would encourage one to think quality costs more.

Of course, some of the most important factors determining quality are the underlying design and manufacturing processes, but how is one to know that. Well, as the British say, the proof is in the pudding. That is, if you want to know if someone is a good cook, you sample their wares. The proof is in the taste of the pudding.

In many industries, including automobiles and appliances, there are organizations and companies that test, measure, survey, and otherwise determine and report on product quality. It is an aggregate measure. Sure, sometimes products fail, even high quality products. The true measure is how often they fail or what percentage of the total product line fails.

That is called “reliability.” Engineers measure that as the “mean time to failure.” That’s the average time the product (or the average product) will last.

But things do wear out. Time takes its toll on all of us, man and machine. I was describing expensive machines. Seems like, if they do fail, they can be repaired … at least one hopes so. Certainly there is a thriving business in maintaining and repairing automobiles, both from mechanical and electrical failures, and even from fender benders.

My focus is on computers. There are computer repair shops and places you can take your electronic wonders for repair. But now we address some more quality measurements, “maintainability,” “reparability,” and “serviceability.” There are technical distinctions between these different terms, but we’ll just lump them all together and talk about “ease of repair.”

Again, if nothing ever broke, who would care about “ease of repair”? No one. But things do break and how easy they are to repair determines how expensive they are to repair. Ever have an old car that was worth so little that, it made no sense to perform a major repair? Sure, you just junk it in that case.

So with these thoughts in my mind, I’ve been considering Apple products. I recommend Apple to all my friends because I think it is a superior brand. Ease of use and a beautiful and functional design are all reasons for that recommendation. But I also think that the quality of Apple products is top-notch. Of course, you pay for that quality … and some of the quality is enabled by the high price.

I recently compared the new Samsung Chromebook to the MacBook Air. They look a lot alike. Yet the Samsung computer costs $250 and my MacBook Air was well over $1,000. When you look closer, you see what you get for your money from Apple. A high quality machined aluminum case vs. Samsung’s cheap plastic. A well-designed hinge that should last a long time vs. Samsung’s obviously cheaper implementation. You can go on and on comparing the two and see continued evidence that the Mac is money well spent.

But what if it does break? Well, that’s where I get concerned. Any compact device is going to be harder to repair, but Apple makes it particularly hard with the use of glue and non-standard fasteners. It is a major repair job just to put a new battery in an iPhone. The iPod is very difficult to disassemble, much less put back together, and the latest iMacs are thinner and even harder to get into for any needed repair.

Then I read an article about a tear-down of the new Microsoft Pro Surface, the Redmond giant's copy of the Apple tablet. Perhaps they copied Apple too well. The team at disassembled the new MS product and As it turns out, the Surface Pro is sealed with what iFixit termed "a metric duckload" of adhesive, which took more than an hour to overcome.

They gave the product an overall reparability score of one out of ten. That’s the worse possible score. The iPad did little better, but did garner a 2 out of 10 for its reparability. But the bottom line is that these new products just were not built for repair.

OK. I can live with that. I’ve never had to take any of my Apple products (and I have many) in for repair. My classical iPod with the 10 GB disk, on the other hand, needs a new battery. I’ve had that music player for over ten years, and the battery just won’t recharge any longer. So it will be time to take it to the shop since the replacement of the battery is not something that can be done in the home, even by a guy like me with lots of hand tools and experience.

So given this difficulty to repair, how does one view Apple quality? Well, then I ran across this good news. According to this report from FixYa, not only is the iPhone the most popular smartphone in the world – it’s also the most reliable. In fact, it is three times more reliable than Samsung smartphones!

The report examines the data from over 720,000 problem reports for smartphones, and the score is determined by dividing the number of problem reports from each manufacturer by the combined total number of problem reports. Apple comes out looking pretty good compared to the competition.

Not all the news is great for the iPhone, however – there were numerous reports of short battery life, lack of features compared to Android handsets, and little customizability. All things considered, however, this looks like a bit fat win for Apple, the iPhone, and the iOS platform.

As I’ve always preached to disbelieving company executives and project managers, “Quality pays.” Think of all the warranty costs Apple saves by selling a high quality product. Sure you can find cheaper phones and computers. But remember, the cheap can turn out to be expensive. As for me and my household, we’re sticking with Apple, even if they are hard to fix, that doesn’t matter if they rarely need fixing. And how was your day?

No comments:

Post a Comment