Why Technical Specifications Mean Very Little Today
Whether you’re comparing mobile phones or desktop computers, people love to argue about the specs as if the technological object of their affection were the most important tool on which opposing products could be judged. Years ago, this would be true. Today, there are so many different and more important factors present, breaking the habit of turning to a product’s technical specifications is becoming an essential part of making an informed decision. Here are a few reasons why specs mean very little today.
Truth be told, the one component that every user interfaces with during every single moment of use is the software. You may not always use the optical drive or max out the CPU’s capacity. You’ve got to deal with the software, no matter what. People compare Macs and PCs based on the GHz of the processor, or how graphics processing is handled. Yes, a faster processor (which doesn’t always translate into GHz) can be a good thing, but it doesn’t matter very much compared to how well the operating system you’re running on that piece of hardware is optimized. If you compared the processing capability of three computers with identical hardware and different operating systems, you might find yourself surprised at how differently each system handles various tasks.
In the mobile world, exact specs matter even less. Yes, your Android Device might have a faster processor and better built-in graphics, but that matters little if you’re limited by the smaller Android app library. On the other side of that fence, all the on-screen pixels in the world couldn’t make that perfectly created free spectrum analyzer app run on iOS. Each mobile operating system provides a unique user experience that is better suited for some, but not all. Android users probably wouldn’t care for a Windows 7 phone, even if it had a beefier processor and more on-board memory. The same would be said for iPhone owners who find themselves faced with a decision between an iPhone 4 and another smartphone. Each user has their own needs and tastes, and no set of specs in the world can convince someone to give up a good experience.
I’ve done it before. I traded in my iPhone 3G for a Samsung Galaxy Captivate a couple of years ago. After making the switch, I was initially blown away by the open-ended software and better on-board camera. This impression quickly faded as I realized that the apps I use the most on iOS just weren’t available on Android. Even though I had a larger screen, better processor, and an arguably better connection, I regretted trading up my phone because another device looked better on paper.
In terms of desktop computers, one of the biggest problems facing Windows as an operating system is drivers. Buying the latest and greatest hardware, enthusiasts often have to deal with driver issues as hardware manufacturers attempt to keep up with constant changes being made to the back end of Windows. I dropped $500 on a graphics card once, only to discover that it didn’t communicate very well with the version of Windows I was running, and the manufacturer had no intention of putting users of that OS ahead of the majority of its user base.
Gamers that were quick to jump on board the world of dual-core and quad-core processors were also stuck having to deal with lackluster support on the part of game developers. After all, single-core systems made up the vast majority of their customers’ platforms. The same problem was faced by early adopters of 64-bit operating systems.
Manufacturers also have a nasty habit of making up expenses by going cheap in areas that don’t show up on a spec sheet. For example, laptop bodies are largely constructed of a cheap and fragile plastic that is easily scratched, scuffed, and broken with a relatively small amount of pressure. This results in a lower overall price, giving the customer the ability to enjoy a slightly faster processor or additional RAM. These OEMs know that their potential customers are comparing these largely minor details and ignoring items of more long-term importance.
Modern computers are usually quite capable of carrying out the vast majority of a user’s commands with very little actual processing or RAM required. As more and more applications find their way to the cloud, a greater amount of application processing is actually being done server side. Even gaming is beginning to take a turn in a more resource-friendly direction.
There are a large number of enthusiasts out there who will argue strongly that specs still matter more than anything else. In some cases, they are absolutely right. Video editing simply can’t be done properly on an underpowered machine. The same can be said for some gaming and more intensive programs including AutoCAD. However, when it comes to consumer-grade computers for the vast majority of the public, comparing a PC to a Mac is like comparing apples to oranges. The same could be said when comparing a beefy Ubuntu machine to a slightly less powerful Windows-based PC. You may have more clock cycles on one, but the other will give you more software options.
Photo above shared by x-ray delta one via Flickr.