“It works on iPad” Choose wisely when considering alternative platforms

For many years, I did my best to avoid the mainstream platform of the day, Windows and Internet Explorer. I used Solaris, Linux, Firefox, and many other alternative platforms as my primary choice whenever possible and only resorted to Windows and Internet Explorer as a last resort and as rarely as possible.

Until Max OS X finally gained enough support, this was a tough road that I did not recommend for the casual mainstream user. Some of my friends tried to get their parents and grandparents using Linux or some such and, all I can say is that I’m sorry for those poor folks and the utter frustrations they must have dealt with.

I see parallels today, in tech geeks (and tech savvy magazine authors) suggesting alternative platforms to the unsuspecting and naive casual mainstream user. Shame on them. Just because your cool nifty alternative platform has more pixels, more MHz, or even if it costs a lot less, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for non tech-savvy users. Pixels and CPU cycles don’t translate into usability or effectiveness, as I said way back in 2003:

As the geeks that the non-geeks turn to for help, we have a responsibility to put their needs before ours, to put ourselves in their shoes, to be objective, and downright critical when necessary. We must recognize that the needs of non-geeks are significantly different than ours and not assume the non-geeks want to be like us.

If people can’t run the apps or use the websites they want to use, then they aren’t coming out ahead, and what’s the point? It runs the stuff they don’t care about faster? Seriously, that’s what you’re telling them.

I still think SNL comedian Seth Meyer’s captures it best:  “[the Kindle Fire] is expected to sell well among parents who always buy the wrong thing.”

It’s too early to tell for sure, but so far I feel this way about the new Nexus 7. I think it’s a great bit of hardware for $199 – but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to recommend it to a casual non tech-savvy user. The simple reason is, when such a user tries to call someone to complain that App XYZ doesn’t work on their Nexus 7, there are two problems. First, there’s no one to call (for anyone who has tried, it’s almost impossible to even send Google an email, to say nothing of reaching customer support by phone – one might think it’s a matter of pride at Google). And second, the app provider isn’t going to care.

In the days when we would complain that some app didn’t work on Mac OS or in Firefox, the software maker would say simply “it works on Windows” or “it works in Internet Explorer.” Likewise, now, when you tell someone that their app doesn’t work on Nexus 7 they are going to say “it works on iPad.”

Until that changes, I’m not going to suggest these alternative platforms for mainstream casual users.