Oct 05

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two, UI/UX

What Steve Jobs Meant by Saying Microsoft Has No Taste

There is a great video of Steve Jobs giving an interview to 60 Minutes in which he states – rather boldly – that the problem with Microsoft is that they “simply have no taste.” He goes on to say that the Windows firm has “no originality” and “no culture infused into products.”

Taste is a huge factor in delivering winning consumer technology and is often overlooked or forgotten about on the long and perilous road to market. A sense of beauty and design must accompany flawless technical execution and a robust understanding of user expectations and needs. To look at a concrete example of products with good and bad taste, one need look no further than the latest phones from Apple and Microsoft.

First, there is the recently deceased Kin from Microsoft. Just look at this monstrosity:

  • These phones look like the unholy lovechildren of a calculator and a coaster.
  • From the bizarre shaped “egg phone” to the confusing two phone duality, there is clearly an element of taste that is missing here. The keyboard looks clunky, the screen looks small and that lime green button seems arbitrary, at best.

Even with a multi-million dollar marketing push, the kin failed to connect with users in a meaningful way. It may have had all the functions and technical capabilities that users crave, but because the element of taste was missing, the phone disappointed.  By the way, amazingly on this is that the Kin clearly had a constant aesthetic, but that’s not the same as having taste – hiring the top design firms to do your work is a good idea, but it’s not a get out of jail free card.

Now look at the iPhone. Any iPhone. Even the one with the broken antenna. It has a level of design and tastefulness embedded into its core.

We want to repeat that last bit one more time: a product whose core function is inherently flawed is still considered most satisfying by its users.  Why?  Taste.  Taste is letting those users overlook basic problems, because the problems themselves are not inherently related to the overall design of the product – we know this might sound contradictory or counterintuitive to some, but its actually quite consistent.  Why?  People aren’t buying the iPhone just as a phone, its style, its form, its usability, its social status, etc.  Plus the phone does actually seem to work from time to time…

Stage Two believes that a great product needs not only great technology but great taste, as well. In order to deliver an amazing experience with consumer electronics, a high level understanding of user habits and expectations should inform a functional, beautiful design.

Where does taste start?  When the user first interacts with the product, from on-box branding in stores to websites to company blog posts.  Taste continues through the out-of-box experience into set up and first-time-use.  Every single step needs to be elegant and clean and consistent (could you imagine an iPhone coming in anything but a tightly designed package?).

Taste inspires repeat customers and brand evangelists.  Taste brings love.  Taste trumps glitches (and yeah, we think dropping calls is more than a glitch, but apparently most consumers don’t!).  Taste brings your customers’ emotions into play, and those are powerful things.

The heart of a gadget has to be technical – that is a truism. But a great product will also have an artistic soul. To forget that is to create mediocrity again and again and again.

ps – we know we’ve been a little gushy to Apple recently, it’s not intentional, so coming soon we’ll focus on some other companies who we think have great taste!

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5 Responses to “What Steve Jobs Meant by Saying Microsoft Has No Taste”

  1. Ron 5 October 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    Jeremy – definitely agree with your point re: MSFT and taste and think that’s one of the many reasons Apple has been so successful in the recent past. However, there are other companies with successful products, like Google, who focus instead on simplicity and functionality vs. taste itself. Would you say that GMAIL is full of taste? It’s pretty ugly actually, don’t you think?

  2. Jeremy 5 October 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Great question – we’ll write about Google pretty soon, but fundamentally agree with you – not a company whose products revolve around taste. We’re not saying one can’t be successful without taste, as Jobs clearly wasn’t saying Microsoft isn’t successful. We’re just saying we prefer it, and want to spend our time/energy on those kinds of products.

  3. Hubert Nguyen 5 October 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    To Ron’s Google point: you can get away with ugly when your stuff is free and very basic :)

  4. uhuznaa 7 October 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    If you want to dig deeper into that you should read (or re-read) Robert Pirsig’s classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Pirsig calls this not “taste” but “quality” and his book is about nothing else (and very little about zen and motorcycles).

  5. Michael Chasov 8 October 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    Sorry. I agree with Kant on the Taste… In his aesthetic philosophy, Kant denies any standard of a good taste, which would be the taste of the majority or any social group. For Kant, beauty is not a property of any object, but an aesthetic judgement based on a subjective feeling… (From To me all Apple products look kind off “Girlish”.

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