I had to set up a couple of new Sony VAIO laptops for a client recently, and I was amazed at the difference in the Out of Box Experience between a premium PC manufacturer and Apple. No, there’s nothing technical in here, it’s more an observation about customer service, branding and user satisfaction.
Here’s what happens when you get a new Mac out of the box:
You receive a beautifully printed box that’s sealed with a clear sticker. Upon opening the box, the laptop is cradled gently with a thick layer of foam glued on the inside of the lid, and it’s sitting in a form-fitting moulded plastic tray. The laptop is in a clear plastic wrapper and is presented very nicely. The laptop is designed very nicely with a slick and minimal look to the case and the only branding on it is the single apple logo in the centre of the lid and the name of the laptop (MacBook or MacBook Pro) written underneath the display. There are no Intel Inside stickers or anything like that covering the palm rest and there’s a full set of installation and recovery DVDs in the box in a cardboard folder.
You take the laptop out of it’s plastic wrapper, put it on the desk, open the lid and hit the power button.
You’re immediately greeted with the the familiar Mac startup chime, a mid grey screen appears with a darker grey Apple logo and a spinner indicating progress appears. No more than 10-15 seconds later, this changes to a space-themed full-screen video welcoming you in various languages as you fly through space, past stars and nebulae, and then the trademark X for Mac OS X rotates into view. There’s a song, Exodus Honey by Honeycut, playing in the background that’s pretty funky and then it goes into the user registration. This walks you through setting up your account and answering a few (optional) questions about how you plan to use your Mac (home, office etc) and asks if you want to register for a trial to Mobile Me.
Once this process has completed which takes 1–2 minutes tops, you’re logged into your account with a space-themed desktop picture and a row of icons already populating the dock where you can immediately jump into iTunes, iPhoto, Safari or any of the other high-quality bundled apps.
Total time from opening the box to being productive is less than 5 minutes.
Contrast this to a VAIO:
It comes in an (admittedly eco-friendly) brown cardboard box with chunky brown cardboard packaging holding the laptop in place. You get four or five power cords for the different standards in use around the world, a power adapter, the laptop and it’s battery. There are no getting started guides, no recovery discs and no software installation disks in the box. After unwrapping the laptop from it’s thin foam cover, you need to insert the battery, but there are no indicator lights showing whether or not it’s charged yet. Open the lid of the laptop to hit the power button and you’re greeted with no less than 9 different stickers on the palm rest. Intel, ATI, Sony, Microsoft all have their place here on this evidently quite valuable piece of real estate.
Some of the stickers are easily removed, others have quite sticky adhesive that leaves behind sticky lumps.
Upon powering it up, you’re greeted with a white VAIO logo on a black background for one or two seconds which then disappears and is replaced by a blinking grey cursor on a black screen for 5 seconds or so. You then get the Windows startup progress bar (but no Windows logo or anything) for 5-10 seconds and finally this is replaced by some blurry white text on a black background saying “Please wait while Windows sets up your computer…” and the hard drive light blinks like crazy for 5 minutes. This then changes to a light blue-themed screen with the mouse cursor active, saying “Please wait while Windows continues setting up your computer…” At least this gives you some time to remove the stickers on the palm rest.
After another 3-5 minutes, it then asks you a few things, like what username and password you want to use, language settings, date and time and your time zone etc (no option for internet time servers?). Once you answer these questions, you’re left with the background picture, a mouse cursor and no indication that anything is happening, other than the hard drive light on solidly, for a full two minutes. Has it crashed? Am I about to get my desktop and be able to start using this computer? Let’s get the last of the sticky residue off the palm rest while I wait.
No, then it goes to another screen with a progress bar at the bottom telling me to “Please wait while Windows checks your computers performance…”
After another 3-4 minutes, this then changes to a backdrop screen with the circular mouse cursor for a minute or so and then the computer reboots.
Sony VAIO logo for 2 seconds then a black screen with a progress bar and some text © Microsoft Corporation. Then I get another black screen with cryptic white text on it flicking through things like .DLL names and HKLM registry locations, another black screen with a mouse pointer for a minute or two and finally I can log in to Windows. As soon as I’m logged in, I’m presented with a “Chose your network location” dialog and after clicking one of the options, I get Vista’s well-loved UAC dialog come up.
12 Icons are already installed in the system tray area (3 of which are standard Windows icons). Then a prompt appears asking me to make my own recovery discs. After clicking through a couple of screens, I’m told I’ll need either two dual layer, or four single layer DVDs. Oh, and once I start this process, the progress bar helpfully tells me there’s only 125 minutes remaining. Great.
Total time taken is around 15-20 minutes, a broken fingernail and half a bottle of eucalyptus oil used to remove those damn stickers. Plus, once I’m at the desktop, I can’t load any software from the optical drive for the next two hours as it’s busy burning my recovery discs. Total time to being productive is almost two and a half hours.