The Mythical Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field Debunked

Steve Jobs introducing the IPad, photo courtesy of William Avery

Steve Jobs introducing the IPad, photo courtesy of William Avery

Quote from Wikipedia:

Reality distortion field (RDF) is a term coined by Burrell Smith at Apple Computer in 1981, to describe company co-founder Steve Jobscharisma and its effects on the developers working on the Mac project.[1] Bud Tribble claimed that the term came from Star Trek.[1] Later the term has also been used to refer to perceptions of his keynote (or Stevenote) by observers and devoted users of Apple computers and products.[2] The RDF is said to be Steve Jobs’ ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of superficial charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement, and persistence. RDF is said to distort an audience’s sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and makes them believe that the task at hand is possible.

The term is also used by Apple’s competitors when they criticize Apple. On Research In Motion‘s official BlackBerry blog, Jim Balsillie introduced his article by saying “For those of us who live outside of Apple’s distortion field”.[3]

Jobs’ reality distortion field was parodied in Dilbert: Dilbert built a functioning reality distortion field emitter, which is used during Dogbert‘s keynote speech,[4] while previous strips parodied iPhone flaws.

Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs has been very successful. And if you’ve any interest in technology and/or Apple, you will have heard of the legendary Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field, and Steve’s ability to convince everyone to buy whatever he’s selling.

In fact the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field is mentioned so often, in so many different news articles, that a lot of people believe it, despite a total lack of proof. Steve Jobs is regarded as some sort of later day Gandalf, tricking people into buying things that cost too much, and that they have no use for.

So Why Do People Buy Apple iPods?

One of the common themes in articles which mention the RDF is that Apple products are overpriced. And it might seem at a glance as though they are. First let’s look at MP3 Players.

Apple iPod Touch 32 GB – $274.99

Microsoft Zune HD 32 GB – $181.12

Archos 5 32 GB Tablet – $289.96

Creative Zen X-Fi 2 32 GB – $181.77

Samsung P3 Palm Theatre Plus 32 GB – $280.99

Notice the price variations. Apple isn’t the most expensive. Each device offers different features, which makes it difficult to consider them equal. One feature that Apple offers which is extremely valuable to consumers is the ITunes Music and Applications Store. Apple wasn’t the first vendor to offer a store, but in many ways the ITunes store is superior to the competition. And that’s why Apple sells a lot of iPods. Apple isn’t the cheapest manufacturer of MP3 players, but the store adds a lot of value.

And there’s other issues. I’ve been told by sales reps not to buy the Zune because of battery life issues, and that it was really only suitable for Microsoft fans who also own an XBox360. Anti-features drive down price.

I haven’t heard anything, good or bad about the Creative Zen. Based on that I’d buy it over the Zune, which I have heard bad things about.

As for the two that are more expensive, I ignored them. If price is all your concerned about, you wouldn’t be buying them anyway…

So Why Do People Buy MacBooks?

Let’s look at notebooks next. Since no two manufacturers make exactly the same models, I picked models with a 13.9″ or smaller screen, and a 121 to 320 GB hard drive. The link under the manufacturer’s name takes you to that manufacturers page on Amazon, the link under the computer model takes you to that model.

Where there were multiple models, I tried to pick the one closest to the Apple model, such as the Acer also has an aluminum case.

Apple MacBook MC516LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop – $934.99

AcerAspire Timeline AS3810TZ-4806 – $799.60

ASUSUL30A-A3B Thin and Light – $779.00

DellAdamo 13 A13-6349PWH – $1500.56

GatewayEC39C01u 13.3-Inch – $683.10

LenovoThinkPad T500 – $1179.00

SamsungR430 14-Inch Laptop – $1669.99

SonyVAIO(R) VPCEA47FX/L – $949.00

System76Lemur UltraThin – $839.00 – Price from OEM site, Ubuntu Meerkat OS, specs as close as possible including external optical drive

ToshibaSatellite T235-S1370RD – $579.00

ZaReasonStrata Pro 13 – $818.00 – Price from OEM site, variety of Linux OS options, specs as close as possible

None of these match the Apple exactly. In most cases the Apple has a faster processor, and in all cases a superior operating system (Microsoft attempts to differentiate Windows by artificially limiting some models, Apple gives every consumer all the features).

Some are more expensive, some are less. But…

You don’t need anti-virus software with an Apple, which is about a $60.00 per year saving. Assuming you would keep the computer for 5 years, that’s $300.00. You don’t need basic ‘Geek Squad’ style maintenance with an Apple. Based on conversations with people who’ve tried to talk me into fixing their computers for free, that’s about $150.00 every two years, so let’s round it down to $300.00. Total savings are $600.00 over the Windows machines. The System 76 Ubuntu Meerkat machine gets the same savings over the Windows machines, because it is also immune, as does the ZaReason Linux laptop.

Then let’s look at added features that Apple supplies as part of the price, the ILife Suite. A relative equal to IPhoto, Picasa is available for free from Google. Many video cameras, such as my Flip, come with software like IMovie (though the Flip’s software isn’t as good). But to buy something relatively equal to GarageBand would set you back over $200.00.

Apple also supplies Mail, Safari, iChat, IDVD, IWeb, Dictionary, IMovie, ITunes, App Store, Address Book, iCal, Preview, QuickTime, Stickies, Photo Booth, Time Machine etc. The System 76 machine with Ubuntu Meerkat and the ZaReason machine with Linux both offer equivalents to these, plus many more software packages, with an Applications Store that predates Apple’s by five years.

In other words, a MacBook is actually a damned good deal. When you take everything into account, the consumer saves money, and gets a far more reliable system. And I haven’t even mentioned the Crap Ware that most Windows computers ship with – removing it can take hours, and if you don’t remove it can slow your new computer to a crawl.

So where’s the Reality Distortion Field? So far no where in sight.

So Why Do People Buy iMacs?

Let’s look at desktops next. Since no two manufacturers make exactly the same models, I picked models with a 21″ screen, and a 500 GB hard drive. The link under the manufacturer’s name takes you to that manufacturers page on Amazon, the link under the computer model takes you to that model.

Where there were multiple models, I tried to pick the one closest to the Apple model, such as all models chosen have an integrated all in one style body.

AppleiMac MC508LL/A 21.5-Inch Desktop – $1138.94

AcerAZ3100-U3072 21.5-Inch Desktop – $599.99

ASUSEee Top ET2203-B0017 – $785.65

DellInspiron One iO2305-2545-MSL – $799.99

GatewayZX4351-47 21.5-Inch – $799.99

HPOmni 200-5250 All-in-One Desktop PC – $778.00

LenovoIdeacentre A310 Series 40732EU – $911.96

MSIAE2240-016US 21.5-Inch – $987.99

SonyVAIO VPCJ115FX/B 21.5-Inch – $969.00

System 76Ratel Ultra – $1069.00 – Price from OEM site, Ubuntu Meerkat OS, specs as close as possible including external monitor

ZaReason – Limbo 4110 – $951.00 – Price from OEM site, variety of Linux OS options, specs as close as possible including external monitor

None of these match the Apple exactly. Some of the have touch screens, which Apple lacks. In all cases Apple offers a superior operating system (Microsoft attempts to differentiate Windows by artificially limiting some models, Apple gives every consumer all the features).

Some are more expensive, some are less. But…

The same arguments that apply to a notebook, also apply to a desktop. You don’t need anti-virus software with an Apple, which is about a $60.00 per year saving. Assuming you would keep the computer for 5 years, that’s $300.00. You don’t need basic ‘Geek Squad’ style maintenance with an Apple. Based on conversations with people who’ve tried to talk me into fixing their computers for free, that’s about $150.00 every two years, so let’s round it down to $300.00. Total savings are $600.00 over the Windows machines. The System 76 Ubuntu Meerkat machine gets the same savings over the Windows machines, because it is also immune, as does the ZaReason Linux desktop.

Then let’s look at added features that Apple supplies as part of the price, the ILife Suite. A relative equal to IPhoto, Picasa is available for free from Google. Many video cameras, such as my Flip, come with software like IMovie (though the Flip’s software isn’t as good). But to buy something relatively equal to GarageBand would set you back over $200.00.

Apple also supplies Mail, Safari, iChat, IDVD, IWeb, Dictionary, IMovie, ITunes, App Store, Address Book, iCal, Preview, QuickTime, Stickies, Photo Booth, Time Machine etc. The System 76 machine with Ubuntu Meerkat and the ZaReason machine with Linux both offer equivalents to these, plus many more software packages, with an Applications Store that predates Apple’s by five years.

In other words, a iMac is actually a damned good deal. When you take everything into account, the consumer saves money, and gets a far more reliable system. And I haven’t even mentioned the Crap Ware that most Windows computers ship with – removing it can take hours, and if you don’t remove it can slow your new computer to a crawl.

So where’s the Reality Distortion Field? So far no where in sight.

Does The Reality Distortion Field Actually Exist

People believe it does. Doing either a Google Search on the term Reality Distortion Field will land you about 382,000 results. A Bing search lands you 1,850,000 results! And Yahoo – well Yahoo gets 3,160,000 results!

It’s a lot of results no matter which search engine you are using (and I am now wondering if Google’s attempt to cut out link farms is the reason that the numbers are so wildly different). Oh, and Yahoo doesn’t report the same articles as Microsoft either, even though it’s outsourcing search to Microsoft. Curious, that.

Bill Clinton is accused of having a Reality Distortion Field.

Motorola supposedly suffers from a Reality Distortion Field according to ZDNet (I think that ZDNet doesn’t know a damned thing about pricing, and should take some business college classes).

Joel Spolsky is accused of living in a Reality Distortion Field, rather than having one, but Joel’s always been different.

And there’s a wonderful article on how to create your own Reality Distortion Field. Been there, done that. How do you think I survived ten years of working as a sales representative!

How about the Redmond Reality Distortion Field, (original article here, I thought the commentary was a worthwhile read) which apparently affects the employees at a certain company there, who design products inside the field that have nothing to do with the real world…

Sales reps (good ones) generate their own Reality Distortion Field. We have to. Most of us aren’t engineers, but we have to deal with engineers both at the customers, and in our own office. Letting two sets of engineers talk directly without sales intervention is dangerous, especially on a first sale. Your engineers aren’t going to understand the customer’s culture, their engineers won’t understand your culture, and the sales rep has to act as a translator, because differences in corporate culture can kill a sale.

So yes, the concept actually exists. It doesn’t work the way it’s often portrayed in the press, where Steve Jobs is accused of being some sort of hypnotic genius that everyone follows blindly. Rather it’s the ability to get a group of people with different personalities and attitudes to work together.

But There Are Better Deals Than Apple

I won’t argue the point. You can ALWAYS find a better deal if you are willing to take the time to search. I just pointed out in my three examples above, that Apple product isn’t overpriced, that there’s excellent value to the user. Value that users understand, and are willing to pay for. If they weren’t, Apple wouldn’t hold the position in the market that it currently does (about 76% on MP3 Players, and about 20% on Computers).

But I Can’t Run My Windows Programs

Actually, yes you can using Parallels, or if you are a total pervert, you could install Windows using Boot Camp.

But Apple Software Isn’t Free (GNU GPL)

True. Definitely true. And it never will be. Apple appears terrified of the Gnu General Public License (GNU GPL). But I assure you that my MacBook runs Linux flawlessly. And of course there’s nothing forcing you to buy Apple. There are lots of other system makers who’ll sell you a system with Windows pre-installed, that you can wipe in place of Linux (though god help you on getting the Windows tax back). Or you could order from System 76, or ZaReason, both companies are reputed to be great to deal with according to all reports that I’ve heard.

And of course there’s Linux Preloaded, which lists other companies that supply computers with Linux.

So Why Is Everyone Complaining

Easy. Steve’s a good salesman. He makes his presentations look easy. He may not meet every person’s eyes in the room, but he works hard at it.

And he’s selling a lot of kit. Apple was considered walking dead at one point. Michael Dell famously stated that “if he was Steve Jobs, he’d sell the parts and give the shareholders their money back.” There are a heck of a lot of shareholders who are happy that they held onto their shares.

The Reality Distortion Field that Apple’s competitors hate the most is the expectation from consumers that they will get treated properly by a pleasant person who really likes their job. That they hate totally.

Oh, and that Apple supplies value that they cannot match at present, because their operating system vendor has failed them. Apple’s OS X 10.6.6 runs faster on four-year old machines than the operating system they were sold with. Microsoft can’t say that.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Thursday February 3, 2011

This entry was posted in Apple, Culture, Disruptive Technologies, Technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Mythical Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field Debunked

  1. thomas says:

    A good article, but two quick notes:
    - Spelling mistake (Paralells -> Parallels).
    - I don’t think AV software costs should factor because Microsoft Security Essentials is free.

    • That word always gets me :)

      As to Microsoft Security Essentials – would you trust the same company that is incapable of building a secure operating system with producing an anti-virus product? I wouldn’t.

      Wayne

      • Sean says:

        Lol Microsoft is not “incapable” of building a secure operating system. If that’s true than Apple is “incapable” of building an open-source operating system. Neither is true, they both just chose not to. Also if your not a moron, you will NEVER get a virus on Windows. I haven’t in at least 6 years. Also (I know this isn’t your comment) the price comparisons are way, way off in this article. If you go by hardware alone (and if you do, you can find a DIRECT competitor PC for every Mac) Mac ends up being up to 3x as expensive. A price I can’t justify when they come out with a new product every year that they force you towards.

        • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter says:

          Lol Microsoft is not “incapable” of building a secure operating system. If that’s true than Apple is “incapable” of building an open-source operating system. Neither is true, they both just chose not to.

          So you are saying that Microsoft chooses to build shitty software?

          Also (I know this isn’t your comment) the price comparisons are way, way off in this article. If you go by hardware alone (and if you do, you can find a DIRECT competitor PC for every Mac) Mac ends up being up to 3x as expensive. A price I can’t justify when they come out with a new product every year that they force you towards.

          At the time the article was written, the prices quoted were correct, and there was very little difference in prices between Apple OSX computers, and Windows computers with the same specifications.

          Now if you decide to go cheap, yes, you can buy Windows boxes for a lot less. My supercomputer which I use for video editing, cost a lot less than a Mac Desktop. It also came with no Operating System (I use Linux for film editing). I did however have install a superb ATI graphics card, forget the exact model, it was top of the line January 2012. That pushed the price up to around a thousand – but it performs better than a Mac, so I don’t mind. Yes, the CPU is slower, but it kicks ass editing video.

          Wayne

  2. Techie42 says:

    I would have to disagree some what.

    I think that I can get a build a pretty good MSI based system with the pretty much the same parts as my mac for about $500 bucks. And some of those parts will be better then mac specs. I can get an i7 and 24GB of ram plus mother board for about $750 nowadays. I nice case for $50 and a truely great Video card for $150. 2GB hard drive is $89.00 If I spec out a simnilar Mac my price goes way up.

    I have seen some very nice laptops for under $500. No aluminum cases though. As a test I also bet win7x64, Linux, and ‘cough’ maybe MacOSx runs fine on these systems. Even with a tripple boot.

    • Ah, but you aren’t a typical computer user in this day and age. Most people will never put together their own system. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. At one time it was normal. But not anymore. And for those who don’t have the skills, buying a fully assembled off the shelf system is their only option.

      As to operating systems, MacOS won’t run on a lot of hardware, it doesn’t work with a BIOS. Linux will run on damned near anything. Windows 7? I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy. Oh, and Windows 7 has a nasty habit of messing up the partitions of other operating systems. So did Vista. Since XP didn’t do that, I suspect we are looking at an added feature…

      Wayne

  3. Hulu says:

    I think Apple hear Michael Dells advice, because the are abandoning the computer space and focusing on gadgets, like mp3, ipad, and iphone.

  4. Hulu says:

    the funny thing is that you are always critisizing Microsoft, but now you defend Apple saying

    “If they weren’t, Apple wouldn’t hold the position in the market that it currently does (about 76% on MP3 Players, and about 20% on Computers).”

    Why do you suppose Windows is the dominant player in OS ? Oh…..sure it doen´t have anything good…yeah. I´m sure.

  5. Will says:

    YOU SUCK. You have an obvious bias towards apple. You are sad you never sucked steve jobs’ penis. You suck at comparison. $300 laptops can do more than most people need.

    • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter says:

      Will,

      You are quite correct. In fact you overstate it. Most people can get along with relatively cheap smart phones, and have no need for a Desktop/Notebook computer at all.

      And that’s what is going to kill Microsoft, and may kill Apple too. We have entered the post PC era, and things are never going to be the same.

      Wayne

      PS: My apologies for not approving your response earlier. I was in the middle of moving.

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  7. Sean says:

    First off, I’d like to say you can’t even really compare Microsoft and Apple, they are only competitors in OS market. Microsoft only recently started making it’s own devices so we’ll have to see how that pans out. Anyway…

    Disadvantages of Apple:

    1. Price – (although this article is misleading) An Apple computer is typically 2.5x as expensive as it’s Microsoft counterpart.
    2. Compatibility – almost nothing on Mac is backwards compatible.
    3. User control – Probably the biggest thing setting Microsoft apart. If a Microsoft machine malfunctions you don’t have to take it somewhere, and pay some horrendous cost to fix it. Hard drive goes out on your HP? Run down to Best Buy, get a $50 replacement, and pop it right in. Mac will never be like that.
    4. GAMING – Millions upon millions of customers that Apple is downright ignoring… And they are all playing on machines that are considerably more powerful than a Mac, and cheaper.
    5. Versatility – Just the other day, I was on the main stock trading floor at Wells Fargo HQ in St. Louis, MO. Did I see one SINGLE Mac? Absolutely not. Business still, and always will, use PC. Everything from World of Warcraft, to launching nuclear missiles, to day trading at one of the world’s biggest banks.

    It’s simple. Apple is a profit machine designed to prey on the least knowledgeable consumers. Apple has been, and looks like they always will be, the “computer idiot’s computer”.

    • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter says:

      First off, I’d like to say you can’t even really compare Microsoft and Apple, they are only competitors in OS market. Microsoft only recently started making it’s own devices so we’ll have to see how that pans out.

      Microsoft has been building hardware for nearly ten years. Every hear of the xBox? How about the Kin 1 & 2?

      According to the sales figures I’ve seen around the net, they aren’t doing very well. Except with the xBox and xBox 360. As to the xBox One, we’ll have to wait and see.

      The Surface Tablet looks like a fail though.

      Disadvantages of Apple:

      1. Price – (although this article is misleading) An Apple computer is typically 2.5x as expensive as it’s Microsoft counterpart.

      Really? When I compared the numbers when this was written, the prices are as you see them. Yes, I can read prices.

      2. Compatibility – almost nothing on Mac is backwards compatible.

      Never heard of Carbon or Cocoa, have you?

      3. User control – Probably the biggest thing setting Microsoft apart. If a Microsoft machine malfunctions you don’t have to take it somewhere, and pay some horrendous cost to fix it. Hard drive goes out on your HP? Run down to Best Buy, get a $50 replacement, and pop it right in. Mac will never be like that.

      Curious – I did just that with the hard drive on a Mac last month. Worked fine.

      4. GAMING – Millions upon millions of customers that Apple is downright ignoring… And they are all playing on machines that are considerably more powerful than a Mac, and cheaper.

      Check the real specs. Most Windows boxes aren’t all that powerful. Which isn’t to say that Macs are the greatest either. You want power, you gotta run Linux.

      5. Versatility – Just the other day, I was on the main stock trading floor at Wells Fargo HQ in St. Louis, MO. Did I see one SINGLE Mac? Absolutely not. Business still, and always will, use PC. Everything from World of Warcraft, to launching nuclear missiles, to day trading at one of the world’s biggest banks.

      Curious. I know a lot of businesses that are using Unix and/or Linux. I also know a lot of businesses that use Macs. Windows has lost hold of the market, since a lot of businesses now do their internal coding in PHP or PERL, and run applications in a web browser.

      It’s simple. Apple is a profit machine designed to prey on the least knowledgeable consumers. Apple has been, and looks like they always will be, the “computer idiot’s computer”.

      Yep. And that’s a good description of Microsoft too.

      Wayne

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