Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lappy 486

I'm not buying a laptop, I swear. The thing is, for a long time, I've wanted to get a laptop; but since I was first able to afford one (say, around 2003), I've had a work laptop. It's never anything close to what I'd buy for myself, but it's really hard for me to justify an extra purchase when I already have something that fills most of my needs on the very rare occasions when I need a laptop.

That said, I have the bug, and periodically get on these kicks where I check out what's available and daydream about getting one. On the last few cycles, Apple has been included in that dreaming. Ever since OS X came out I've wanted to play around more with Macs, and a laptop seemed like the best way to go about it, since they aren't very upgradeable anyways and so I wouldn't be missing out on as much as I would if my desktop was an Apple. (Does that make sense? Don't worry if it doesn't.)

Besides the Apple, the line I've had my eye on is Sony Vaio's set of laptops. There's a lot I like there: they're Sony, they're very thin and light, they have really attractive design, and if you can pay the premium, you don't give up very much power.

That said, on my latest kick, I was really struck by the huge marketing difference between the two brands. I'd checked out the Macbooks a week or two ago, and while I liked what I saw, I was a little frustrated by the lineup. They only have five models, each one of which is carefully targeted for a specific purpose. You can get the basic small one; the faster small one; the fast powerful one; and the powerful one with the amazing screen. My desires don't map too nicely onto that set; what I really want is their 13" model, with a faster processor, a smaller hard drive, easy video out, and upgradeable RAM.

So when I went to check out Sony, I was looking forward to the contrast. Traditionally, PC manufacturers have been all about customization and differentiation; they have incredibly long product lines, and can be confident that for any given customer, one of those offerings will hit their sweet spot between price and quality. I wasn't planning on buying a computer, but I felt confident that with only moderate searching, I would be able to locate the one I WOULD buy.

After over fifteen minutes of browsing their site, I was forced to re-evaluate my philosophy. Yes, Sony offers an amazing array of choice, but this makes it far more difficult to find something I want. They have nine different lines of laptops, with very helpful names like UX, FS, N, SZ, and FJ. There is considerable overlap between the lines; the TX series claims to be "Compact and durable for ultimate mobiliy", while the SZ series offers "The fusion of mobility, power and style." Within each product line, the sheer number of variables to consider can be overwhelming. Do I want the carbon fiber casing? Well... it looks stylish, and reduces the weight by about 0.3 pounds. How much is that worth to me?

I don't want to lay down a general rule and say "more choice is always bad." I will, however, bring up an interesting anecdote that I think I'm stealing from one of Malcolm Gladwell's books. Someone did a study in a supermarket where one week they offered one kind of jam, and the next week they offered several dozen. One would think that sales would be better the second week, because any given shopper was more likely to have the kind of jam they wanted on display. However, the opposite was true; people would become overwhelmed by the choices, and would leave without purchasing any jam at all. I think that that's similar to what I'm experiencing here. Especially for a major purchase that runs well over a thousand dollars, I'm not going to buy something unless I'm confident that it's exactly what I want; and if those choices keep me from being able to decide exactly what I want, I will never buy.

In my first semester at college, I took the Myers Briggs Personality Test, along with the other residents of my dorm floor. I topped the floor on Introversion and Intuition, but also scored very high on Perception. The opposite of Perception is Judging; those who are very high Ps are apt to expend a great deal of energy on gathering information and evaluating options, while those who are very high Js are more comfortable taking action and don't feel the same need to analyze every aspect of a decision. All that to say, the situation I experience is likely one shared by other strong Ps, but not necessarily the population at large. There are probably plenty of people out there who would flip through the various options, get a good feeling for what they wanted, get it, and - this is key - be content with what they received.

Still. All that to say, I have newfound admiration for Apple's marketing. It's much easier to make a selection from among five choices than from among a hundred, and frankly, I think our brains are better equipped when we're dealing with that smaller pool.

I guess what I'm really saying is, if someone just GIVES me a laptop, well, there's only one choice, and I'll be happy with it.


  1. Alllllienwaaaare!


    In all seriousness, i think Alienware was the only company I ever found that let me use a broad search function to find my "type" of laptop and then upgrade it to specs. Premium price for the logo though, and now they are owned by Dell. Yuck.

  2. Heh, thanks for the plug. I think you're right - their search function seems to be way better than Sony's. Unfortunately, their model which is closest to what I'm looking for - the Sentia - is still a bit larger and heavier than what I would prefer to have. And I was shocked to see that it's actually quite reasonably priced! Even with the specs that I'd like to give it, it's coming in way under the Sony. Intriguing...