If a company wants to create a great product, they need to own the experience

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Last week I wrote about how AT&T's poor service effectively makes the Apple iPhone a bad product in many areas. This is consistent with a common theme on this blog: nothing matters except user experience. Users don't care why their phones don't work or which company is at fault. They just care about their own experiences.

Unfortunately it's difficult to guarantee a great user experience when your products rely on other companies for additional service. My favorite example of this is the Windows operating system. In my opinion, Windows products (XP, Vista, 7, etc.) are pretty solid. Much better than Apple's OSX (once again, this is just my opinion). However, whenever I turn a new Windows computer on, it's basically unusable. Pretty much all PCs come pre-loaded with a bunch of terrible software that I don't want. There's so much of this "crapware" slowing down most new PCs that the computers end up seeming slow, buggy, and broken.

Because of this terrible out-of-the-box experience, many people conclude that Windows is a bad product line. But Microsoft isn't the problem here. All that stupid software that no one wants (Roxio RecordNow!!! OMG!!!) is installed by the hardware manufacturer. Dell, HP, Toshiba, or whoever else made your computer decided to take a perfectly good installation of Windows and ruin it with enough junk to make the entire operating system look like a disaster.

Apple on the other hand makes the hardware, operating system, and most (all?) of the software that comes on a Mac. They control the entire user experience which allows them to be absolutely sure that no one else can mess it up. This allows for an incredibly polished and unified initial user experience.

So the terrible user experience is not Microsoft's fault, but that doesn't stop people from flocking to Apple. Microsoft can't take solace in the fact that they're delivering on their end.

I'm not arguing that companies should never partner with other companies, but there's a fine line between a partner and a parasite. It would be a huge mistake for Microsoft to try making their own hardware, but that doesn't mean they should let hardware manufacturers do whatever they want. If Dell or HP want to sell computers with Windows, Microsoft should force them to avoid all crapware. Sure, Microsoft can claim that it's not their problem, but the users simply don't care. If new PCs are unusable, that basically means Windows is unusable.

I don't mean to pick on Microsoft. Here are a few other tech-related examples of third parties getting between good products and consumers:

Ticketmaster - I love live events. Sports, comedy shows and music concerts are all amazingly fun and I'm happy to shell out $50 to attend one of these events. What I'm not willing to do is pay an additional $10 "convenience fee" to Ticketmaster. Their website is beyond horrible and it's not clear what value they're providing. I end up skipping out on about half of all live events I would otherwise go to because I can't stand dealing with Ticketmaster as the middle man. Sports leagues and music venues need to accept responsibility for the horrible experience they're putting their customers through.

Android Phones - Google makes Android, a decent mobile phone operating system. Almost every phone that actually runs Android comes pre-installed with a bunch of stupid applications, and many of them have really terrible modifications to the user interface. Android is ok, but Android phones are almost all mediocre. As a result, everyone flocks to the iPhone (sounds a lot like what Microsoft is going through,

TV Networks - I think that TV is awesome, and I'm happy to pay to watch the channels that I like. Unfortunately, the only service provider available to me is Comcast. Comcast is terrible which makes my experience watching tv pretty lousy. I currently pay for many fewer channels than I otherwise would because I don't like Comcast's tiered pricing or their hardware. I'm thinking about canceling tv service altogether until something better comes along. Great channels like Comedy Central, FX, and HBO aren't getting my business because Comcast is getting in the way.

Internet Explorer - By now most people know that nerds like me hate Internet Explorer. It makes the user experience of every single website significantly worse than the designers intended. Even when I design and build amazing software, it still won't seem amazing to anyone using IE, and there's simply nothing I can do about that. It almost makes me see the appeal of native applications.

What do you think about all this? Am I missing any other good examples of a company's products being ruined by a third-party?

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