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Summary:

Because of the amount of buzz that has surrounded the iPhone, it’s easy to forget that not everybody has one, or wants one. The iPad is aimed at a different market: people who want an easy-to-use computer that’s powerful enough, as opposed to a souped-up phone.

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I’ve been amazed by the flood of negative press surrounding Apple’s latest offering. I like what David Pogue had to say about the shape of a typical Apple product release — “months of feverish speculation and hype online,” followed by “the bashing by bloggers who’ve never even tried it,” followed by “people lining up to buy the thing” — and the iPad release has followed that trajectory quite nicely.

But what’s so surprising to me about the bad reviews is the general condemnation of the iPad’s features. According to the blogosphere, most of the things that make the iPhone good make the iPad bad, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. What’s worse, though, is how much of the criticism is just facile. Are we really going to give big-name, prime-time, above-the-fold blog space to the iPad’s bezel?

I am disappointed.

So while I agree that the iPad looks like the iPhone grew up and got a job as a picture frame, I’m disappointed that only very few seem willing to look past that to see that the two devices have very different goals. Whereas the iPhone was about convergence of features, the iPad is about convergence of activities.

The iPad Versus the iPhone — What, You Mean They’re Not the Same?

The iPhone was designed from the ground up to change the mobile phone game with its features. Feature convergence was already a longstanding trend in the U.S. device market when the iPhone was released in 2007, having started with the first true smartphones like the Palm Treo in the early ’90s. But despite a full decade of “convergent” devices, there was still no one device in the U.S. market that combined telephone, music, contacts, high-quality GPS, and usable Internet browsing until the iPhone. The iPhone let people do things that no other phone would. Add the iPhone’s intuitive interface, polished appearance, and Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field to the iPhone’s (at the time) one-of-a-kind feature list and you get a bona fide, must-have, status symbol phenomenon on your hands.

The iPad, on the other hand, is designed from the ground up to be incredibly simple, but still useful and robust. Whereas the iPhone let techies do things they couldn’t do before at all, the iPad will let muggles do things they already do more easily.

Time has turned the iPhone’s touch interface from “newfangled” to “natural,” especially for the non-tech savvy crowd, so many people will find everyday tasks like email more satisfying on the iPad’s intuitive touch interface. People can say a lot of things about Apple’s products, but they can’t say that they’re hard to use. Apple’s track record on usability is stellar, and the iPad is more than living up to its pedigree.

The iPhone has also proven that apps are serious business, which means that iPad users can rest assured that if they want a simple-to-use app for playing poker, or planning a trip, or even looking at funny pictures of cats, the worst they’ll have to do is wait. And remember, all 185,000 apps in the App Store work on the iPad out of the box. (They may not be pretty, but they work.) The App Store will make the iPad the average user’s one stop shop for simple tasks and casual recreation. And because all apps come from the App Store, which has ratings and reviews for each one, finding good apps is easy because they’re all in one place and just a keyword search away.

But even though it’s obvious that the iPhone and the iPad are pursuing different goals in different markets, the most common criticism of the iPad by far is still its perceived lack of features. It’s true: the iPad lacks Flash support and HDMI output, and is not widescreen. But the people who have bought or are going to buy the iPad don’t care. If these features are important to you, then the iPad isn’t for you. Don’t buy it. But it’s important to understand that these features aren’t important to everybody, even if they’re important to you.

The Whole Point of the iPad: The Market

Because of the incredible amount of buzz that has surrounded the iPhone since its launch, it’s easy to forget that not everybody has one, or even wants one. The iPhone was aimed at techies who needed access to high technology anytime, anywhere. That’s a lot of people, to be sure, but it’s not everybody. The iPad is aimed at a different market: people who want an easy-to-use computer that’s powerful enough, as opposed to a souped-up phone.

Is there overlap between these two markets? Sure. But they’re not the same. The purpose of the iPad is to take iPhone technology and boldly go where no iPhone has gone before.

There are three kinds of people when it comes to the iPad: people who won’t buy it, people who will buy it and use it as their primary computer, and people who will buy it but will not use it as their primary computer. (There’s probably at least one more group that says something like “*@#$ no I won’t buy it!” but I’m trying to keep this article family friendly.)

The iPad as a Primary Computer

The people who will buy the iPad to use as their primary computer are not who you would call “power users.” They do simple things on computers, so a simple computer suits them just fine. How about your mom, for instance? Your mom uses her computer to play solitaire, check her email, poke around on msn.com, and leave embarrassing comments on your Facebook wall. The iPad is perfect for your mom. It’s easy to use, hard to break, and (compared to a “real” computer) not too expensive.

To your mom, the iPad’s simplicity is a feature, not a bug.

And when was the last time your mom complained that she can’t distribute her app to her friends because there’s no ad-hoc app distribution? How about never? Your mom loves that all apps come from the App Store because it gives her a better-than-chance shot at actually finding them.

And to those who call Apple’s closed platform restrictive and controlling: Bingo! But stop saying that like it’s a bad thing. Instead of thinking about what you can’t do on the iPad because it’s closed, start thinking about what your mom can’t do on the iPad because it’s closed:

  1. Install that friendly-looking free PC tune-up
  2. Claim her prize for being the 999th visitor to imavirus.com
  3. Streamline her iPad with “convenient browser toolbars”
  4. Download RealPlayer and its 517MBs of “must-have!” add-ons

Since Apple checks all App Store apps one-by-one, malware on the iPad just doesn’t exist. I don’t know why more geeks don’t support the iPad for exactly this reason — it’ll cut their mommy-related tech support calls in half.

And about the other “missing” features: Does your mom even know what HDMI is? How about widescreen standards? Product features are only important if they’re important to the people buying the product.

(By the way, it took all my discipline not to crack a joke in a whole section of talking about your mom.)

The iPad as a Secondary Computer

The people who buy the iPad to use as a secondary computer will be trying to do one of a couple of things: liven up their dead time, or make their hard work easier.

For the first case, think about a commuter who doesn’t drive to work in the morning (New York City, anyone?). Now that the iPad 3G has hit the streets, they can read any newspaper in the world, catch up on their reading, play some games, and look at compromising pictures of their friends on MySpace with multitouch goodness on a beautiful 9.7″ color screen all for $629 down and $15-$30 per month. It’s hard to call Kindle a good alternative for this market, even with free 3G wireless and a price tag of $259, because of its non-touch screen, lack of an App Store, slow Internet browsing, and because gosh, isn’t color nice? The Nook hits a little closer to the mark because of its color touch screen, but it’s still really just for books and other digitized print media, not for videos and apps. And both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have (or will soon have) iPad e-Reader apps, too, so it’s pretty clear they don’t expect their devices to out-compete the iPad on its own turf. But if you still don’t think the iPad will be used by morning commuters to catch up on the news and such, there are a couple small companies like the Wall Street Journal and NPR who disagree. If I weren’t so addicted to writing software in the morning (OK, all the time) and I didn’t drive my morning commute, the iPad would be a no-brainer for me.

The second crowd is thinking: sure, it’s expensive, but so what? This market of overworked high rollers like doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers value their time more than they value their money, so any product that can make catching up on email or keeping up on the news either (a) go faster or (b) suck less will be on their Amazon wish list in a big hurry. And these guys aren’t exactly what you’d call “price sensitive,” so for them productivity is king. Even the most expensive $899 price tag on the top model is well below their flinch point if it makes their work just a little faster or their life just a little more fun.

The iPad As a Viable Product

So if the iPad looks like a huge iPhone…well, good. I know a lot of people who could really use an iPhone-cum-tablet. iPhones don’t do everything, but they do a lot and they do it well, and most important of all they just work. And if the iPad bears more than a passing resemblance to an iPhone, that’s not a bad thing if you want to buy something that’s a lot like an iPhone. And it looks like that’s something a lot of people want to do.

Your mom doesn’t need a new widescreen computer with HDMI output and an open development process. Your mom needs a computer that does what she wants to do quickly and easily. That’s why she wants an iPad.

And she’s not alone.

  1. Chapeau – Very good article! This is exactly how I feel about the iPad. My granny does not touch a computer because it’s too complicated – all these files and folder things are weird to her.
    But she does understand how to touch a mail icon and what “compose mail” means… so this is a big chance for granny to get more in touch with her family via Email or to write down her memoirs.

    To people afraid of technology (there’s a whole generation of them) the iPad is is a blessing!!

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  2. My ex-mother-in-law wants an 3G iPad. It would be perfect for her. She’s a technophobe, and currently has dial-up Internet service,

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    1. Sounds like your ex-mother-in-law is smack in the middle of Apple’s target market for the iPad: she needs something that’s more than a phone, but also simpler than a regular ol’ desktop computer.

      Apple is eerily good at defining and building new markets, and Luddite-cum-Early-Adopter looks like it’s next in line.

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  3. My mom has an iPad 3G. Just saw her last week. She was showing me how it interfaces with her favorite knitting website and how she can download knitting patterns onto it.

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  4. I doubt my mom-in-law, specifically would be able to use an iPad. She can’t even use a dish-washer or book a hotel room without seriously hand-holding, much less do anything on a computer. Some people just don’t have the capacity to learn even the simplest things. But she’s in the minority. My own mother would loooove it; Windows always confuses her. There is definitely a market segment for the iPad, “moms” being one of them. I’m a techy, but I love the iPad because it fits in my purse easily, and I generally don’t do anything but surf when I’m out and about.

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    1. I dunno, give your mother-in-law some credit. She might actually love the device.

      If she can’t grasp the concept of touching a giant, candy-like “Mail” button to read/send emails, you might want to think about taking her to the doctor.

      A 2-year old can understand this most basic of concepts.

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  5. Indeed, this was the first thought I had when I saw the iPad. This is also the computer for people who used want to email and browse a bit on the Internet.
    Switch it on and it works, browse, email and shut down. I showed my mother an iPhone and she was able to use it in minutes, opposite to other mobiles. The iPad will be her next computer. No more calls from her the PC (windows) is not working, or will not shut down or takes ages to start.

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    1. thenikjones Tuesday, May 25, 2010

      I don’t understand how anyone can use an iPad as their only computer. I get how easy they are to use so they would be fine for email and web browsing.
      But how do you get your music and pictures onto the device? Sure, you can buy media from the iTunes store but all those CDs you have at home, how do you get them on without using a computer?
      Someone can only use this as their only computer if they rely on someone else to do this grunt work for them. In that case, why not get them to set up a laptop for you?

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  6. great article…this is what I am talking about…if you continue to place those other articles pretty much begging for money from your readers then they will not be able to read such great writing like this one because they will be gone

    think about it

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  7. This article reeks of sexism. Who are you to proclaim that my mother has nothing more substantial to do with computers than trivial housewife distractions? Why wouldn’t dad love the simplicity of the iPad?

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    1. Then replace “mom” with “dad”…don’t make this something it’s not. This is borderline troll stuff you’re posting now.

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      1. moleskinegurl Friday, May 21, 2010

        I agree with Sadie. As a techie who happens to be female, reading articles like this one that reinforce stereotypes can be downright disheartening.

        Aside from the (hopefully inadvertent) sexism, I thought it was a good article :-)

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    2. Really? Would it be sexism if he said ‘dad’ instead too? Or would you really want him typing ‘mom/dad/ ‘him/her’ everytime?

      Or would that be offensive to the hermaphrodites or transvestite parents out there? I think the point remains the same, the gender doesn’t exactly matter here.

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      1. Spoken like someone who has no clue the sexism women experience in regards to technology. Sadie and Moleskinegurl have right pointed out the article is sexist. The article is good about looking at the ipad from the view of its niche market, but using the tasteless marketing scheme to get people to look at the post, while effective I suppose, doesn’t make it any less tastless.

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    3. Give it a rest. If you go looking for “ism” you will find it.

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  8. I can’t decide if to buy a Mac Book Pro 13″ or buy a Mac Mini along with an Ipad. I mainly use my computer for surfing, I-tunes, pictures, etc. I would also have to buy a monitor if I went with the Mac Mini. Anyone know when the Mac Mini is due for an update?

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  9. I have an iPad, and I would absolutely NOT recommend the device to my Mom, for the following reasons.

    Browsing the Internet on the iPad is like browsing the Internet on your phone. Most websites do not display correctly on the iPad. I can already hear my Mom asking me “How come I can’t view this video someone emailed me? How come Facebook chat doesn’t work?” Even the videos on the front page of Yahoo don’t play. She is too used to this content to simply give it up.
    You have to pay for any decent apps. My Mom definitely isn’t going to want to put her credit card information into iTunes (which you have to do even to access free content) to access content that can be found online for free. She isn’t going to want to pay for an iStock application when Yahoo & Google are both free.
    Typing on the iPad is slow and awkward on the wrists. My Mom would be much more comfortable with a keyboard.
    The screen on the iPad is impossible to read in the sun, so it isn’t appropriate as an eBook reader. The Kindle is much easier on the eyes, and you don’t have to pay a monthly fee to access books via the cellular network. However, I think my mom still would opt to borrow books from her friends than read from a Kindle.
    You can’t print from the iPad (easily). My mom loves printing coupons.

    The media has downplayed the importance of the lack of Flash on the iPad, and unfortunately this is the main dealbreaker of why I wouldn’t recommend the iPad to my Mom. Try using an online vehicle configurator for any popular automaker on the iPad (My Mom is currently shopping for a new Buick) – it doesn’t work. Checking stocks via Yahoo or Google finance doesn’t work. Facebook chat doesn’t work. Videos from our local newspaper’s website don’t play on the iPad.

    The vast majority of interactive web-content doesn’t display on the iPad, and for this reason alone I wouldn’t recommend the device to anyone – especially my Mom.

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    1. Those are some great points, Ryan. The lack of flash is a big deal if your mom uses sites with a lot of Flash, and the printing problem is one I hadn’t even thought of.

      In some ways, I think Apple missed the boat a little on their market. People are using the iPad as an honest-to-goodness computer as opposed to a device, which I don’t think Apple expected. In that context, printer support seems like a no-brainer, now that you mention it. I wonder if that’ll be coming soon to an iPad near you.

      Regarding the keyboard, though, an iPad keyboard could solve that problem. Your mom would lose some portability if she only wanted to use it with a keyboard, but it would at least help.

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    2. Jason Harris Friday, May 21, 2010

      This sums up what I was going to say much more eloquently.

      My mom goes online to chat with her friends, type facebook messages, and play facebook games.

      The iPad has to be held in one hand and you type with the other, which is going to make her awkward and uncomfortable very quickly when typing a lot.

      Facebook games are all in Flash, and Apple has declared war on Flash.

      Basically, it’s a great device for consuming, but the more you use it for interacting, the more it’s going to become a chore. I don’t want to type a long e-mail on a touch screen, and I can bet my mom wants to even less.

      It’s a testament to the strength of Apple’s following and their cool in the marketplace that the device is selling as strongly as it is, but it’s basically a “pull up a quick website on the couch” computer. Trying to fit it in to replace a full computer will work for a bit, and then people run into things they can’t do, go back to their regular computer and realize the iPad is collecting dust.

      For the type of person who keeps a laptop on the coffee table for random browsing? It can replace that laptop for sure. For everyone else? I think we’ll be seeing a lot of buyer’s remorse.

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    3. Alejandro Perez Saturday, May 22, 2010

      I use Facebook Chat all the time on my Iphone via Facebook app, I really doubt the Ipad can’t handle it. I really haven’t used an Ipad still waiting for it to get to my country.

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      1. There isn’t an iPad facebook app – just the one for the iPhone. You can chat in facebook with the iPhone application, it looks terrible though.

        The point is, the chat functionality works fine on the website when accessed from a computer, and it doesn’t work on the iPad unless you run it in a separate application. It works fine every other device (even my phone!)

        Want to browse facebook while chatting? Can’t do that on an iPad.

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    4. Your Mom seems like a PC mom ;-) Or you can let her play a few minutes with an iPad at an Apple Store and see what goes… Maybe she’ll be ready to change some habits and enjoy other ways of “computing”.

      The first iPad is out since less than two months. I bet that all main web sites and services will have a Flash alternative very soon (things are evolving at a fast pace on that front). And new features are already on their way (SJ wrote printing is one of them) with next OS iteration, based on iPhone OS 4, and scheduled for fall. During that time she already can enjoy a virus-free and symantec/norton-free platform, a flash ads-free browsing experience and thousands of cheap or free applications that she can choose and install without your help.

      Well… the thing is for now it seems next to impossible to get an iPad as all retailers are out of stock ! ;-)

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    5. Based on your description of your moms requirements, the iPad does not meet her needs. Maybe a latop or desktop computer. But neither of those meet the last requirement of being able to read a book while sitting out in bright sunlight so I’m not sure what you think your mom needs.

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    6. Ok, I just can’t let this go. Bottom line, your argument is akin to fussing about not being able to haul dirt with a Ferrari. If it doesn’t fit the need, then it’s not the right tool.

      None of my older relatives have a Facebook account, let alone do they worry about not being able to watch a video on it. I’m going to guess you set an account up for her. Otherwise, you’re trying to convince me that she’s fully prepared to submit all matter of personal information to Facebook, but she won’t buy an app online??? I agree with Negroponte some years ago that a credit card online feels safer than handing it over to some waiter that takes it in back to process it.

      So she needs a few apps to manage her stocks? Then do what I’d do for my mom. Buy the iPad, set it up and install the apps she’ll need. configure her email and bookmarks, and be done with it. I’d have less support issues and my mom would have something that just works. If she needed more than what the iPad provides, then I buy her a laptop.

      Seriously? Reading it in the sun? I keep hearing about how the iPad is “impossible” to read outdoors. I wonder how many people that know how to adjust the brightness have actually tried it. I have, and it works very well. More to the point, if I’m out in the sun, I’m not worried about reading – anything. I agree that lying under an umbrella on a beach, catching up on the latest no-thought-required “best seller” has certain appeal for some, but for most of us, we’re too busy building sand castles with our kids or enjoying being outside to be concerned about not being able to read an electronic device of any kind. Isn’t that the point of being out in the sun, to get some time away from the screens?

      As to your other points, as someone has already mentioned, get the keyboard, or, from what I understand though haven’t tried, just about any bluetooth keyboard will work. As to printing, there are apps for that, and OS4 is predicted to resolve this point this fall. So flash doesn’t work on the iPad. It hasn’t worked on the iPhone for three years and in that time and millions of users, there hasn’t been enough of an argument to validate that point.

      Anyone that is looking for an iPad for an older relative, or for that matter, anything for anyone, should consider the needs of the user that the device should cover. If an iPad won’t do it, fine. Get what will and don’t rant about perceived shortcomings of a device that doesn’t meet your criteria. So she can’t configure a Buick online. How often does she buy a new car? I could have just as easily expounded upon how a spoon doesn’t function as well as a fork. If it doesn’t work for you, or more to the point, for your mother, then don’t get one. Do your mom a favor and don’t let your prejudice get in the way of what would work for her.

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      1. Ya, clearly you can’t let it go – you wrote a fucking essay. Get a life, the guy has great points, stop tearing it apart piece by piece. Fuck I hate people on the internet.

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    7. Actually, you can access free content in the iTunes store without ever providing credit card information. Just enter the store without an account, select a free app to install, and in the following window select “create account”. The screen that pops up then has an additional payment method labelled “none”.
      This feature is documented on the Apple forums somewhere, and it was set up just for people like your mom who would never enter their credit card information in an online system.

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  10. And widescreen would have been a mistake for document work and eBook reading etc – huge amount of wasted screen space.

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