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:
- Install that friendly-looking free PC tune-up
- Claim her prize for being the 999th visitor to imavirus.com
- Streamline her iPad with “convenient browser toolbars”
- 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.