Remembering what makes an iPad 'magical'

There's been a lot of debate about both the recent Apple iPad & Mac event, and the nature of the iPad compared to competing products like Microsoft's Surface. I've joined in on both fronts. Ben Thompson, however, has neatly tied both up together and topped them with a bow. Stratechery:

If your worldview of productivity is limited to what can be done on a PC – documents, spreadsheets, presentations, coding – then of course you will produce a product that is like a PC, but worse for having tablet features. Of course you’ll produce a Surface.

If, though, your worldview of productivity is defined not by the PC, but rather by people – by the liberal arts – then you will produce a product that is nothing like a PC, but rather an intimate, responsive object that invites people in, and transforms itself into whatever you need it to be.

You’ll produce an iPad.

It's the "why" of the iPad, and something Thompson felt Apple completely failed to address at last week's event. Instead of Phil Schiller on stage dolling out specs, the iPad needs Phil Schiller or Tim Cook in a chair projecting experience. Because, like the video up top extols, technology alone is not enough.

Read the whole post.

Source: Stratechery

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 29 comments. Add yours.

Rob1119 says:

This is getting old, the ipad just looks hip and cool but isnt innovative anymore, people use them so much because it was first and more of an obvious choice but now its so limited on its capabilities, atleast the new samsung note tablet has useful features that define what a tablet should be by todays standards, why does apple only focus on its physical design instead of a true tablet layout software wise, i was messing with an ipad and a galaxy note 8.0 side by side and the only thing apple has is better designed apps, the note 8.0 had useful features and was a more fun experience there was just a better sense of personalization than just rows of apps

pookyjoralyn says:

iPad is the blown-up iTouch, without a doubt

Rene Ritchie says:

That type of thinking is exactly why the iPad is doing so well. It would just be doing better if Apple went back to 2011 marketing.

T-Will says:

"...the only thing apple has is better designed apps..."

Exactly, this is why many people stick with the iPad (and iOS ecosystem). ;-)

larrygeary says:

The only thing I really disliked about the Apple event was that I couldn't watch it at the time. (Why did they limit streaming to people who already own Apple devices?) Now that I've seen it, I can add one more - the untucked shirts. That's all. Both stylistically and in terms of content, I didn't see anything that deserves such criticality and angst. It was fine. It won't discourage me from getting my first iPad - probably the Retina Mini. It did its job. I look forward to the next one.

AMosha says:

What are you talking about? All you needed was a computer, internet and a web browser.... The stream was not exclusive to Apple owners.

rogifan says:

If, in 2013, Apple needs to explain why iPad exists then they're doing something wrong. In the iPad Air product video Jony Ive says the iPad is defined by how people use it. Maybe Cook & Co. could have spent more time showing all the different ways people are using iPads. But iPad is not a new product. If people don't get the "why" by now I'm not sure they ever will.

rdude94 says:

I don't see why there there is no need to explain why the ipad exists. Before I got mine in late 2012, all I ever thought an iPad is, was an overblown iPhone with dumb capabilities. It's much more than that and there are plenty of people (believe it or not) who don't know. I say this from personal experience.

Dev from tipb says:

It's not that Apple needs to explain why the iPad exists - they need to explain why you should buy one. You know, marketing.

People were confused by the presentation because in years past Apple made that case by pitching use cases and experience, and by telling stories. This year, Apple chose to rely less on storytelling, and more on lecture and feature recitation. A feature checklist war is not one they can win or should be interested in waging. That is why people had issues with this year's message, because Apple seemed to want to present on Android|Microsoft lines, rather than focus on their own strengths.

Sent from the iMore App

rdude94 says:

Thank you for clarifying that, much better said.

strangerbeat says:

if i recall correctly, Apple did exactly that with their presentation videos. Tim Cook & Co. aren't musicians. They couldn't possibly demonstrate the cool new things Garageband brings. Nor could they demo the benefits of Audiobus, illustrate cool things on Paper 53, or show how cool CTRL+Console is when editing Final Cut Pro videos.

they show show what makes the iPad special by showing how other people use it in their videos. the way they're able to express that in a 2 minute video is all I need to see.

Rene Ritchie says:

Thompson's point is that it's a new category, and they need to keep explaining it because not everyone understands it yet. That's how it grows into an established category. I think it's an apt point.

rogifan says:

I listened to the Vector podcast and I don't agree with Ben Thompson that iOS should basically be kept dumbed down (on iPad at least). I know a lot of people who would love user accounts so they could set it up for their kids and have them in a "walled garden" so to speak. I don't see that as turning the iPad into a PC. When my elderly mother upgraded to iOS 7 on her iPad mini what she loved the most was the new multitasking UI because she prefers the screen shot of an app vs seeing only an icon. It makes it much easier for her to switch between apps. I love the new multitasking festures, especially with podcast apps because now I can be totally hands off. My app will check for new podcasts and download them in the background without me having to do anything.

Sure Apple might have some messaging and marketing issues with iPad but I don't think dumbing down its capabilities is the way to go. Honestly I think under Forstall iOS fell behind the competition and Apple is just starting to catch up. Ben Thompson might think something like control center is unnecessary or making iOS too complex but I use it every day and now wonder what I did without it all these years. There are ways to add useful festures without making things complex. Touch ID is a perfect example of that. And I think it shows Apple is still all about getting technology out of the way. As Jony Ive said in the iPhone video, technology is at its best when it simply disappears.

Some Random Bloke says:

"I use it every day and now wonder what I did without it all these years."

If you're like me, you used to download apps and dig into system prefs. Agree with your comment. The one thing I'd like added is capacity for a proper stylus. Not to use the iPad, but to take notes on it. If we could do that it would all but replace paper. (Current apps are good but using a soft-nibbed stylus is sub-optimal).

KoreyTM says:

I don't think good marketing spin should supplant hardware, software, and user experience innovations. In my opinion, doing this just creates a veil between the customer and the tech, which seems to hinder the beauty of the "walled garden" concept.

"then you will produce a product that is nothing like a PC, but rather an intimate, responsive object that invites people in, and transforms itself into whatever you need it to be."

I know you see what Thompson's done here. He's taken a regular product and put an idea, a meaning, behind it, just like a marketer should do. He's assigned characteristics to the product here like inclusion, love, and transformation - all of which is marketing speak that feeds into a person's needs, wants, desires, and fears. Now, I will admit, every company uses these techniques to sell a product. But my argument is around Thompson's assumption that Apple should focus more on Maslow's hierarchy and less on the technology. Because, in the end, a marketer can sell anything when they put their mind to it, and this fact alone should be a scary thought when it comes to the fate of product innovation.

rdude94 says:

I absolutely love android and have been fascinated by the platform ever since the g1. I'm always keeping myself up to date with anything android related, and today own a Tmo galaxy note 3 (although I do really want a Moto X). I have a very defined perpective of what android today is and continue to look forward to the future. But had I not received an Ipad 4 for my 18th birthday last December, I would not understand what that article from Stratechery is trying to say. You can't just "mess" around with an iOS device to have a defined experience, and it's much more than rows of icons. There's so much more that I can say, but it's so ridiculous when people bash on either platform.

pookyjoralyn says:

I don't get it, iWork sucks (already tried it, my iPad mini is eligible for the promotion even before iWork goes free)

Some Random Bloke says:

Interesting. I prefer it on the Mac, on the iPad I think it's a neutral UI change but overall an improvement given the consistency cross-platform. Subjective I guess.

RealNeal says:

I thought that article was totally awesome and spot-on.

Sammy Banda says:

Almost every product that apple made has innovated the way people use technology. iPhone completely revolutionized cell phones at the time, every other manufacture followed after. Same with the All-in-One iMacs, MacBooks, and now Tablets. iPads were the first mainstream tablet for consumers, which lead to the creation of a new product niche. Now there are other choices like the Microsoft surface and Samsung Galaxy, but I will always stick with Apple not because I'm a "sheep" but because their products have worked for me time after time. It truly is an ecosystem.

Neal Horowitz says:

The scenarios listed in the linked post as "not-just-an-iPad" can all be done on a PC, Android tablet, or Surface. I would argue that even if none of those five scenarios is ideal for a PC, neither is any best-served by an iPad--the closest is the musician, who is well-served by Garage Band as long as it's sufficient for his uses. The rest, though, should be using something else: the artist would be better off with an active digitizer (e.g. Surface Pro or Wacom tablet on a computer or even Galaxy Note of some sort); the book readers have cheaper options that are more comfortable to hold (e-ink reader like kindle, or smaller, low-cost 7" tablet which will be more comfortable to hold for long sessions); the grandmother is well-served by Facetime only if 100% of the people she wants to talk to also use iPad/iPhones, and thus, like my parents to see my children, will actually stick to Skype or another cross-platform solution, and Skype and Facebook are just as good on an Android tablet or Surface or laptop (video chat especially is best on a laptop thanks to the adjustable hinge).

The iPad is not a magic wand, even if it is great at what it does. The iPad's magic was how it changed people's view of large-factor touchscreens when it was introduced. Today, it's just a premium tablet in a sea of options.

I think what the stratechery post really nails is the messaging difference between Apple and Microsoft, which is somewhat ironic since he seems to be criticizing Apple's marketing--I guess the latest event was rather flat, but I don't think the people who watched it are the people who still wonder why they might buy an iPad. His five scenarios, like Apple's advertising, is strongly emotional, while Frank Shaw's post is a logical argument, and consumers respond to emotional appeals. Regardless, real people's usage scenarios vary and everyone should (but probably won't) consider what device best suits their own needs.

Bytebrain says:

The point could be made that the iPad does all of these things, where android, PC, kindle, etc. does only some of these things.
A kindle is great to read on, but can't do anything else for example..

GarageBand is great for a musician, but it's far from the only app and not even the best for individual tasks in that categori.
I'm a musician, and use no less than 15 different apps to make music on. And for a much, much lower price for the apps than I'm used to from using my PC for the same task.
There's a considerable wealth of choice for musicians on the AppStore. On android, not so much.

Some Random Bloke says:

"I think what the stratechery post really nails is the messaging difference between Apple and Microsoft,"

This. I've found the iPhone ads highly compelling because they are emotive, people focused and task focused. Apple needs to stay on this message.

cardfan says:

This is something, again, that seems like it's taken the blog heads a year or two to realize. I'vementioned it several times myself the past few years. Apple has to focus better on marketing to the media and telling its story or stories. Apple strayed from this path a long time ago. In the recent year, we've had a lot of blogs pop up with the likes of Ben Thompson, and Benedict Evans. It seems like their focus is talking about how Apple is misunderstood, and they all seek to point out time and time again how brilliant Apple is while the rest of the industry along with any other analyst remains clueless.

So in this instance, it's refreshing to see them finally recognize Apple isn't perfect. Of course, when you got the likes of MS, HP, BB, etc and others like media, analysts, making blunders on a daily basis, it can be hard to nitpick at Apple. And when Apple is busy setting records, how can you call anything they're doing a blunder? Although it could be argued that this failure to communicate to the media and tell their stories does have a price...the stock decline.

I think it's safe to say many companies, especially tech companies, struggle with marketing. MS is like the poster child of what not to do in many cases. I also think many misunderstand marketing and underestimate its importance.

I agree with Ben. But be careful that you don't miss the bigger picture. Apple is targeting the masses. Music and art creation are niches. I don't think Apple is going to change any perceptions by continuing to demo Garage Band. Focus on the ipad as a learning tool. Learning is being productive.

Go tell your friends that you got an ipad for your 3 year old and you're likely to hear how horrible you are. Tell your child's doctor this and get ready to hear a sermon. People don't generally see ipads as learning tools. They're for entertainment. Playing games. Using facebook.

Apple is at its best when they're the ones defining what something should be. They did this with iphone. What's a smartphone? Answer: iPhone. What should a smartphone be able to do? Answer: In consumers minds, it's the iphone. In fact, I bet most people picture the iconic iphone with it's homescreen when they think smartphone.

Steve Jobs used tentpoles to describe the ipad. 7 categories that the ipad can do very well. This framework needs revised but Apple should stick to this script. And continue to define what the ipad should be. Education should be primary. Change "why in the world would you get your child an ipad," to "why haven't you gotten your child an ipad yet?"

dvdphn says:

Totally agree with your last point. I was the very first person in my family to get the original iPad, and was very popular with my young cousins. It's a great learning device, much more interactive than a TV. It's hard to explain the delight and joy when someone explores their curiosity.

ZainiChia says:

The video of "Life on iPad" was really great though; it would be really great if they had a few demos of stuff like that.

Next year there really should be an "iPad Only" event, I think. That would give people more time to showcase things like this.

Truffol says:

In Apple's defense I believe the "liberal arts" and the "openness" of the iPad is already understood (and appreciated) by consumers. Compared to 2011, Apple is now addressing an informed audience who already has extensive experience interacting with tablets. Apple is better off focusing on the lightness and thinness because consumers will soon realize how important that is over long haul presentations (and initial reviews seem to agree with this)