Who Wants an iPad?

Shortly after the iPad was released, a few of my non-Apple using friends started asking me what I thought about it. Rather than present my arguments for it in 1 or 2 sentence bits over instant message, I promised them I would write a post, here, giving my reasons. Thus...

Let me first throw some facts at you:

  • iPhones and iPods Touch in use today: ~ 60 million (Apple has sold over 70 million, but I’m assuming that not every device sold is still in use).
  • iPhones sold in the first year (Q3-4, FY 2007): about 1.4 million. For most of this time, the price started at $499, but nearly everyone bought the $599 model.
  • iPhones sold in the second year (FY 2008): about 11.6 million, over half from Q4. Most sales in FY 2008 were the better, cheaper iPhone 3G.

Alan Kay, regarding his reaction to the iPhone in January 2007:

When the Mac first came out, Newsweek asked me what I [thought] of it. I said: Well, it’s the first personal computer worth criticizing. So at the end of the presentation, Steve came up to me and said: Is the iPhone worth criticizing? And I said: Make the screen five inches by eight inches, and you’ll rule the world.

Before I go into my particular opinions on the topic, I wanted to list all of the articles that I drew from when writing this. As I am a horrible writer, you'll probably get much more from just reading all of these articles in full. Not all of the authors of these articles are in agreement, as many of these articles were written in response to previous articles by other authors this list. I know that not many of you will take the time to read them all, as it would take several hours, but I really think you should. It is worth it. In chronological order: QGNRKXYiNBETyfcZkxra

Design is Important

When NASA built the Lunar lander, as Andy Ihnatko quipped on MacBreak Weekly recently, there was this break-through moment when they were trying to figure out how to save weight. There were many design problems in the design when finally someone said, "Why don't we just take out the seats? "Wait," another responded, "We've got to have seats for this thing!" Well, no you don't. This isn't an aircraft we normally build, this is a spacecraft that operates in almost no gravity. As soon as they removed the seats, they realized almost all of their other problems went away. All because they were trying to design this thing to make it like every other thing ever built, without stopping to think, do we really need all of these things.

When Apple builds a product, they step back and ask themselves: what do we see as the need of the customer in which we want to fulfill with this product. Apple does not try to add more features to their products than their competitors so as they will have more bullet points in a chart on the back of the box. Apple also does not compete on price. They are unabashedly unapologetic about this. They think very carefully and very hard about who their products are designed, what features they have, and how they work. They do not, willy-nilly, throw features at a product when those same 'features' could detrimentally impact the user experience. Design is not just color, rounded corners and shiny metal - which is what most non-Apple people think of when they think of Apple products. Apple designs their products and then engineer their products to fit that design. Microsoft/Dell/HP/Acer/HTC, et al. engineer their products and then throw a bit of rudimentary design decision at those engineered products. If those designs have to change to fit the engineered product, then so be it. This results in convoluted UI, inconsistent UI from application to application, and design be committee which results in a horrible user experience for the end users. Geeks have figured out how to get around these issues because we tend to be the type of people who like figuring these things out; we're also smarter than the average bear (when it comes to things with chips in it). Please do not confuse this with good design.

Rob Malda, aka CmdrTaco of Slashdot fame, famously wrote in 2001 when the first iPod was released:

No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.
Because, you know, the Creative Nomad has done so well.

The iPhone is a shrunken, stripped-down iPad

People who have actually held this thing in the demo room at the iPad event say that their opinion of this device, when seeing it on stage at the event - whether their initial impression was good or bad, changed positively when actually holding one in their hand and using it. People who have actually gotten their hands on this device say, you know, this is something different. In one of Marco Arment's pieces (and Marco was not at the event and has not actually seen a physical iPad yet) he wrote: SyAOMJLnHwrw9wXuum2E

I thought this recent episode of the Charlie Rose Show on PBS with the technology columnist of the Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg, New York Times business reporter David Carr and TechCrunch's Michael Arrington was a fairly balanced coverage. Both Carr & Mossberg have actually held and used iPads.

A choice line that really stuck with me from this video that the New York Times's David Carr makes regarding the iPad: SYxAPmulOFq3EDncoLT3

On the iPhone, and now the iPad too, once you have the device in your hands and begin to use it to do whatever-it-is-to-do-what-you-want-to-do you forget that you're holding a device in your hand at all. I cannot say that I would ever feel that with a blackberry, netbook (haha) or god help me, a windows mobile phone.

But it doesn't have a camera, or Flash, or an ice cream maker!?!?

Anytime something new comes out that we haven't had time with, we're past this prologue. We're always going to use the vocabulary and use cases of previous things. Remember when the iMac first came out and it didn't have a floppy and everyone flipped out about it? Strangely the world didn't end. People don't like change and most change is incremental. No matter what the change is, big or small, there is always a point when a lot of people collectively freak out. A lot of the arrows people are shooting at the iPad are falling way short. Either because it is not germane to the kind of audience that would use this or they're leaving out really important facts. RE: the Flash topic: Flash started out as this goofy thing for having little rich media applications on web pages. And then the next thing we knew, it had taken over the whole world and people started making whole sites out of it. It became a way for a designer to build a whole portfolio on the back of a company . People think Flash ==, right?. That Flash is the equivalent of streaming. Remember when Real Player used to be our only choice for streaming too? Do you see many pages that are using Real Player now? I sure as hell don't. If you look at things like Jilion's SublimeVideo HTML5 Video player that they posted two weeks ago, which uses proof of concept HTML5 & javascript, you'll see that it is possible to host videos while doing a lot of the rich stuff that you can't do with straight HTML and normally would use Flash for. [Update: When I first started writing this Jilion only supported Chrome or Safari (aka WebKit browsers). However, in the middle of writing this, they added Firefox support because Firefox doesn't fully support all of HTML5 yet. As for IE? It might support HTML5 in a few years when Microsoft finally concedes that Silverlight is gong to fail.] It just goes to show you that evolution happens. I'm so sick of this, Uh, so, this can't succeed, because, uh, Flash. You know, things come and go. And you know, Flash is like a giant bowl of cilantro. Why the hell would you ever want to eat an entire bowl of it? Why the hell would you want to build an entire site in Flash? And all of the other things you use Flash for can be replaced by other technologies...open technologies, can fulfill their functionality needs on the web as well.

When the iPad announcement was made, Lee Brimelow's, Platform Evangelist at Adobe for Flash, reaction to the iPad was geared towards emphasizing publicly that iPhone OS devices are not capable of rendering the (admittedly, substantial amounts of) Flash content on the web today. Good luck with that. Now while that is amusing, this is even funnier: Kendall Helmstetter Gelner put together this version of Brimelow’s chart using actual screenshots from MobileSafari, the App Store, and native iPhone apps. There only two blue boxes left: FarmVille and Hulu. Oh, and it turns out, there is a fair chance that Hulu will just develop a native iPhone/iPad app for their site. So all that remains, from Adobe's example is Farmville. See? Apple is doing the world a favor.

Steve Jobs, took part in an open town hall event internally at Apple HQ two days after the iPad was released. While no reporters were in the room, Wired had several sources who reported what was said at the meeting. When one employee asked Steve about Adobe & Flash, Wired paraphrased Jobs' response as:

About Adobe: They are lazy, Jobs says. They have all this potential to do interesting things but they just refuse to do it. They don’t do anything with the approaches that Apple is taking, like Carbon. Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy, he says. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash, he says. The world is moving to HTML5.

I want to make the point that geeks care about flash, non-geeks do not. Non-geeks who have iPhones are used to that already. People have forgotten that we've been here before with the iPod and the iPhone already. There was much gnashing of teeth when the iPhone was $499 in it's first year and it couldn't do things like copy & paste or run native apps (remember, the app store came out a year later, in 2008). Many people cited reasons such as this as to why no one would buy an iPhone. People flocked to the iPhone and iPod because of attention to detail and design. They didn't know that was the reason they loved these products. They loved these products because they were so easy to use and worked so well. That was the result of Apple's attention to detail and design. Marco Arment wrote a wonderful piece on this called "Feature checklist dysfunction". Remember in the heyday of the iPod when the Sansa had a much cheaper, and feature-filled product when compared to the iPhone? I do not recall ever having seen a Sansa being used by anyone in pubic. I couldn't walk 100 feet cross campus (I was still in college) without seeing a half-dozen iPods. Sansa had a product that was dramatically cheaper than an iPod and could do more than an iPod, yet the iPod sold better. Why? The total user experience of the iPod - from iTunes on your computer to walking around with one in your pocket, just worked. The Sansa was built by engineers for geeks. The iPod was not. And the geeks, by-in-large, still bought the iPod because they too enjoyed a product that emphasized working well over bullet-point feature lists on the back of their box.

Who Apple Is Targeting With The iPad

In the first year the iPad's release, your early adopters will buy it. People who bought iPods in the early part of the decade eventually graduated to Mac computers and iPhones. This is because they've grown to like Apple's attention to detail in their products from the hardware to their software. These people will also buy iPads for close loved ones (spouses, parent's and kids) or they will use them in public places such as coffee shops, work meetings, the subway, in class or in a plane. Non-iPad owners will see them and ask to try them out or perhaps venture into an Apple store to try one themselves. The iPad will spread virally, just like the iPod and iPhone did before it. I've been criticized by friends sometimes as a hypocrite for bashing Apple during the '90s, eventually buying an iPod and in 2006 switching to Macs. I would say that evolution, by definition, is hypocritical. If we all run our life by fear of hypocrisy then, really, how are we better than sea anemones or pine trees? We all have to learn and evolve. People who refuse to change so they can trumpet the fact that they aren't hypocrites are really missing out. Sometimes better things do exist, and sometimes things that used to not be so good, change into good things. The iPhone sold 1.75 million phones in it's first year. I predict the iPad will sell 750,000 - 1 million. The iPhone sold 11.6 million in its second year. Care to make some guesses as to what the iPad will do in it's second year?

Geeks & Computer Users
Chart by Mike Monteiro.

This will be the perfect parent computer. I gave my Dad an iPod Touch in August of 2009. He had been interested in an iPhone for a while but due to crappy AT&T service where he and my Mom live, they were unable to get one. When I explained what the iPod was, and asked if he wanted one (Steff bought a new MacBook Pro and got a free iPod Touch with it) he was game. Since then, he's come to love his Touch and uses it for several hours a day. The UI is easy to use. It's intuitive. He's fairly computer illiterate. He loses icons off of his Dock on the Mac. He doesn't quite get the concept that little blue dots under icons on the Dock mean the application is running, etc, but the iPod touch is super easy for him to use. He browses iTunes and downloads tons of apps (the free ones, he still doesn't want to pay for any) but there are tens of thousands of free apps on the iTunes store. He loves it. He is, however, 56 years old. As he ages, he has a harder time of reading things on that small of a screen. After the iPad event, he called me to ask me about it and after I explained it would do everything his iPod Touch does + has a bigger screen + is faster and will hold more data because it's hardware is better, he immediately wanted to know when it would be available to buy. A lot of geeks write off the non-geek market as if it doesn't matter. We all get so caught up in reading Engadget, and Gizmodo, and Techmeme and we forget that, by-in-large, the tech community despite it's dominate web presence, is less than 20% of the population in the real world. Could this be the device that that other 80% buys because its inherently intuitive, maintenance free, and accessible? When my Dad wants to check the weather, he opens his iPod touch. He presses the Weather channel icon. He then presses 3-day, or weekend, etc. On a computer (Windows or Mac) he needs to open his browser. He needs to either do a Google search or go to a weather website. The then needs to type in his zip. Never mind the site is polluted with annoying flash ads, or has a horrible UI. My Dad is smart enough to do all of those things. But it is much easier for me (and him) to hand him a 500$ device (like when I handed him the 200$ iPod Touch) and tell him that, in about 10 minutes, you'll figure out how to use 80% of the features of this device on your own. You know what? He will be able to do just that. And I think most other people would be able to as well. That is killer.

The Designed Computing Experience

This could be the first truly modern computer. This could be the first truly modern OS ever released (if you discount the iPhone as not being a computer itself - which I think it is). The iPhone was Apple's putting it's toe in the water to see how this concept might fly with consumers. Everything else has started from a leftover OS design or leftover hardware design and built off of that. If the one feature Apple can sell the iPad on is: this is the computer that doesn't freeze, doesn't crash, you turn it on and it will work, it will do things you expect it to do and it doesn't expect things to be done like in the past 20 years just because that's the way we've always done it. One of the things on the iPad, now discovered in the publicly released SDK documentation, is you do not have direct access to the file system. However, every time you need a Word file, it will show you every Word file present on the entire system. You can then edit them, email them, or share them in other ways (on the iPhone you can SMS, email, or tweet, etc). That is a fundamental change in the computing experience. I think the computing experience with an iPad will be full of things like this. Oh no, I can't configure a new printer! Well...it will just sense the places that you can print to and configure it for you (OS X already does this with Bonjour on my Macs).

The practice of your tech illiterate co-workers or relatives coming to you because they "lost" that file they saved or downloaded (because the particular application they were using chose to either save it on the desktop, documents, or the previous folder that was browsed to depending on the developer of that app's preferences) will become a foreign concept (thank god). You want to work on a document? Open the document app and all of those documents types are available to you. Does it take features away from geeks who want complete control over every check box, radial button, or drop down menu they're used to? You bet your ass it does. But you know what? I don't care. I am sick and tired of dealing with the process of doing and not enough of the product once done. When I want to sit down with an iPad, I want to read a book, listen to a podcast or music, browse the web, write a blog post, check twitter, take notes in a meeting, play a game, update my Netflix queue, check my RSS feeds... I could go on all day with this list, but wait, these are all things I already do on my iPhone! But now I can do it on a larger screen when at home on the couch, in bed, at work in a meeting, in the coffee shop, on the subway....all places where I currently use my iPhone at but I sometimes wish I had a larger screen. If I want to do those more complex tasks? I have a desk at work with 2 computers on, and a desk at home with 3 computers. When I'm walking? or in the car? in the mall? I use my iPhone.

My point? Everyone who buys an iPad will buy one to solve a personal want or need that not necessarily everyone else who buys an iPad will also have. People should not assume that just because the iPad doesn't appeal to them, that it wont also appeal to everyone else. Remember that crazy 1st generation iPhone that couldn't run native apps, had no cut and paste, and didn't have 3g? News flash. It didn't fail. The iPad wont either.