iPad: A Reason For Being

| Just a Thought

This is the last article I intend to write about the iPad until I can actually get one in my hands and play with it. Until that happens the only thing I or any tech writer can do is hypothesize, speculate, and fantasize. As fun as that can be I’m about hypothesized, speculated, and fantasized out. I suspect many readers are as well. So this is it for me until March when I can get a 32GB WiFi iPad and give it a good once over.

A lot can happen between now and then and I suspect a lot will. Regardless of what does and does not happen there's one point I want to make abundantly clear: It won’t matter much what Apple does to advertise the iPad or how well they play the Media Game. It will hardly make a difference which pundits praise or pan the iPad. The only thing that will ultimately cause the iPad to succeed or fail is whether or not regular people see value in it.

Cool can only get you so far. Good looks can get you noticed. Likewise, a good price can get you in the door, but if the iPad is just a cheap but pretty face the public at large will toss it aside like pet rocks.

Form, function, and need fulfillment has to be the bedrock of the iPad or, as Jobs said, “ ...it has no reason for being.”

During the iPad media event Steve Jobs listed seven tasks that he believed the iPad needed to be good at to be relevant: browsing, email, photos, video, music, games, and eBooks. It is not that you can’t do these tasks well on smartphones and laptops -- you can with varying degrees of success -- it’s that Jobs believes that these tasks, more than others, will justify in consumer’s minds why they need to shell out at least $500 for another device.

I contend that there must be more than just those seven tasks because just being good at those seven things won’t do diddly but get a few iPads sold, not the millions that Apple needs to sell to proclaim this device a winner.

The iPad must be demonstrably easier, faster, and more accessible to more things that people want than anything currently available, including netbooks. It has to catch your attention at a glance, and once you are looking it, it has to prove beyond all doubt that the way it does things is far better than the way it was done before.

My sister-in-law, Thelma, who is a complete technophobe, surprised me during a visit a year or so ago when she showed me her iPhone. Her daughter had bought it for her and set it up and showed Thelma how to use contacts, write notes, and manage her email. Thelma never bothered with apps, doesn’t care about GPS and maps. She has a discreet set of tasks that she needs to do and loves how the iPhone does it. Watching her tap and swipe, you’d think she was born with the iPhone in hand.

Thelma had unknowingly become an iPhone evangelist. She would show off her device to anyone interested, not because she was trying to show how cool she was, but she wanted to show how useful the iPhone was to her and she could demonstrate how the iPhone made using a smartphone easier. Her friends, also non-techies and some who otherwise would have never owned a smartphone, saw this and bought iPhones and they unwittingly became evangelists too.

Apple’s iPhone ads just fanned the flames a bit, but the fire had already caught because the Thelmas of the world were all showing their friends why getting an iPhone was a good thing. 40 million iPhones later, tech-types still complain that the iPhone isn’t “open” and rail against Apple’s control over the iPhone environment. Meanwhile regular Joes, Janes, and Thelmas tell pollsters how satisfied they are with their iPhones. Now you tell me what matters, what the tech-heads tell us or what the Thelmas of the world say?

If my sister-in-law can find a reason to give up $500 for an iPad, then Apple will have a hit bigger than the iPhone on its hands.

Thelma's never heard of John Dvorak or Walt Mossberg, I don’t think she even knows I write about computers and technology. She couldn’t care less about multitasking or cameras, she just wants to know if the iPad is worthy of her $500. If she asks me, and I'm sure she will, I can tell her yes, but she needs to experience it for herself. Once she does, that’s it. Her friends will get one, and so on, and on.

Word of mouth will be the key to getting many interested in Apple's iPad, and the only way to generate positive word of mouth is for those who do get the device to have extremely positive experiences with it. Good is not good enough, and those seven tasks that Jobs listed are only a start. Thelma and her buddies need to look at this thing, play with it, and come away wondering how they ever got along without it. They, not pundits, need to get an iPad, use it, and say, “Wow!” Otherwise it has no reason for being.

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Comments

Spiritwalker

Right On Vern, you hit the nail squarely on the head, it is the non-techies like me and the millions of others like me who will find just like the iphone that they don’t know how they got along without an ipad so long.  We will also wonder why it took someone so long to come up with one that really works and is easy to understand and use.

macjeffff

The Thelmas will rule. However, this axiom belies your comment that the iPad must do more than the 7 things Jobs enumerated. Steve has it right. Tens of thousands of apps will help it do more and do better, but I believe those core functions will sell it to the world. I’ll order a wifi model as soon as it becomes available.

sflocal

Excellent discussion Vern.  I do consider myself a “techie”.  I’m a systems engineer and iPhone developer.  That said, I agree with your opinion about the “Thelmas” of the world.  The techies that have been raising their rhetoric just display a level of arrogance that goes beyond passion for a device.  They believe that their opinion should be what the masses want which is very rarely ever the case.

Apple makes things simple to use.  The Thelma’s do not care about the internals or how “open” it is.  If it does what they need it to do and do it in a nice, clean, and efficient way, that says more about a product than having it multitask, open-sourced, jailbroken, blah..blah… the whining list could co on.

I look forward to the on-hand iPad review.  I’m reserving judgment until I myself see one in person but if it does well what I have seen it do on videos, Apple may very well have another buyer lined up.

gplawhorn

As for me, pass the kool-aid. I’m just hoping that some enterprising programmer will put together an app that will let several iPads display the same info (a PDF, say), and let one of those iPads control the rest. I’m thinking our worship team or the dance band I play in. It’s much cheaper than the other devices out there, and much simpler than carrying a four-inch binder full of lead sheets.

Yowsers

The productivity app vendors will tee off with iPad.  Imagine all the project mgmt, flow-chart / bubble / Visio-style apps with touch-simplified ease of use and speed.

I think Jobs’ inclusion of the iWork suite from day 1 points to what an adjunct this device will be for creatives and for content generation.  Maybe it won’t be the go-to device for heavy duty text/photo/video editing (yet), but it will certainly slip into its place.

graxspoo

Thelmas want to be able to print.

Tom Hurley

You mean “discrete” not “discreet.”

csimmons

I’m a pro musician, music producer, and owner of my own indie record label in Germany. I was one of the first ones in my rather large circle of friends to have an iPhone 3G. Many of my colleagues were seriously hating on Apple and the iPhone, touting the virtues of their Nokia, HTC and Samsung phones. Ironically, everyone I know uses a Mac as their primary computer, yet the usefulness of an iPhone was totally foreign to them. Fast forward two years later to today; every single one of my iPhone hating friends now own iPhones. Why? because they watched some of their friends and family with iPhones actually enjoying their devices and wanted to experience that.

As Vern said: if Apple can generate that same kind of word-of-mouth buzz about the iPad, it could very well be just as big -if not bigger- than the iPhone.

Marlo

Like gplawhorn, I have a task in mind that I want the iPad to do. I want an Apple beautiful device and screen to display layered Photoshop documents to my clients. I want to be able to show an image in the works with a variety of backgrounds, subjects, lighting effects, etc., and allow them to make selections. Sure, I could accomplish this with a laptop, but I have no need to duplicate nearly every feature of my desktop setup just for portability.
An iPad would work beautifully if it would do this.
One of the sets of capability the iPad has that so far seldom get discussed, would be Apps. Someone, maybe even Adobe, could build an app that would let me accomplish my goal. When that happens, I will buy one.
E-reader? Yes, by all means. When it allows me magazines, periodicals, and newspapers as well as books. I suspect it will. But for now, so much speculation.

oh yay

Tens of thousands of apps will help it do more and do better

10,000 Twitter clients.
10,000 alarm clocks.
20,000 fart apps.
etc. etc.

While “do more and do better” is certainly noble, some categories need to be closed.

JulesLt

Agreed. My other half has started saying she wants an iPhone - since 2 of her friends of got one, and love them. And that has been the turning point - not the fact that we already have 2 Macs, a few models of iPod, and an Apple TV.

At work (software house) we are a sea of HTC and Nokia users, but interestingly, in the other building - where someone had an iPhone - they’re now up to 2, and someone in the same office has requested one for work.

So the key for the iPad is going to get it out amongst real world customers - the Apple stores are an obvious and excellent way to do that (what’s the odds on the staff using them on the floor?). But there is only a short window of opportunity before ‘good enough’ imitations arrive, and people are notoriously bad at judging software quality.

mrmwebmax

+

Excellent article, Vern. I think the iPad will be a hit for the same reason the iPhone is a hit: People will try one and wonder how they ever got along without one. That’s exactly the way I feel about my iPhone. And I’m by no means a non-techie. I’m a website, multimedia, and graphic designer. I do 3D animation, and live and die by Adobe’s Creative Suite. But none of that matters when I use my iPhone. I want it to just work.

I think the people who rail against the iPhone/iPad and walled-garden approach feel threatened more than anything. I was a college freshman in 1984, and that’s how I felt about the Mac when it first came out: threatened. I was a computer programmer then, and rather than see the Mac for what it could do, all I saw was what it prevented me from doing. It would take away my ability to write programs the way I did on my TI99/4A, and force me to use a graphical user interface that was just “so beneath me.” This was a time when programmers lived by the motto: “If it was hard to program, it should be hard to use.” User-friendliness was not relevant to the mindset. We were all David Lightmans, masters of the command line and ready to hack into NORAD at a moment’s notice. We had power mere mortals did not, and the Mac took that power away by giving that power to “the rest of us.”

That same mentality leads criticisms of the iPhone/iPad/walled-garden. No one argues on the devices’ own terms. They argue on their macho power-programmer terms, absent of any thought of the intended uses of the devices themselves. “It’s closed.” “It’s proprietary.” “It needs jailbroken to let me install the apps I want.” “It doesn’t support Flash.” “The app approval process is a mysterious black box with mixed-bag results.”

None of this matters to the use of an iPhone, and I suspect an iPad as well. Note, too, that just as when the Mac was introduced, the iProduct naysayers have alternatives in Android devices. Yet they have a knee-jerk need to bash all that is Apple. Why? They’re threatened, plain and simple.

gplawhorn

Thanks, mrmgraphics, for an epiphany. I had the same feelings about the first Macs way back when (although I was programming in Basic on a Radio Shack Color Computer).

What I love most about my Mac is how little I have to think about using it, and how much I get to think about what I want to do. I can set up and record into Garageband in a couple of minutes, and never have to worry about ports or I/O or busses. That’s because the Mac isn’t created for developers, it’s created for end users.

In the same way the iPad is not being created for developers, it’s being created for end users. Ironically, that makes it far more powerful for developers than a raw pile of chips and circuits could ever be. The Steve has created a large new industry of programming that hadn’t existed before, in spite of the existence of the Blackberry and so on.

mrmwebmax

+

In the same way the iPad is not being created for developers, it?s being created for end users. Ironically, that makes it far more powerful for developers than a raw pile of chips and circuits could ever be.

Agreed, and I’ll forever kick myself for not realizing this about the Mac in 1984. I should have embraced what was truly a new computing paradigm, rather than feel threatened, and begun learning how to write software for it.

It was four years later—in 1988—that I finally embraced the Mac. I’d always dabbled in graphic design (the old-school actual cut-and-paste variety), and when my father’s business needed a brochure, he asked me if I could do it. I’d seen people using Macs at Kinko’s, and had seen them doing on-screen what I did by hand, so I rented time on a Mac Plus, used MacDraw (!!), and created the brochure that launched my career in marketing communications.

It was a magical experience. For the first time ever, a computer enabled me to do something outside of just programming. I created a brochure that looked professionally typeset. I’ll never forget looking at jagged text and graphics on that 9” screen, then seeing them emerge from a LaserWriter perfectly crisp and smooth. Bear in mind, too, that this was the first time I’d ever used a Mac. Yet I was able to figure out everything on the fly.

Like you, I love how the Mac just gets out of my way. I don’t have to think about making the computer work. Instead, I can concentrate on creating 3D models in Cinema 4D, logos in Illustrator, page layouts in InDesign, photo editing in Photoshop, videos in Final Cut, and original soundtracks in GarageBand (a program so good it borders on miraculous all by itself).

I’m even thinking of trying my hand at app development someday, and will be eager to try an iPad as soon as they hit the shelves. I won’t make my 1984 mistake ever again. smile

WJ Murphy

gplawhorn -
I agree with the idea of a praise team application. Just looked at the MusicPad yesterday.  $2500 to outfit one person with a 12” digital sheet music application.  If I could scan my music books to PDF and store them on the iPad, $500 and 16 GB would be more than sufficient I think.

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