The iPad and the Importance of Focus

Apple has introduced the iPad today, and it starts at only $499. I admit I thought Apple was going to go more in the direction of Inkling as I expressed earlier on this blog, but I suppose by releasing the iPad, Apple allowed it to happen, even if they didn’t do it all themselves. The iBooks application is most of what I had imagined as the deeper purpose behind the device, and the interface tweaks they made to email, web browsing, iTunes, iCal, and the rest of the software are really intelligent and beautiful. This gallery is worth a look.

There’s one reaction that has been repeated by countless friends that I’d like to write about and analyze more deeply. The reaction generally involves a mix of anger and dismissal of the product for multiple reasons. You’ll hear things like…

  • What’s the big deal? It’s just a big iPhone.
  • I can’t use something that doesn’t do multitasking / background processes.
  • It doesn’t support Flash? How can that be?
  • It doesn’t have a camera? It needs to have a camera! It’s useless without one.
  • My laptop is more flexible and powerful. Why do I need this?

The list is much longer than that, but you get the idea. The central theme in this school of thought is that the person wanted it to have X, and it doesn’t have X, and it must therefore be a low-quality, worthless product. These folks spend a lot of time explaining why they won’t be buying one, as if it’s interesting news. They often blame Steve’s Reality Distortion Field when others defend it as a good product.

You’ll recognize the thought pattern from the discussions they were having when the first iPhone was released. It had a low-quality camera, it didn’t have GPS, it needed to run 3rd-party applications, it needed more storage space, it was too expensive, blah, blah, blah. What these people mean to say is, “I have a checklist in my head! Design according to my checklist or your product isn’t worth praise!”

I’d like to tell you why they’re wrong, and why their checklists don’t matter. In a word: focus.

Let me introduce you to a user. We’ll call her Jane. She didn’t follow the Apple announcement today because she’s not a geek. In fact, she won’t hear about the iPad for another week or two. She has an Internet connection at home, and she just uses it with her old Windows machine. She’ll go home tonight, check her email and a couple of her favorite websites on it. She likes Facebook, too. Beyond that, she’ll use her PC to write her Christmas letter every December, or play Solitaire, but that’s really all the machine is for. Tonight, she’ll curse at it softly because it’s been slowing down a lot lately. She can’t figure out why, and she doesn’t want to pay someone to fix the problem. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t use the computer that much anyway. She has other hobbies, and other things to do, and she’s not really into technology.

Because of the kind of content on this blog, most of my readers are not Jane. But Jane is everywhere. Jane is the most common computer user in the world. And the fact is, Jane doesn’t need a computer. She needs something less than a computer. She needs something she can type on, and play a few games on. Is she going to be doing a lot of audio and video editing? No. Desktop publishing? No. Does she care that she can’t run such-and-such as a background process? No way. She needs something that can get online easily without a lot of weird configuration options and hullabaloo. She needs a device that knows how to focus. A device that knows how to be less.

But she doesn’t want to spend, like, $1000 and end up getting more than she needs. We’ve already seen she doesn’t need much. Should we give her a netbook, so she can have all the inherent complexities of Windows with a user interface originally designed for a screen twice that size and a finger-achingly miniaturized keyboard and mousing surface and a million options in a nested-folder file system? Should we?!

You hate Jane, don’t you. Just say it. Go ahead, give her that netbook and slap her in the face. You jerk.

Jane needs the iPad. Jane would fall in love with the iPad. You may not be Jane, and that’s OK. I’m not Jane either. But let’s not insult Jane’s iPad. It’s focused, and it’s beautiful, and it’s good at what Jane wants to do. Maybe some day they’ll come out with an iPad that meets the checklist in your head. Until then, let’s show some respect for Jane.

10 thoughts on “The iPad and the Importance of Focus

  1. People have a preconceived list of solutions to their problems which prevents them from trying out products like the iPad (or iPhone) and finding out that maybe they’re solution wasn’t the only way to solve the underlying problem. I thought I would never be able to adjust to an iPhone from a Sidekick but now my iPhone is practically glued to my hand. I have my issues with it (that stem from how it does what it does, not what it doesn’t do that I thought it should do) but in general, it gets the job done and is a pleasant experience more often than it isn’t. As long as I stay out of Mail.

    You were right on Twitter earlier, this isn’t a device for geeks. Geeks know too much. But every once in awhile I don’t want to fight with a device and have it just do regular ol’ user stuff right. Turn off the inner geek and you’ll find that the overall experience is more worthwhile than when your geek strings are pulled.

    Great post Josh.

  2. “Tonight, she’ll curse at it softly because it’s been slowing down a lot lately.”

    I don’t know of a lot of people who “curse softly” at their computers – but otherwise a great writeup. There’s obviously a lot of similar sentiment among tech folks who do allow their mind to think beyond themselves.

    From my blog:


  3. I currently own a MacBook Air. The iPad would suit the majority of my personal computing needs.

    I spend all day working with Windows (with all it’s frustrations).

    By choice I want less complexity, less interuption, and more clarity.

    My view is that the iPad will give me this.

  4. Yeah, I do hate Jane, but that’s mostly ’cause she calls me when her computer breaks. Yay for the iPad, may it wean normal people off complex tools so that they won’t bug me anymore!

  5. I must say I have to agree. It’s Jane that buys magazines at the newsagents and reads them on the sofa whilst watching tv at the same time. If content providers step up to create rich magazine quality content with social integration or real time tv based applications with questions and voteting features we’ll soon start hearing a lot more about Jane.

  6. Couldn’t agree more. Only time will tell whether iPad is a huge success or not but iPad perfectly fits Jane’s profile for sure.

  7. Jane still has to set up a wireless network to get her iPad up and running.

    Personally, I suggest Jane go and get a Mac laptop – they’re secure, and designed for the computer illiterate.

  8. @OoP – even Mac laptops require more upkeep than you might think. I’m a Mac guy, but I’m the free on-call repairman for my friends with Macs & PCs. PCs aren’t that hard, and Macs not always easy. My wife’s powerbook lost its sound last week. No way she fixes that, even though it turned out to simply require that permissions be repaired.

    The iPad will be stone simple, like the iPod & iPhone. Perfect for her, except she has her Powerbook & will not want to change. But it’s also perfect for me – I’m getting one to read stuff on. Not just books, but all the flotsam & jetsam floating around the internet. And sure, when I go out of town, I’ll stash a couple of movies on it.

    The iPad is for consumption. At least, for right now…

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