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January, 2010

Apple gets it. Why doesn’t everyone else?

Well, it was formally announced.  The Apple tablet…the iPad…is here.  Like every other major announcement the reviews range from the Apple fanatics that love it no matter what to those that point out every single thing it doesn’t have, or was supposed to have depending on where you get your rumors.  It doesn’t have a camera (should it?).  It’s not true high definition.  It doesn’t have USB.  It doesn’t have a memory card slot.  But I bet it’s the best tablet device we’ve ever used.

Why?  Because Apple gets it. It’s not about the feature check list.  It’s not about the things that it doesn’t do.  It’s about the things it does do well.  The same criticisms today were brought up against the iPhone when it was first released and now it’s the #1 smartphone.  Why?  Because it just works.  You can hand it to almost anyone and they can instantly use it.  The GUI is laid out intuitively.  It’s smooth, it’s polished, and it does the things the vast majority of users need to do very well.  Does it do everything?  No, but it does what it needs to do.  The same goes for Apple’s own computer systems and OSX operating system.  I find myself using my applications and not using the system or the OS as on other platforms.  You forget it’s there until you need something.  From what I’ve seen I think we’ll find the iPad the same way.  When Steve Jobs says that Apple doesn’t release something until he feels it is finished this is what I think he means.

I never thought I’d be quoting Tycho from Penny-Arcade to prove a point on my blog, but these are strange days indeed.

It’s got to be so annoying to compete with Apple, at anything really, because it’s not like they’re doing something fucking crazy. Everybody’s had these ideas before. The difference, and this is grim if you are a competitor, but the difference is that everyone else spends a lot of time (and often, money) determining why those things aren’t possible. And then it comes out, for real, only you didn’t make it.  Some other guys did.  And when you come out with what is (on paper) a better version of the same thing, maybe even multiple times over, it’s too late.  You made a “product” to compete with their “product,” tastefully arranging your regiment, only to discover that they hadn’t made a product at all – they made a narrative.  A statement about how technology should interface with a life. -Tycho

A statement about how technology should interface with a life.  This is where Apple deviates from other technology providers.  There are other tablet and slate devices out there.  A number of Windows-based tablet devices were just shown at CES.  But every time I use one of the devices from these manufacturers it feels…well….disorganized.  They get the latest version of Windows “built” for a new purpose and quickly look at their box of commodity parts and build a device.  Sometimes that works (see my upcoming review of the HP Media Smart EX495) and sometimes it doesn’t (HP TC 1000 Tablet I used a few years ago).  There is no organized ecosystem, and that’s what makes Apple’s product so great.  The downside is that to do this Apple has to maintain control of that ecosystem which locks others out.  So you get Apple’s vision of the platform where in the Windows/Linux world you get everyone’s vision.

What I’d like to see is the creation of higher-end engineering groups in some companies like HP and Dell.  Now, they’ve tried this before but it ends the same way.  They bring in someone with a great reputation, like Alienware and Dell, and try to make it as efficient and consumable as the rest of their line and end up killing the brand.  If these companies truly want to fight Apple they  need a prestigious brand, similar to Toyota and Lexus.  This brand doesn’t have to be on stage holding a device with Steve Ballmer when the next iteration of Windows is announced.  Take the time to build a system the right way and then deliver.  If users want to go to Best Buy and play the feature checklist game where Product A wins because it has 4GB of RAM for $499 while Product B only has 3GB for $499 let them.  For the rest of us start creating really good technology that integrates with how we live and work.

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