It's the experience, not the specs

Three years ago Apple announced the iPhone. While people were generally speaking impressed, there were the naysayers. Competitors, people who generally dislike Apple and so forth. Usually their arguments regarding the crappiness of the iPhone related to some features it was missing. Nokia famously quipped that iPhone is not going to get anywhere because it does not have 3G. Others complained that the camera had too little megapixels. The complaints about the iPhone have continued to this day, but the arguments change as iPhone becomes more capable. But all the time there are some features that the iPhone is lacking, and therefore the device sucks.

Yesterday Apple announced the iPad. iPad is thought to be Apples answer to netbooks, the small and inexpensive laptops. And the complaints have already started: the screen-resolution is too low, it's just an oversized iPod touch, no multitasking etc. etc.

What all these complaints fail to understand is that Apple and the devices they make are not about the specs, they are about experience. Every Mac-user is familiar with the pointless comparisons PC-users do to show how much less equally equipped PC would cost when compared to a Mac. Yeah, maybe, whatever. But fact remains that I'm more productive on a Mac, and I get more enjoyment from my computer than I would get from a PC. Even if that PC might have few megahertz more than the Mac had.

Same thing with the iPhone. So it didn't have 3G. What do you use 3G for? Well, MMS-messages and web-browsing. Fact was that no-one used MMS, and iPhone had world-class email-client instead. Web-browsing? Web-browsers sucked on phones, so 3G went more or less useless. iPhone was order of magnitude better at web-browsing than those 3G-phones were.

But, instead of focusing on the actual web-browsing experience, the nay-sayers focused on the feature (or, lack of it).

iPad does it again

It seems that the cycle is repeating with the iPad. Nay-sayers are focusing on some indivual specs, as opposed to thinking about the experience as a whole. Yeah, the screen-resolution is pretty ordinary. But still, early comments regarding the screen in actual use are overwhelmingly positive. Words like "crisp" and "stunning" are being thrown around. What would higher screen-resolution give? It would mean that the CPU and GPU would have to push more pixels around, and that would mean either that

a) performance would suffer
b) battery-life would suffer since CPU and GPU would have to be more powerful
c) size and weight would suffer, if they wanted to have more powerful GPU and CPU while retaining the battery-life

and in addition:

d) the price would be higher

And we need to remember that the device will be running apps designed for that screen (or for an even smaller iPhone-screen), as opposed to the situation we have with netbooks, where it runs software designed for apps that will use all the screen-real-estate they can get. iPhone and iPod touch manage just fine with screens that have a lot smaller resolution that the iPad has.

One common complaint is that iPad is "just an oversized iPod touch". Maybe, but is that a bad thing? As Scott Forrestall said: "The bigger screen allows use to have apps that are not just a little bit more powerful, but order of magnitude more powerful". And looking at the product-video available at, the apps that run on the iPad are A LOT more powerful than apps running on the iPod touch or iPhone. Hell, they have iWork running on the iPad! The performance and the screen of the iPad really make it possible to run apps that would simply not work on the iPhone. iPad can really replace a laptop for many people.

One other complaint is that iPad does not multitask. Now, how would you use multitasking? The most common use-scenario seems to be apps that stream audio, like Spotify. So you can't run Spotify on the iPad, while doing something else with it. But the solution to this is really simple: iPad is not a replacement for iPhone or iPod touch. So why not run Spotify on your iPod or iPhone, and use iPad for the other task? I mean, you will most likely have your iPhone in your pocket, am I right?

The problem Apple has

The thing is that people are Apple's competitors are used to discuss technology in terms of features. Computers are sold by underlining the amount of megabits and megaherts they have. And in many ways that applies to really personal technology as well, like phones. Sure, Apple does the same where they have to: they talk about the specifications of their computers, because in there they might actually mean something. But that does not really apply to these "post-PC" products, like smartphones and iPad. Who cares how many megabits or megahertz your phone has? Notice how Apple never tells details about the amount of RAM or the CPU that is inside their phones?

Same thing is happening with the iPad. Apple does not talk about those things, because they are irrelevant. What matters is how well those products actually work and how much use and enjoyment the user gets from them. And THAT is the area where Apple really delivers. But the problem is that many people, and even many journalists and experts are still stuck at the idea of staring at the specs, and using them to determine the quality of the product. iPhone sucks because it didn't have 3G, and iPad sucks because some netbooks have higher-resolution screens. People, you need to look beyond the specs! The product-video Apple posted tries to get their message across: that the actual use is what matters, not the specs. It just happens that "better user experience" is not a feature that you can really list in a spec-sheet...

Apple has been trying to change the rules in this area for years, and while they still have a long road ahead of them, I think they are making progress.

The exception to the rule

There is one exception to the "let's not talk about specs"-mantra that Apple is repeating: The iPad's CPU is designed by Apple. Now, they aren't really shouting this from the rooftops either, but they surely are not keeping it a secret. The message is clear: Only Apple can deliver an unified product. They have for years talked about how only Apple creates the hardware and the software. Apple is now taking that to a whole new level by designing their own CPU's. The CPU inside the iPad is designed for this product, and the software on the iPad is written for that CPU. That allows Apple a level of freedom their competitors simp0ly do not have. They use chips made by one company (usually Intel) and they use software written by some other company (usually Microsoft). Only thing they do is slap those parts together and call it a day. There's very little product-differentiation between PC-manufacturers. When you have seen and used one PC, you have seen and used them all.

Same thing will happen with these "slate-PC's". Steve Ballmer already demoed few in his bug-ridden CES-keynote. Those devices were running Windows 7, an OS that was designed primarily for normal computers. The UI was not smooth, and the product was to be released in 6 months or so. They used CPU's from Intel, CPU's that have to cater to lots of different markets and products. iPad is running an OS designed for the iPad, using a CPU designed for the iPad. And the iPad will be available in 2 months. And even though the iPad will be available before it's competitors, it did not feel like a half-baked product, quite the contrary! It was smooth, refined and finished.

I feel sorry for Steve Ballmer and his customer.


Anonymous said...

You also miss the point of many critics. It seems that the user experience will be crippled due to the limitations. No fancy and smooth menus compensate for lacking flash, USB or HDMI connectors etc.

Janne said...

Flash sucks and should be killed. It's crash-prone and sucks CPU-cycles and batteries.

And the iPod-connector can function as a video-out and USB-connection. Or do you mean that you would like to hook up an USB-dongle or something to the iPad?

No, the "points" of the critics are unchanged from the iPhone-days. They focus on some individual features, and how they utterly ruin the device, when fact is that when you look at the whole, the device is head and shoulders better than the competitors.

Walter Jeffries said...

Some interesting things I see, some sooner than others from all of this:

There will be a camera - of course, silly whiners.

There will be phone via VOIP. No plan, how grand!

There will be GPS.

There will be multitasking, eventually.

Flash is gone. Good. It is a waste of bandwidth, processing power and promoted bad graphic design. I browse the web with Flash turned off - a much better experience. I don't need all that attention grabbing flashy stuff zipping around my screen. Check out Pithhelmet and Glims if you use Safari. Regain control over your web browsing experience.

An iPad (or any iP) with a keyboard is a computer. So simple. Even mice could work.

The iPad/iPhone/iPodTouch (call it the iP) Apps will run on the MacOSX as shown by the SDK test mode on the Macintosh for development. It is just a small step to give this to users in iTunes.

It is only a small stretch to have the iPs run the MacOSX. The processing power is there. All Mac software then runs on the iPs.

Just for good measure Apple also runs all Windows and ClassicMac software on the iPs. This brings in all the Windows users and all that great old Classic software that was there for kids and education. Developers bring out emulators for all other computers. ENIAC lives again, faster and better. Hi Hal!

The MacOSX and the iPOS will merge to become one with the MacOSX being the complex operating system for power users and the iPOS being the simple operating system that is all you get on the small display iPhone and iPod. This was done before by Apple. The wheel rolls around again.

Multiple iPs can become the computers / workstations in a family, classroom or business all base stationed to one computer (Macintosh or [i]Windows![/i]).

Lay out multiple iP's together in a line or a matrix, they self recognize, configure and become a bigger display. Cool advertising and promotion stuff. Wow games!

You might have a small iP (Touch or Phone) for your pocket and a different one for home, classroom, work, etc. People will buy more iPs because they want to have one in their pocket when on the road (iPhone) and one at home for relaxing or using in school or at work with a bigger screen. Watch for the 50" iPad. People who would not otherwise have bought a computer at all will be buying iPs. This sells hardware which is good for Apple, good for software developers, good for content developers and benefits end users. Microsoft will fail - okay, so there are some losers out there. (Note to broker, "Sell MSFT‎.")

Walter Jeffries said...

You may rarely want to buy another 'computer' instead just buying iPs. Many businesses, schools and home power users will buy a 'computer' to have as a central base station which all their iP's dock to. Airport Extreme, Time Capsule and the Mac will merge for this function. It's all there. The iCube is back. Like the iTV except it might be named the iCenter to make it more obvious that it is different. Lots of connectors both virtual on the wireless and physical for speakers, screen, docks, phone, etc. Smart Homes are here.

You are taking your 'Home' folder with you. And it also still exists at your physical home (apartment, house, business, etc) on your iCenter. Your iCenters can even be syncronized. Home made cloud computing and storage.

Since the iP can have a file area now you can take all of your 'Home' folder with you. Security will be an issue. Solvable.

Voice will become another form of navigation in addition to touch, mouse and keyboard. The tech is here already.

Walter Jeffries said...

All iPods will become iPs. iPNanos can then be used with a bluetooth mic-headphone. Product lines from Nano to PowerMac are once again unified all running the same operating system and all applications/Apps.

Enter the Apple Cybrog implantable iP, due in 2012.
Always on. Always connected.
Order now!


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