THE NEW IPADS :
PERFECTION IS BORING
During Apple’s iPad Air 2 announcement in October, CEO Tim Cook asked, “What do you do when you make the best tablet in the world? How do you make it better?” Apple executives have asked this same question every year just before they unveil the next generation of a device with revolutionary new features. This year’s announcement was slightly different, however; the question felt less rhetorical and more like a real concern that Apple was struggling to address.
I can just imagine Jony Ive, Apple’s Senior VP of Design, saying to his team, “No, seriously, guys! How can we possibly improve the iPad Air?” To which one of his designers must’ve answered, “Well, we could make it a little thinner and a little faster… ,” because that’s pretty much all they did. The new iPad Air 2 isn’t a revolutionary leap forward, but rather a subtle refinement of an already great product—and sometimes perfecting a product isn’t about adding sexy new features.
RESISTING THE URGE TO SIZZLE
In real estate, there is a concept known as the “sizzle feature.” The term is derived from the expression “sell the sizzle, not the steak” and refers to the features in a house that sound exciting to potential buyers but don’t have a lot of real value. A towel warmer in a California home may sound fancy, but if the temperature rarely drops below 60 degrees, warm towels are hardly a necessity.
The same concept applies to tech products. Marketers love to hype sizzle features, but users rarely actually use them. Take the Dynamic Perspective feature on the new Amazon Fire Phone, for example. Dynamic Perspective uses four infrared cameras on the front of the device to give the screen a slightly 3D feel. It sounds like an exciting innovation, and it grabbed a lot of headlines when Amazon released the phone, but in practice the feature adds very little value.
This is one of the things I love about Apple—it resists the urge to add features just for the sake of adding features, focusing instead on the product’s tangible benefits. The new iPad Air 2 is all substance and no fluff; it boasts a faster processor, a more vivid display, and a fingerprint sensor—all things that make for a better user experience—but it’s almost completely devoid of sizzle features, which makes it a little harder to market.
THE PRICE OF PERFECTION
I love my iPad Air, and that’s a problem for Apple. The iPad has seen explosive growth since its launch in 2010, selling over 225 million tablets worldwide, but sales have begun to decline. While it’s too early to know how successful the iPad Air 2 will be, we know that iPad sales have declined for the first three quarters of 2014, a trend that could be tough to reverse. The problem is that the iPad’s life cycle is much longer than that of the iPhone. People are happy with their older tablets and see no reason to upgrade. While the iPad Air 2 is a near-perfect device (a missing NFC chip being the only exception), I have no intention of upgrading from my iPad Air, and I imagine many other users are in the same boat.
THE DISAPPEARING MINI
One of the most surprising things about Apple’s October keynote was how little attention the company paid to the iPad mini. Last year the iPad mini 2, with its Retina display and faster processor, was all the rage. Many analysts expected it to surpass the Air in popularity and sales. This year, however, the iPad mini 3 was discussed for less than a minute of Apple’s keynote, which lasted longer than an hour. Considering the mini 3 did not receive an upgraded camera or processor, the only significant addition was that of the fingerprint sensor.
The iPad mini is most likely a casualty of the new iPhone 6 Plus. At 7.9 inches, the mini 3 is still significantly larger than the 5.5-inch 6 Plus, but both devices seem to fill the niche for people who need large screens to work on but still desire portability. The distinction, of course, is that the iPhone 6 Plus is also a phone, and is $100 cheaper (if purchased with a twoyear contract). It will be interesting to see if this is the beginning of the end for the iPad mini or if Apple finds a way to differentiate it from the iPhone 6 Plus. But if Apple announces an even larger iPad (perhaps called the Pro?) next year, the company may decide to discontinue the mini altogether.
STILL NUMBER ONE
The incremental upgrades Apple has made to the iPad Air 2 are enough to keep it ahead of the competition. In my opinion, the iPad is still the best tablet on the market, hands down. If you don’t yet own a tablet, you’ll likely be blown away by the Air 2, but if you already own an iPad Air or even a 4th-generation iPad, you probably don’t need to upgrade.
Improving a product is not always about huge technology breakthroughs so much as a series of refinements over time. As the iPad matures, boredom may be the price we have to pay for a perfect product.