THE NEW IPADS :

PER­FEC­TION IS BOR­ING

iPhone Life Magazine - - Istats - BY DAV I D AVERBACH

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.

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