With the release of iPad 2 the naysayers have sounded again. Tablet devices are just a fad claims PC World’s Katherine Noyes.
What I find most interesting are the reasons she cites for tablets’ fad-dom because they tell more about the reviewer than about tablets. She approaches tablets from an old paradigm, one that fails to recognize some basic realities of why and how many people use computers.
Tablet devices are only limited in their functionality when compared to full PCs, laptops, and some netbooks. Compared to some other devices (like smartphones) they provide richer interface options by virtue of their larger form factor and beefier hardware.
The problem with comparing tablets to PCs is that it bakes in the assumption that what everybody really wants is a traditional PC.
If we take Jef Raskin at his word and to the end user the interface really is the product, there’s room for consumers to perceive tablets as more powerful or more open despite the hardware stats or code licensing.
Noyes founds her claim of waning excitement about tablets on claims that reviews of the iPad 2 were mixed. The false assumption here is that anything short of all positive reviews of iPad 2 means that the masses have lost interest in tablets. Though iPad dominates tablet mindshare it’s not the only device in the space. Even if all reviewers hated the iPad 2 we can’t declare tabletgeddon just yet.
Consumers tell a different story – iPad 2 launch
The assumptions that all people really want a PC and that iPad 2 is a failure are invalidated by the sales statistics for the iPad 2 launch. iPad sold out throughout the US on launch weekend with Fortune quoting a claim that 70% of iPad 2s sold to people that didn’t have a tablet device before.
In speaking with friends that are still trying to purchase the much coveted device the current technique for successfully purchasing one is to find out when the shipment of iPads arrives at the nearest Apple stores and be there when they unload the truck. Within hours of unloading the iPads are once again sold out and unavailable until the next shipment.
What Noyes is really communicating is her own biases and looking to datapoints convenient to her preconceptions. Per her bio she is a proponent of free (as in freedom) software and tends to cover Linux topics.
Free software is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately free software and open source software are proving to have little place in the tablet space. Apple’s iOS defines itself by its closedness and Google’s take on “open” with Android is proving less than what we might have hoped for.
That said, writing off the currently OSS unfriendly tablet space as a fad is giving personal bias too much sway.
When I first heard that iPad would use iOS rather than OSX I was displeased. It was just gonna be a huge iPhone! This wasn’t the device for me. At launch it looked like it would be difficult at best to code on it and there were few applications available for diagramming, designing, or creating graphics. I also had my concerns about the walled garden and how that might prevent the kind of “seeing the gears turn behind the curtain” moments that inspired some of us that work in software to choose our current vocation.
Here’s what I had to face: most people aren’t interested in computers as en end in themselves.
It’s not the device, it’s what you do with it
There are many people in this world that have a computer (be it a laptop, desktop, or notebook) only because computers help them to use Facebook, go on the web, instant message, tweet, email, watch videos, listen to music, and in some cases make music and videos.
These are people who have computers not because they think computers are awesome, but that the things they want to do are awesome. Computers are only a bridge to that awesome.
These are people that care less about what operating system they work as that it doesn’t confuse them with interfaces or details of the computer’s operation that they don’t understand.
Tablets let these people do what they want to do without imposing the traditional PC baggage on them. No file system asking them where they want to put their files, no taskbar filling up with programs, no drivers to deal with.
To please these users you need to do only this: empower them to do what they want to do and get out of the way.
This is why iPad has captured the imagination of so many people. They see in it the promise of a device that will let them do what they want to do without burying them in all the traditional computer baggage.
While we want a BMW, Ferrari, or Bugati and itch to open it up on the autobahn, they’re cool with a Honda, Toyota, or Hyundai that has a cool look, a sporty feel, and gets them where they want to go.
They don’t need a “real” computer and wouldn’t make full use of one if they had it.
And if we let ourselves believe that our concept of what a “real” computer is matters to them, we do so at our own peril.
Tags: fads, fallacies, iPad, mobile