Three Overlooked Lessons About the iPad

Three Overlooked Lessons About the iPad

Guest contributor: Mark Hurst, CEO and Founder, Creative Good

The launch of the new Apple iPad is truly significant for several reasons. Unfortunately, most reviews so far have missed the larger point about the customer experience, focusing instead (as gadget reviews do) on ticky-techie tactics. "Oh wow, the battery life is so-and-so hours!" Well, yes. It's a bit like watching a baseball game only for the statistics: maybe fun for some, but hardly what's most important. The iPad is part of a much bigger story that's been mostly overlooked.

I'd offer these three conclusions about the iPad, mostly outside or contrary to what we've heard so far about the device:

It's not about you. It's about three-year-olds. Seriously. Apple should have called it iKid, because the most enthusiastic iPad users will be those just making their way out of diapers. They have no need for a mouse, a keyboard, configuration screens, and other advanced options - they just want the easiest possible experience: touch the screen and see it react. If you're in the mood for some direct customer observation, watch just the first minute of this video, which shows the first moments of a 2.5-year-old iPad user trying out the device. No training, no coaching, and she immediately knows how to use it. Friends, this is the future.

Now, I'll grant that the iPad is way, way too expensive to be a kid's toy. For now. The price will come down soon, and anyway it's not about the iPad (see next bullet below) - it's about the three-year-olds. This is the first generation in history that will say the mouse is old-fashioned and the keyboard is for occasional usage. When they're six and seven, do you really think they'll abandon their touch screen and reach for a mouse?

And by the way: in a not-too-distant second place for target market, there are users over the age of 60 (and a hello to those Good Experience readers who fit the bill). Here again the easy user experience is most important. The traditional complex interface, with all its advanced options, just doesn't offer enough value for the hassles it brings. Grandparents, get ready to rock out on the iPad with your grandkids while the middle generation - the bemused 30-somethings - roll their eyes from behind their laptops.

I'll point out that this analysis is predicting, or at least sketching out, the future simply by considering the customer experience. Gadget reviews will focus on the device itself, its innards, its specs, its content partnerships, and so on. Good Experience readers will (I hope) agree that the customer experience is a more strategic, more effective basis on which to analyze the device. (Companies can tap into this mindset by hiring Creative Good)

Incidentally, if this sounds familiar - a super-easy device appealing to users both younger and older than the middle of the market, which itself is used to a more complex device - you're right on target: look it up.

But don't get too excited about the device, because...

It's not about the iPad. It's about touch computing, which is here to stay. Here it's important to distinguish between the device and the trend. The iPad is a specific device at such-and-such a price, with particular specs and innards and all the rest. No one knows how well the iPad will succeed (or not); don't believe anyone who says they do.

However, the trend is unmistakable: the easy touch interface has arrived. (Or rather the iPad has extended it; the iPhone was of course the first instance of the trend.) Apple's competitors are certainly prototyping catch-up, me-too products as I type this - and some of them, depending on their own customer experience (a blend of price, features, design, and distribution) will get some traction in the market. The strategic imperative here is not to say "what do we do with the iPad" but rather "how do we have to change if our users begin demanding a touch interface.

More broadly than the touch interface, the iPad can be understood as a device offering light interactivity - that is, allowing the experience of the content purely as a user (of the video, book, app, etc.) - but not as the creator. Laptops - with the mouse, keyboard, and the many on-screen interface elements they connect to - allow much deeper interactivity than the iPad does, reaching into the creation or co-creation of many aspects of the experience. Some techie bloggers have already shown dismay or outright disgust that anyone would use a device purely for (sniff!) consumption of bits. As though the lack of a UNIX command line is an unconscionable faux pas. Well, I never.

I will say this, though, in defense of the geeks...

It's not without tradeoffs. When you use the iPad, your bits are going to live in the cloud and be managed exactly as Apple says they are. (This will hold true for whichever corporation makes whichever touch device you end up using.) You'll have less control over how and when those bits are managed, fewer choices in the interface to do it with, and fewer advanced options even if you do know your way around a UNIX command line. Convenience comes at a cost. The principles of bit literacy may be a helpful guide to this new digital landscape. So enjoy the iPad, and any other devices to come after it - but keep your eyes wide open as you do.