“With the new iPad, we’ve taken an experience that millions love and made it better.”
There is absolutely no disputing this quote from Apple’s Phil Schiller, taken today at the announcement of the
iPad 3 iPad HD new iPad. The hotly anticipated device sports a Retina display, improved camera, faster processor, integrated voice dictation, and more. In addition to WiFi-only units, LTE models were announced for both Verizon Wireless and AT&T in the States, as well as 3G variants for those overseas. Battery life is said to be a best-in-class 9 hours … even using LTE. In almost every measurable sense, this tablet is superior to its predecessor.
Apple CEO Tim Cook provided another quote at the unveiling, though: “We are redefining the category that Apple created with the original iPad.” Sorry, but this time I can’t agree. Know why? Because iterative improvements do not a “redefinition” make.
I want to be clear: the new iPad completely destroys everything else in the market. In terms of capabilities and features, it offers the best experience of any tablet available today. From the initial hands-on reports, the Retina display is said to be incredible, and general performance seems to be improved over the already-excellent iPad 2. If any other tablet manufacturer had incorporated these enhancements into a new device, I’d be over the moon.
But here’s the thing: the new iPad isn’t just another tablet. It’s The New iPad. This isn’t Motorola or ASUS this is Apple. The company that’s supposed to “Think Different.” The company that’s supposed to be bringing us products that are “magical and revolutionary.” You know what’s not thinking different? You know what’s not magical or revolutionary? Upping some specs and releasing a rehash of your existing product. That’s HP. That’s Dell. That’s sorry, but that’s lame.
I felt the same way while following today’s liveblogs as I did when watching the iPhone 4S presentation: “That’s it? A spec bump? I’m supposed to be surprised and delighted. What happened?”
The rebuttal is obvious: what, then, was I expecting? If all these awesome improvements to this already-industry-leading device aren’t enough for me, then what would be? But check it out: that’s not my job. I’m a consumer. You come up with the magic, idea-people; I’m just here to be impressed by it and throw my dollars at you.
Yes, it’s a cop-out, and yes, it’s an unfair stance to take. Know why I don’t shy away from it, though? Because that’s exactly the attitude Apple has conditioned me to hold. They’re a huge victim of their own success in this sense. They’ve managed to develop and sustain the perception that they make magical products. And yes, much of that is marketing, but it needs to be clear that it’s not all fluff; Apple’s success has a lot to do with their record of creating truly excellent products that really have inspired, altered, and in some cases created industries. Like it or not, we have Apple to thank for the existence of the entire consumer tablet market. We have Apple to thank for the current state of smartphones. People in the tech industry still talk about the original iPhone keynote as one of those “I know where I was when” moments.
So it’s not surprising that in the weeks leading up to a new Apple announcement, there’s that hope that maybe they’re gonna do it again. Maybe it’s going to be like that time they turned the world upside down and showed us something incredible. And that hope is what fuels ridiculous rumors like the ones we started getting this morning, about “amazing feel-able displays” and “new haptics.” It’s what makes us watch a video like this one, knowing it’s fake but hoping in a little corner of our minds that, because it’s Apple, they’ll make maybe a tenth of that a reality.
And when those impossibly-high hopes are inevitably dashed, there’s a very natural backlash, a feeling of disappointment bordering on betrayal. Because Apple has held itself out as not-just-another-company, as a magical pioneer that would never release a series of spec bumps and call it “redefining a category.” But oh, wait in fact, that’s exactly what they do. And oh, wait they really are, in that sense, just another company. It doesn’t make them a bad brand; it doesn’t make them less important. But you know what? It does make them limited. Conventional. Ordinary. And someone needs to say it: that sucks.
Allow me to calm myself down, though: Apple deserves more credit than that. They have an amazing ability to create products and services that weasel their way into your life, regardless of a poor initial debut. They’re like the person at the party who tells a horrible joke, but still manages to get you laughing and repeating it twenty minutes later. They’ll release a new device that fails to live up to the hype, and naysayers everywhere will fire up their FUD cannons and scream that the sky is falling until consumers realize that the new features, while not mind-blowing at first glance, really are useful and pretty amazing. Soon, they can’t imagine their lives without automatic-horizon-straightening in iPhoto. Boom: Apple breaks a new slew of sales records. The buzz builds to a fervor, new products are announced that initially disappoint but then excel at everything, more sales records are broken the cycle continues.
The new iPad is an amazing product. I want one. Barring some major defect or hidden shortcoming, I will recommend them to family and friends. But along with the iPhone 4S, it begs the troubling question of how much longer Apple can keep convincing the world that an iterative upgrade is worth all the hype.
For the sake of continued innovation, I’m hoping that’s not much longer.