Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Apple to Set a Precedent of Non-Indispensableness

Apple is about to announce a mini-iPad, according to Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. John Gruber just wrote a long piece trying to piece together exactly what Apple's got up its sleeve. It's rumored Apple will announce this product alongside the new iPhone on September 12.

I've had an instinctive feeling of unease with this product which has been hard to articulate, but I think I've finally got it. It's a marketing issue - one I don't see anyone else pointing out.

First was iPod. Updating from that to iPhone (or iPod Touch) was a no-brainer, since the latter two encompassed the former. If you loved your iPod, you traded up to iPhone or Touch for even greater lovability. Owning both a Mac and an iPhone/Touch made terrific sense; each had its role, and they worked together beautifully. They were an environment, a whole better than the parts.

Then came iPad, which lots of people viewed, at first, as a superfluous blown-up iPhone (not me; I was uncharacteristically right about iPad from the beginning). I did, however, feel a bit over-deviced for a while. Walking away from my computer, checking email on my iPhone as I strolled out to the yard and settled in to view a video on my iPad felt like a bit much. But I adjusted. Unlike Mac and iPhone, iPad was ideal for reading and web surfing, both of which are essential to me. I stopped printing things out (I can't remember the last time I bought copy paper). I cut my computer time by more than half. I feel freed. Yes, juggling three devices feels a bit embarrassing, plus there's the expense, but I can't deny they've given me back my money's worth.

But now there's this. I'm certainly not buying a mini iPad, too. It required some persuasion to get me to reluctantly add an iPad, but no marketing can entice me to add this fourth device. I doubt Apple will even make a case for the indispensableness of mini iPad. This one is, for the first time, strictly optional.

The sense of momentum - that each new device improves our information ecosystem in essential and inevitable ways - will be lost. If I'd lost that sense of momentum two years ago, I'd never have sprung for iPad. But I will now be a much tougher sell for any sort of future iDevices. I'll be asking myself whether I really need to buy, rather than whether I can make the sacrifice of not buying.

The mini iPad will be a hit among those who don't already own all devices. But those of us who do - Apple's faithful - will lose our sense of indispensableness. New products will be more soberly analyzed, and more easily turned down. And while "Prove I need it!" sounds like a sensible approach - it's how consumers weigh products from any other company - Apple's different. Or, at least, was.


Anonymous said...

I've never been a Mac or iOS fan, my brain is more in tune with pretty much all Apple eschews. (for example, I like more than one button, way more, and I like to see multiple things going on a screen.) But I think my Android experience is applicable to this question.

And the 7 inch tablets have always been much more useful to me than the 10 inch because they are much more portable, I can stick them in a jeans back pocket (not to sit on) or coat pocket and it frees me from carrying a "portfolio" or larger bag. Therefore, I have my 7 inch with me more frequently and use it more frequently.

And (also as seen in the Kindle market) 7 inch is perfectly big enough for reading and a LOT more comfortable to carry, hold and type on, much less gravitational torsion and keys bigger than phone but still spread over a smaller area. (I wish the keyboard on 10 inch tablets could be shrunk, I don't need it spread across a massive surface, nor do I need it to change its size from portrait to landscape, and what's wrong with users getting choices?)

You said you were "right" about the iPad, by which you meant you predicted that a bunch of people would love it. I think another bunch of people already love 7 inch devices and are going to love a 7 inch iOS device, either in addition to the 10 inch for people who throw money around on these things, and in lieu of a 10 inch for people who prize convenience and portability.

CarterB said...

I agree with you Jim, but I think the iPad mini is more like the market for the iPod mini where it didn't make sense for most people to own both, you either wanted smaller with tradeoffs or larger with more features.

I think a $250 iPad will sell really well, but not many iPadders will downgrade. If it goes retina display before I need a new iPad, I might consider it.

Jim Leff said...


First, I use a mouse with buttons up the wazoo. It's been decades since Mac users were confined to one-button mice!

Your point - that smaller tablets have their uses - makes sense. That's why Apple's producing one, and that's why I said I assume they'll sell well!

But my point is that few people will want a smartphone plus a tablet plus a mini tablet. Which is an unremarkable statement when expressed generically like that (which is why Android experience doesn't really equate). Hey, we pick and choose in our consumption all the time.

But in ten years, I haven't skipped a major Apple product, and each has proven essential. Indispensable. I was marginally unsure about getting an iPod (there were other ways to play music!), but it turned out indispensable. I was perfectly happy with my Treo, and I already owned an iPod, but I jumped to iPhone which proved indispensable. I owned enough damned screens, including my Macbook Plus, yet sprang for iPad. Yup: indispensable.

But now, as the owner of all this stuff, a fifth screen is anything but indispensable (handy? useful? sure. not indispensable!). They won't even pitch it to me that way. It's an OPTIONAL product. Apple has never offered an optional i-product before. And its optional-ness creates a profound effect in those of us entranced by the flow, convinced of undeniable indispensableness, and inclined to say "Yes" to the next thing, having been shown the promised land of synergistic potential. With this product, which will be a fine product and come in handy in the ways you say, Apple waves us out of it.

And it's a very, very big deal. Starting September 12, I default to "no" on new products, after a decade of being slowly, methodically, miraculously instilled with a sense of inevitability.

I'm not talking about tablets. I'm talking about Apple and its customers.

Jim Leff said...


If they're careful to introduce and market this with the same spirit of parentheses with which they inroduced and marketed iPod mini (i.e. if they take your smart advice), I, and countless others, may remain hypnotized.

Let's see if they're smart enough to do so. I'm not one of the people constantly scanning for post-Jobs missteps, but this has the potential to be the first big one, though it'd be so subtle and delayed in its effect that it wouldn't be noticed right away.

Agreed that those who resisted on iPad will have great incentive to buy this. Again, they'll sell like crazy. But such people are resistant to the flow I've described, which is like liquefied distilled messiah juice for a consumer product company.

Anonymous said...

I know about the mouse buttons, but getting used to my extra buttons on a mouse means that I feel completely hamstrung trying to use my laptop without the mouse. Which if I'm perfectly happy not using a Mac, why should I torture myself even every so often? (and it just makes Apple's arrogance burn more, why can't I have a choice, oh, because they know better than me...)

and I can't stand that the one stripe across the top of the screen does n-tuple duty as a menu bar for all the apps I'm running, and I'm staring at a perfectly useful looking window on the screen and then glancing up to the top of the screen and being confused till I discover that's not the "current" app so I'm not looking at the right menu... again, if I'm perfectly happy not using a Mac, why torture myself n times a day? (and of course, why should Apple give me a choice about that, I'm the rest of us, Apple knows better than me...)

I like plenty of things about Macs, but the small number of annoyances are overwhelming to me.

I know plenty of people who maximize every window they use (even 27 inches of maximizing) and I know plenty of people who like the one button (so they can smash it with their foreheads) but it's just not me.

And since I'm the alternative guy here, I gotta say it is so weird to me that all the identical sheep prize their uniqueness.

Jim Leff said...

I'm an Apple devotee, but not a partisan. I don't mind people who don't like Apple products, and I don't think they're stupid. And I certainly don't get involved in flame wars about it.

Every single criticism you made can be worked around. And I was going to offer you a friendly list. But then I got to your last sentence, with the name calling, and realized this isn't a friendly discussion, it's the preamble to the zillionth recapitulation of an incredibly boring and useless sports team/religious debate. Sublimely uninteresting.

Listen, I respect people's choices. When I evangelize my preferences, I do so via enticement, not derision. In fact, the formula Chowhound used to convince folks to quest more boldly for deliciousness wasn't "Stop eating wrong!", but "Hey, I know this AMAZING lasagna...." It worked quite well. It's a formula to bear in mind.

So if you dig Android, that's completely fine by me. It doesn't make you wrong. But neither does liking Apple make someone a sheep. Funny, btw, to see positions flipped, and for non-Mac users to deem themselves the mavericks.

Anonymous said...

sheep is a well known metaphor in the English language, it hardly rises to level of name calling. when i said "i know plenty of people" i should have been more clear to say "actual friends of mine" and if you think me calling my actual friends sheep is a major insult, then you... well then you'd be displaying the incredibly thin skin you display much of the time.

and your "funny btw to see the positions flipped" is exactly the point I made, but I made it the better way by actually pointing out the irony, whereas you simply take umbrage that I dare to question the stereotypical labels.

in terms of taking your ball of tips, techniques, and workarounds and going home, no sweat, i really do know what i'm talking about, and your workarounds to perform yellow button mouse actions with a glide pad miss the point entirely (and undoubtedly call for use of meta keys which unfortunately already have bindings)

You do know much more than the average person about using computers, and you are generally quite good natured and helpful about sharing tips, and I hope you keep doing it because many people benefit from it, but every so often you will encounter somebody who actually knows more about it than you, and in this case that's me.


Anonymous said...

After I wrote my last, it suddenly occurred to me...

and another thing, I started out saying up front that I don't like Macs or iOS (and I gave my reasons to say that it's not fanboyism, but reasons) but I still thought I could contribute that what I liked about 7 inch vs 10 inch was applicable because it was based on size, nothing to do with Android vs Apple.

Then YOU turned it into Apple vs Android, preamble to YOUR zillionth recapitulation of an incredibly boring and useless sermon about how you are above it all.

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