When Steve Jobs called the original iPad “magical”, there was some collective eye-rolling and amusement in the technology community. Now, Steve Jobs is far from a silly man and Apple has one of the savviest marketing teams in the industry, so why did it feel like there was such a disconnect between the word “magic” and the iPad?
Probably the same reason the original iPad’s success caught so many by surprise. No one, not analysts, not journalist, and I’m guessing not even Apple saw 15 million sold in 9 months, or lineups on launch day that skewed so far from the typical early geek adopter demo.
As many have said before, Apple knew they had something but they weren’t quite sure what they had yet. iPad 2 made things a bit clearer. Some decried it as an incremental improvement, much as they decried the original iPad as a “just a big iPhone”. Those are both true statements as far as they go but they miss the point because being a better iPad and being a bigger iPhone are the point.
In a recent interviewThe Daily Mail and Apple Senior VP of design, Jony Ive discuss this:
the iPad reminds me of Arthur C Clarke’s remark that ‘any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic’. I mentioned this to Jony and he told me they were thinking exactly that when the iPad was going through the studio.
It’s why Apple doesn’t disclose RAM and GPU of a dozen other technical details about their mainstream, mobile devices, and why they focus so much on experience (rather than raw specs or content). It’s why Steve Jobs can’t help but smile through every iPad demo — he’s having fun. Using the iPad is fun. The experience is fun.
That’s why iPad 2 is thinner, lighter, and faster. Not because those are good technical bullet points, but because it makes the experience better. When the scrolling is smooth, when the frame rate is fluid, when web pages don’t need to constantly reload, when any of a million little things that could pull you out of the browser or app — that remind you you are using a device — are gone, the experience is better. The experience is more fun.
My mother and sister both bought iPads last week (my sister upgraded from last year’s.) The next day my mother’s newspaper was later (as usual). Normally that would cue a polite but firm phone call. That day, however, my sister found my mother happily sitting and reading the app version of the paper on her brand new iPad 2. Today my sister called me to tell me about the baby shower she filmed and edited on her iPad 2. Both are, for lack of a more delicate term, not computer savvy. Both require frequent tech support, even after switching from PC to Mac. They don’t for iPad. (One of the most amazing acts of modern computing I’ve seen recently was a 2 year old showing his grandmother how to use his family’s iPad.)
At no point did any of them, mother, sister, grandchild, grandmother ask anyone about RAM or CPU or OS or any of that. They didn’t care (or cared only that they didn’t have to care.) They didn’t even ask about the aluminum and glass because it was effectively invisible to them. They didn’t have to manage. They only had to use it, and while “advanced” can be argued, it was more than sufficient.
For many people, people who aren’t tech savvy, who look at multi-componant PCs from Big Box retailers with a mix of horror and humiliation, who struggle with the discomfort of being bound to a desk, the disconnection of keyboards and mice, and the daunting complexity of legacy computing concepts, it’s liberating. It’s empowering. It’s magical.
Go ahead, roll your eyes, be amused, mock if you have to but then consider this — what better design goal for iPad could Apple have possibly had?
UPDATE: Apple has just said exactly this in their first iPad 2 commercial, We Believe.

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