social media, Technology

iPad – Why Bad Marketing Is Worse Than Bad Product Design.

02.01.10 | 16 Comments

Of course I’m going to write a post about the iPad – isn’t it obligatory if you’re a blogger?

First up, I need to say that I don’t really get the way that people feel affronted when a product falls short of their expectations. Crap products are made all the time, and in a supply and demand environment, we’re all free not to buy them. If the iPad turns out to be a pile of crap, we don’t have to buy it, Apple will be left with loads of them unsold and will have to go back, do some better market research and make something we want.

That said, I do take issue with the way things are marketed – marketing is a very powerful force, and not generally held as a conversation. So when someone makes statements about something that are patently untrue, and does it with the weight of a multi-million dollar marketing budget behind them, I get a little antsy.

So, the iPad – what don’t I like about it?

In a nutshell, I don’t like what it says about the relationship between content producers and content consumers on the web.

What I mean is this: if you have a laptop, with a keyboard, a mic and a webcam, you have the same tools at your disposal to respond to online content that the person posting it has. Sure, there are degrees of quality of camera and editing equipment, but I can post a response via text, audio, video or photo in exactly the same way as the content producer. If someone writes something I like, I can endorse it, if someone writes something I disagree with, I can express that. Built into the hardware I’m using is an equality of opportunity that says ‘go on, do it! join in!’ – there’s the implicit tug to break out of the 1:9:90 ratio of content producers to content sharers to content consumers and become part of those putting good things on the internet.

And, I think that that potential for collaboration – for ideas to be developed, built on, for blog posts to become joint works between author and commenters - is the single most awesome thing about the internet. Certainly my own online content would be about 1/10th as useful without the people who take advantage of that technological parity and add their great ideas to my thoughts.

The iPad breaks that. By marketing it as a replacement for a Netbook, Apple are saying “you don’t need a computer optimised for content creation – you’ve got a camera somewhere else, use that, if you must. If you need to comment on something, we’ve put a crappy touch-screen keyboard on here so you can slowly type ‘hehe, LOLZ’ onto a youtube video, or hit the ‘like’ button on Facebook. But srsly, you can consume without thinking about responding, remixing, mashing-up, creating your own thoughts, ideas, media in response to it – just watch what the big boys and girls do and consume.”

Everything about it says ‘consume don’t create’:

  • The keyboard is an optional extra
  • There’s no camera
  • All the software has to come through the app store
  • there’s no USB socket for peripherals
  • >no jack socket for an external mic (though there is one built in – whoop-di-doo!)
  • no removable media (though there’s an optional ‘camera connection kit’ – more proprietary BS to stop realtime video happening…).

Everything about it says “walled garden”: do it our way, use our platform, our software.

The heirarchy is there not just between content producers and consumers, it’s there in the only access point being iTunes and the app store.

Apple are free to make whatever crap they like, to fill it with DRM bullshit, to lock down their software and content delivery mechanisms, to leave off keyboards, and instead make massive phones that don’t even work as phones. But please, don’t put your marketing weight behind a campaign that says this has anything to do with replacing a netbook without acknowleding that is breaks the single best thing about the internet.

  • It’s an iPod touch for people with clumsy fingers or bad eyesight
  • a digital photoframe that shows websites (though not Flash-driven ones, apparently)
  • it takes everything that’s bad about the mobile web and makes it less mobile.
  • Instead of streamlining the laptop computing experience, it clumsifies the mobile experience.
  • You’re going to need some effing big pockets to make this thing truly portable in a way that beats a netbook or laptop.

So, if that all works for you, please, buy one – I’m not against people who want that feature set having one, I don’t think Apple are the bad guys for making it. I’m not an iPad hater, any more than I dislike any other fairly rubbish poorly thought-out incomplete piece of tech (like V1-3 of the iPhone, iPod, iMac… there’s a pattern here…). I can’t see any use for it for me that isn’t already met by my Nokia N97 and iPod Touch combination, or a proper laptop.

The basic laptop design, let’s not forget, is brilliant – the built in keyboard works as a lap-stand and screen cover, as well as somewhere to house CD drives and sockets. If you want a smaller one, you can get one with a breakout connector to those sockets and add-ons. Need to put it away? no problem, close the lid and your screen is protected! hurrah! what’s not to love about that? If Apple add touchscreen tech to their laptops, and update OSX for touch, the way we were hoping they would for the iPad, I’d be all over it. even a lappy with a detachable keyboard for trips where those extra few ounces of weight are critical. That’d be cool…

For now, I’ll not be buying one, and will happily tell anyone who asks why. Via some typing, on a keyboard, the old fashioned way :)

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