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

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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16 Comments

  1. yes. spot on steve. i have been wondering what all the fuss is about. it is literally just a massive ipod touch. throw osx on there and we’d be getting somewhere but no, for now it is seemingly pointless – perhaps a gateway to something interesting, apple’s marketing has really done the business again.

  2. I’ll be getting one: for my mum. She’s a consumer – wants to see pictures (Flickr), show pictures, send emails, browse the web, check the diary, but is daunted by the family iMac in case she “breaks something”. So for her this would be pretty sweet I reckon.

    1. I think you’ve hit on it there, Mike – it’s great as a device for people who want limitations – who are scared of the big web, for techphobic mums, grannies, people recovering in hospital from two broken arms… Though for them, the absence of a camera is a real pisser – that’s prime Skype demographic…

      So the slogan: “the iPad, for your mum. if she’s scared of the web” 🙂

  3. I think it could be a boon for content producers as an interface extension. I played a gig this weekend where I was standing on the stage above and behind the keyboard player, who was running his synth software off his MacbookPro. At one point, he had a graphical representation of a B3 organ on the screen – drawbars and everything. What if it was running on an iPad and he could use the touchscreen to adjust parameters realtime, in addition to whatever controls he has programmed on his Midi controller?

    Dedicated control units for audio and video production can be really expensive. iPad + the right software plugged into my Final Cut Studio system at work could potentially expand my system’s usability and flexibility by leaps and bounds, at (hopefully) much less expense than dedicated control units… There’s already software like this available for the iPhone…

    But as a general computing/entertainment device? No thanks. It’s not even 720p resolution, it doesn’t look like I can plug it into my TV to stream video to a bigger screen (something I do almost daily with my laptop and Hulu), no flash support (sorry Apple, but if you don’t support flash, you don’t have a complete internet experience), and I don’t want to read a book by having to stare at a light source.

    So yeah, I definitely don’t see it as a primary computing or communication device (at least not right now), but it could become a great hardware extension for content producers, if Apple will let the software come out…

  4. Yes, agree, me too, spot on as usual Steve. “…Everything about it says “walled garden”: do it our way, use our platform, our software…” = Sorry, but that’s just useless . If this is the future I don’t want it.

  5. Hi Jim… so you think the iPad could be, or touch screen could be? Cos at the moment, all the development needs to go through the App Store’s SDK, which seems to me like a really clumsy way to enable software development. Surely open standards, available on all touch screen devices would be better for us as users?

    I agree that touch interfaces for music application will be so awesome – the idea of the Kaoss pad as a plug in rather than a hardware thing is so so awesome. Especially if we had pressure sensitivity as well – the 3rd touch axis – could be all kinds of fun. But if you’ve got that without a keyboard, you’ll need a stand for it, and you won’t be able to type commands, and there’s no support for additional peripherals unless the software to power them goes through the app store. We end up with an insane situation like we have with the iPhone where I can use an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard with a Nokia N-series phone, but NOT with the iPhone or iPod touch! And the people with the know-how can’t just write the software to make it happen, because Apple don’t want them to, even though the software available for jailbroken iPhones shows that it’s pretty easy to do…

    So YAY for touch interfaces, BOO for crappy development strategies. 🙂

    1. Yeah, I guess mainly touch screen… I don’t know quite how to explain it, but touch screen plus a little of that extra functionality/usability mojo that I think I see in the iPad that I don’t necessarily see in other devices. I mean, we could have audio or video control software developed for the wacom pen tablets, but as far as I know, there’s not much available to do with wacom tablets beyond graphical work.

      And Apple’s closed system probably will be a bit of a hinderance, but there is audio control software available for the iPhone already. I’ve seen guys control MoogerFoogers with their iPhones, and there’s apparently Protools control software out there, too. So I don’t know that things are completely hopeless in that regard…

      …and I was thinking the same thing about a virtual Kaoss pad…

      1. I love some of the iPhone apps that I’ve seen for MIDI control – really cool ideas… maybe Apple should just’ve made a bluetooth big display for the iPhone… my ideal set up would actually be a phone as the ‘brain’ to a bigger set up, powering a screen and keyboard… that way I can take the ‘brain’ anywhere, and hook it up wherever I go. Replace the screen with a projector, and we’re really in business. 🙂

        I’m sure people will do lots of cool things with the iPad. There’ll be loads of cool apps, and much merriment will be had. These things are never black and white, good/bad, angel/demon scenarios. Apple aren’t stupid. They aren’t about to release something that’s completely useless! And as I said, they’re welcome to release whatever they want – if they described this as ‘a badass MIDI controller that you can read your email on, and if you’re really persistent, type short emails back’ then I’d be thinking it was an awesome realisation of that description 😉

        1. Yes – if an iPad DJ app Pacemaker-style existed I’d give it a try then.

          I’d srsly doubt it’d have the oomph and storage without removable cards or somethign would still restrict it to the Air ‘poser’ category (I call it the iToy)…yes my partner has an Air (as well as a MacBook Pro, the previous Mac Book, a Touch, several iPods) and I’ve had to play with it and it freezes like crazy. SLOW. I’d guess the iPad would either be similar or very restricted – hence no multitasking…

          Doubt video or audio DJ/VJ apps would appear then.

  6. …of course, everything here can be undone by them fixing it in later versions. Then we ‘re just back to Apple’s standard screwed up modus operandi of releasing half-arsed Beta hardware and letting the early adopters soak up their development costs… grrr 😉

  7. The biggest sin I find is Apple markets their stuff as for ‘creatives’ – now yes if you have a high-end MacBook pro and the high-end salary to affordit, that’s true (although the whole ‘Mac for Video’ has been eroded severely recently by better PC and Avid systems – also Adobe Flash CS4 on a Mac has ALWAYS run like a dog, web design/dev on a Mac isn’t fun, I do it regularly) – but the Sony ‘you don’t need that’ mindset has been copied by Apple recently removing Firewire and now USB…it does seem like a dumbing down of the computer usage, which is weird since the old-school Apple freaks used to be as mad as the PC or Unix lot for diving in and hacking stuff around…so Apple catered for that. It does seem like they are targeting the Argos/Curry’s mass market aspirational set, rather than the hobbyists of old.

    And yes when Apple muscled in on podcasts with iTunes that’s when they were doomed – well the indie ones were since they are all about ‘premium’ pro broadcast content, and this whole idea of creativity and the little man having a voice is actually wrong, if you look at what they DO rather than what they SAY – like the featured podcasts etc, who was allowed onto iTunes, etc.

    Less Ghandi as per one of their ads, more Mussolini…

    That’s not to say Apple is useless, I’ve had many iPods since the iRivers and other devices were more crap than Apple’s – although don’t get me started on iTunes, it is a simple product which can actually do a lot and it seems they are adding stuff to it rather than taking stuff away…weird how they seem to be doing the opposite in the other divisions?

  8. First, I realize that your wouldn’t be a proper blogger without weighing in on a device you haven’t seen in person or played with. That said, i wouldn’t get too wrapped around the axel until Apple ships the thing snd we get to touch and feel it.

    You’re really complaining about the lack of a camera? Doesn’t every cell phone you own have a camera?

    From what I’ve read, the onscreen keyboard is no worse than what I’m used to on my iPhone and I manage to send a large number of emails and tweets from there. According to reports, the iPad will work with the Apple bluetooth keyboard as well as the keyboard dock. But most of the time I don’t have to carry one when i don’t need it.

    The audio in solution will likely get address through the dock connector as it has been for the iPod Touch. Likewise quality audio out. Granted USB would have been nice. But getting all of the drivers to run properly is a chore. Even on a Mac.

    The iPhone SDK isn’t bad, so I don’t see that as a huge limitation on programming the thing. And it’s open in the sense that I can compile and run any piece of software I want on it for $99US.yrs., Not as good as free, but I used to spend far more than that on development tools. Yes, I have to use the App Store to sell things, which means I need Apple’s blessing. But selling software anywhere but your own site requires someone’s blessing. The same is true for other media. Just look at the recent Amazon Macmillian kerfluffle. After looking at some of the stuff that Google is doing with HTML 5, that’s a brilliant solution as well. The Google Voice app really does feel like an app, not a web page.

    As a developer, musician, and artist, multitouch excites me in much the same way a graphic display and a mouse did in 1984. I think it’ll be huge. Will the iPad be perfect. I doubt it. But it’s an important step. And they could wait forever to get something perfect. I’d rather pay a little now and get started. I have some big plans for it as a controller. But I’m reserving judgement until I get my hands on one.

    1. John,

      Thanks very much for the perspective – my comments are of course based on the keynote, which is unlikely to be underselling it, as this video shows –

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZS8HqOGTbA

      I hope you’re right – I don’t ever want things to be ‘not as good as they could be’ – the bluetooth keyboard would be nice (would be nicer on the iPod Touch, especially if Apple made a foldable keyboard – mini laptop!)

      But I’m still completely unconvinced by the potential of this device to repair that break in the producer/consumer divide – as I said, by far my biggest complaint about it. It breaks that in a way that Netbooks don’t, that even, as you point out, mobile phones don’t! (I wonder if, like the iPhone keyboard, I’ll still be about 40% faster typing using predictive text on a number pad – even on my N97 which has a QWERTY keyboard, I use the number pad on screen to type… T9 is possibly the coolest development in typing interfaces in decades 🙂 )

      Anyway, like I say, I’m glad to hear that from a developer perspective (or at least, your perspective as a developer) it look’s like it’ll work… Would’ve been nice to be able to dual boot it with the Window touch OS, or some future Linux touch version (is there one yet?)… Maybe the jailbroken version will kick ass, and the hackers will save the day again 😉

  9. We had a discussion about the iPad at the last Northamptonshire Geek Meet… and as you can imagine, the room (pub lounge) was divided. Interestingly enough, no-one put forward your argument that the iPad breaks the content creator/consumer relationship… although we did have a few ‘what’s the point of it?’ so I guess that’s in the same ball park.

    I like the idea of the iPad… a lot. But it would have to be better and by that I mean a camera or two (Skype, AR), Flash (you could see a plug-in icon whilst Steve Jobs was viewing the New York Times) and decent connectivity with external devices.

    The keynote seemed to focus on this ‘third category’ (please, no comparisons or jokes about the Third Reich), which is kind of odd. I mean, sure… mobiles are pretty useless for reading content/viewing websites but laptops do a fine job (my Macbook is a lovely device) already. OK, so the iPad looks lovely but your point about the content/consumer relationship is a valid one. Ultimately unless you’re only planning to consume with this device, you’re not going to see any advantages with an iPad over a combo of mobile and lappy.

    That’s never stopped anyone buying something because it’s cool though… and hopefully the iPad will develop into something more useful (for me) very soon.

  10. Steve, I think you nailed it. What we were really wanting as users, was laptop capability with a touchscreen interface, built on Apple’s legendary UI expertise. Knowing that they have the ways and means to make it happen, yet didn’t, left us feeling cheated somehow. They made the classic mistake of a business that is growing out of touch with its customers, namely, putting itself first.

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