Apple’s Vision of Computing is a Lot Simpler Than We Realize

on December 4, 2013

With the introduction of the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display, Apple has given customers more freedom than it (as well as other manufacturers) ever did with desktop computers. It’s not freedom of choice, but rather freedom from choice.

I know, it sounds like Apple has taken choice away, which usually results in a disappointing and often frustrating experience for the consumer. However, what’s happened here is Apple has taken the headache out of purchasing a line of its products, which I predict will spread in the coming years to its other categories. It’s no longer a paralyzing decision between bigger and faster vs. smaller and slower. Now, we just need to know how big we want our screens.

As Engadget’s Brad Molen points out in his iPad mini review:

This year is a different story. Not only did the iPad (now called the iPad Air) get redesigned to look just like the mini, but it also offers virtually the same specs as the smaller model. In many respects, the smaller tablet is now a scaled-down iPad Air — precisely what Apple seemed to be avoiding last year when it debuted the original mini with inferior specs. Now, the company wants its tablets to be equal in everything but screen size, so you don’t have to feel like you’re making any sacrifices by choosing the mini.

When we buy a new computer, be it desktop or laptop, we’re always asking ourselves the same questions. What will I use it for? How fast should it be? How much RAM do I need? Which screen size is best? When I purchased my MacBook Air in 2011, I asked myself all of those questions before and *during* the transaction, then followed them up with, “Did I make the right choice?” and “Should I have gotten more RAM?”

But Apple is changing the game now. Ben Bajarin writes:

With the new iPad Mini Retina being available, I know many are still wrestling with which iPad to get. My true sense is that for those computer users who are stationary for long periods of time and use a notebook or desktop in that context they will favor the iPad Mini as a companion to that computing context. But I share my experience for those who are more mobile than they are stationary and are looking for a device that lends itself to more heavy lifting while still being extremely mobile friendly. Which for me is the iPad Air.

The question of, “What kind of user am I?” once involved the level of power required of one’s device. Are you a music or video producer? Perhaps a Mac Pro or a fully decked-out iMac are your go-to computing choices. Maybe you’re a student looking to write papers, watch Netflix, and play Candy Crush at the back of the class. In that case, a 13-inch MacBook Pro might be up your alley. Or a MacBook Air. But which size? 11-inch? Thirteen? It’s maddening.

Now, with the iPad, the “What kind of user am I?” question really only applies to the types of activities you plan on performing. Are you a heavy content consumer focused on reading and watching movies on your daily train commute? Maybe you want something to accompany you to the doctor’s office while you wait to be called. The mini could be for you. Or you might be the exec-on-the-go, required to take notes during meetings and create numerous documents for an upcoming client pitch. Or you’re a novelist who actually enjoys writing in Pages (I’ve heard those people exist…somewhere) and you just need a lot of room to read your words. I bet that Air looks pretty good right now.

And if you plan on podcasting, or recording an indie album, or editing a home movie, or any number of formerly processor-intensive tasks, either model works. They’re nearly identical in power and speed, just not in size. Both devices are equally capable at running the same apps and doing the same things–it just comes down to preference of size.

Federico Viticci at MacStories puts it best:

You don’t hear people saying that, because of the size differences, the 13-inch MacBook Air is for consumption and the 15-inch MacBook Pro is for creation. The new iPads should be treated just like MacBooks: choose the size you prefer, and expect creation and consumption capabilities from both.

The 2013 iPads represent a new era of computing where the the hassles of checklists and charts have been removed from the equation. Of course, this will irk some who think we’re increasingly dumbing things down for the end user, but I see this as a necessary evolution of technology. Computers are tools, like hammers and cars and OXO’s version of the Slap Chop (seriously, I haven’t had to dice onions with a knife in years. Look into it.) Geeks and the more computer literate may care how much RAM or raw processing power is available in the latest iMac, but we’re getting to a point where that won’t matter for the majority of users anymore.

One day, we’ll be able to walk into an Apple Store and step up to a table with three different laptops on it–one at 11-inches, one at 13-inches, and one at 15-inches. They’ll all have the same processors, the same graphics capabilities, the same RAM, and the same form factor. It’ll just be a matter of which size fits us best. Will that annoy those who require more flexibility and customization from their machines? Absolutely. But then again, they weren’t the intended audience anyway.

So, while we wait for that day to come, let’s prepare by visiting the table across the aisle.