What the iPad Pro Enables Matters More Than What It Replaces

on November 7, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

It has been quite fascinating reading the reviews of the new iPad Pro this week, and even more so reading the comments those reviews received. The process highlighted a few interesting challenges we have when we go through significant technology transitions and what might be holding us back from moving faster.

We Feel Compelled to Put Devices into Buckets

Of course, we give everything a name: a baby, a dog, and a device. We name items to market them and sell them which, of course, makes a lot of sense, but then because of that name we compartmentalize them to count them, project them and see how they are performing in relations to other devices.

Most of the times this works, especially when devices are single purpose: a camera, an MP3 player, a VR headset. But when devices can do multiple things and what they can do is determined by the software or apps they run or even by the accessories you can attach to them things get complicated very quickly.

Often we end up creating artificial categories based on how the product is marketed even though the way it is used is very different from what it says on the box.

Those Buckets Might Prevent Us from Looking Beyond the Hardware

For those devices that do multiple things, it is at times harder to see what they are competing with because the one thing that might drive buyers to get them in the first place is different from person to person. If you think about smartphones, for instance, some buyers might prioritize the screen size, others the camera, and others the quality of their calls.  While many will be similar the importance put on those features will be different and more importantly what people consider a deal breaker is likely to be even more different.

The look of a product is at time deceiving. Something might look like something else but behave very differently, or something might look very different but behave the same or drive the same behavior. Think about netbooks and notebooks for instance. On the surface, they looked very similar with the most significant difference being size. Yet their performance was very different which in turn drove very different use cases. Another example is lower-end tablets running Android. At the beginning of the market they looked very much like an iPad, but in countries like China, they were really competing against MP4 players because their software and weak app ecosystem limited their use cases to watching videos. When you think you are competing with something different than what you are, success is hard to come by as marketing, channel presence, pricing, target audience, all will be off for the product.

The look, however, often determines what people expect. If you quack like a duck you are a duck the same way that if you look like a notebook I expect you to run a specific OS, support a mouse, be great at productivity.

Let’s Talk About the Mouse and Other Must Haves

The PC market is a unique case study because of how many entrenched workflows users have. These are workflows that are old and might not be perfect, but the familiarity we have with them leads us to believe we cannot do without. The mouse is a good example. For many PC users the mouse is a core part of the experience which means that because the iPad Pro does not support a mouse, it cannot be a PC replacement.

Let’s look though at where the mouse comes from, which is a world where the PC was in the same place day after day, after day. Over time that PC moved around with us and the mouse cut the cord and came with some of us. I will always remember one day being in an airport lounge at SFO and seeing a lady who set herself up at a table with her laptop, a mouse and a portable printer. In her mind, I am sure, she was being mobile, but the reality was quite different.

If Apple thinks the iPad is a true mobile computer, then it makes sense that it is looking at an alternative to a mouse when you are trying to pinpoint something on the screen. If you are using the device on the subway, as you walk, in the car touching the device with your finger or the Apple Pencil makes much more sense than using a mouse. If I am right, mouse support is not a technical issue but a conscious decision of what fits the experience. The same can be said for support for a wired printer. This might not match people’s expectations of a true computer, but it matches human behavior.

File systems at an OS level is another behavioral debt we have. Does it still make sense to have one when much of our work is done in siloed apps and or stored in the cloud for easy collaboration?

Focus on What Devices Enable

We can argue as much as we want about whether or not an iPad Pro is a PC or not but I think we cannot argue with the premise of what the next computing experience is likely to include:

  • a mobile, not a portable device that is always connected
  • a more versatile operating system that transcends product categories
  • multiple input mechanism: touch, pen, and voice
  • “satellite” experiences driven by other devices such as AR glasses, wearables, IoT devices and sensors

Because of these characteristics, new workflows will be created, and old ones will evolve. Like for other industries, like the car industry, these changes will happen over the course of many years and impacting, people differently based on their line of work, their disposable income, the market availability in their region and most importantly their entrenched behaviors. Who gets there first does not get a medal but gets to show the way to others by showing what works and what does not.