Botched?

More about the iPad, with a layman’s take on positioning your product and “inventing” a whole new type of computer.

This started as a reply to a comment on the other post, but it quickly got away from me and turned into something else. First, the comment:

my whole issue with the ipad is pretty much summed up by my tweet of “a better name for it would have been the Segway.”

Like the Segway, the iPad fell victim to unofficial, unverified rumor mongering and bullshit hype. The ipad has a forward facing camera for videoconferencing. The ipad has a revolutionary input mechanism. The ipad cures rabies.

At the end of the day, fanboys will say “but none of that was confirmed!” … but alas, hype is hype, whether official or unofficial. Apple is a big boy, and ultimately responsible for their own rep, for better or for worse. Same with the Segway. And note: just like the segway, there were plenty of nerds who still loved it when it finally debuted. I’m not trying to claim the iPad isn’t lovable. Only that it didn’t live up to its rumored reputation.

So this time, there wasn’t a fanboy in the house who could legitimately claim they were blown away. Everything Apple showed us was fine. It was good. It just *didn’t match the hype*.
[…]
That’s not to say the iPad won’t be a success. I’m only saying its launch goes down in history as one of Apple’s most botched. This time, an apple product will truly live or die based on it’s qualities, rather than its hype. Because in my mind, the hype failed.

Whether you like it, hate it, or are indifferent, saying that the iPad announcement was “botched” is completely ludicrous.

The main mistake is over-inflating the importance of “fanboys,” just like all the end-of-open-computing Cassandras are over-inflating the importance of hackers. You (or technically, “we”) have to come to terms with the fact that Apple’s Just Not That Into You.

The iPad is targeted squarely at a “casual” audience. Not even casual computer users, like I’d originally typed, but people who don’t even think of what they do in terms of “computing.” It’s the consumer-level appliance computer that Jobs has always wanted. It’s the original Mac that required a special tool just to open it, but you don’t have to teach people how to use the mouse. It’s the iMac that advertised only having to plug in one cord, but you don’t have to plug in anything. It’s not aimed at people who would be buying a Linux netbook or even a MacBook; it’s aimed more at people who would be buying digital picture frames or portable DVD players or Kindles.

The most telling line from the whole keynote was when Jobs said Amazon did a great job with the Kindle, and Apple was “standing on their shoulders.” It was specifically about their new bookstore, but you can extrapolate that to the whole product launch. Ebook readers existed before the Kindle. There are, and were, other models that have “better” specs and features, at least on paper. But Amazon succeeded on three counts:

  1. Backing up the device with a distribution model that already had tons of content.
  2. Marketing the product not based on features but utility.
  3. Understanding that their target audience wasn’t people shopping for ebook readers, but people who wouldn’t even have thought of getting an ebook reader.

The hard part wasn’t convincing people that their ebook reader was better than the other ebook readers — in a lot of ways, it probably was, but not in such a dramatic way that anyone would instantly rush out and buy one. The hard part was convincing people that they needed an ebook reader at all. And because they understood that, they ended up Kleenexing their product name — everybody knows what an ebook reader is now, and more often than not, they call it a “Kindle.”

And by that measure, calling Apple’s iPad announcement and the build-up to it “botched” is nonsense. It’s already done most of what it needed to do, and for free. Everybody was talking about this thing for months before its release, and Apple had officially said nothing. After the announcement, every blog had a reaction — not just the tech ones, either, but every blog. What you call “hype” I call “genius.” They only had to spend about the same marketing budget as they’d have spent on a new iPod release, but they instantly became the major player in a market, without even doing anything.

They didn’t have to live up to any hype. The hype had already done its job, which was convincing people that this was something that they needed to pay attention to. All Apple had to do was not blow it. The thing could’ve been priced out of the range of people who just want a “casual” computer, but it wasn’t. It could’ve been running OS X, convincing a lot of people that it was just another Mac or that they’d have to “learn” a new operating system, but they don’t. It could’ve been announced with just the built-in apps and come across as a glorified ebook reader or video player with no real indication of what apps for it would be like, but it comes with the App Store. They could’ve tied it to an expensive data plan, but you can get it Wi-Fi only or you can pay a monthly fee with no contract.

Compare it to the HP Slate, which is closest in terms of form factor, and which had its own mini-keynote announcement from Ballmer at CES. You could look at a side-by-side feature list and quite reasonably assume that the HP Slate is a no-brainer, and that Apple’s product launch was “botched.” But you’d be missing the point to a colossal degree. The people that Apple is trying to reach don’t care about feature lists. I’m not being condescending or patronizing with that, either — I’m one of those people. I’m a nerd with a CS degree, so I’m ostensibly supposed to care about feature lists, but I don’t unless I’m buying a “real” computer. I don’t care what kind of processor is in my DVD player, I don’t care what fuzzy-logic ever-brown crispness sensor is in my toaster. I just want them to do what they’re made to do.

What does the Kindle do? It lets you buy and read books, in grayscale on a non-backlit screen. I don’t read enough to spend $250 for that. No sale on account of limited use.

What do any of the Android tablets do? Web surfing, e-mail, date book, contact list. I’ve already got a phone that handles some of that stuff and a laptop that handles the rest. Presumably there’s an Android app store, but I haven’t heard much about it or seen any specific examples of Android apps. I’ve never seen any screenshots or video of an Android device that didn’t look like a pre-iPhone cell phone display. I keep hearing that it’s an “open” platform, and keep being reminded how great that is, but as far as I’m concerned it’s like any Linux distribution — yeah, great it’s open, but there’s nothing I really want or need to do on it since all my favorite apps are for another OS. No sale on account of vague usefulness.

What does the HP Slate do? Everything that Windows 7 does, in a thin and ultraportable form factor. Unlike Android, I know exactly what Windows is and how it works. Which browser do I use? Any one I want. Where do I get applications for it? Anywhere I want. Are those apps going to run well on a machine this small? Try it and see. What about viruses? Windows 7 comes with a free virus scanner that works well. So I have to run a virus-scanner on a handheld computer? No sale on account of a surfeit of choices.

What does the iPad do? Not everything, but a lot of things. I, like millions of other people, know exactly what iPhone OS is and how it works. Which browser do I use? Mobile Safari. Where do I get applications for it? From the App Store. Are those apps going to run well on a machine like this? They will say “designed for iPad.” What about viruses? Apple controls the App Store. Here, I’m tempted, because what over-heated tech bloggers describe as a closed system with a lack of choice, I see as something that keeps me from having to make choices I don’t care about.

That focus, combined with the “it just works” philosophy, is why Apple can branch out into consumer electronics with more success than other companies. Even companies with technically superior hardware. It’s subtle enough — or people just fail to “get” it — that a lot of people dismiss it as the “reality distortion field.” They blather that Apple “fanboys” will buy anything with the Apple logo on it and then insist that it’s the most awesome thing ever created, even when confronted with objective proof that brand X has more storage/Flash support/a camera/open source operating system/whatever. But for a lot of people, I would even say most people, it’s about getting something that does exactly what we want, no more and no less, and doing it well.

Again, all Apple had to do was get people believing that a computer in between a phone and a full-size laptop or desktop machine is a useful thing to have. And it’s not just that they didn’t “botch” that; they succeeded beyond the level anybody could’ve imagined or predicted. People who’d never have considered getting a netbook (like myself) are now debating the merits of a $500 “casual-use” portable computer, and everybody in the target market at least knows the name “iPad” and has an idea of what it does. (And again, they got much of that for free). Marketing material aside, they didn’t make a revolutionary device that absolutely no one else could make. They made a very good device that does exactly what it needs to do. And where Apple succeeds while others fail is that they didn’t stop with the hardware or even the OS: they presented the entire thing from processor to form factor to how people will actually use it and to how they can extend it.

15 thoughts on “Botched?”

  1. I dunno. “Botched” may be in the eye of the beholder, so here’s kinda what I was going by (in addition to my own reaction when I heard about it):

    According to Techcrunch, Apple’s stock dropped as the tablet was announced, (until the price was revealed)

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/01/27/apples-ipad-announcement-sends-stock-down-and-then-the-price-was-unveiled/

    A net win for Apple, but clearly it simply wasn’t delivering up until the very end, when the price was announced.

    Engadget calls the iPad launch “exceedingly underwhelming”:

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/31/sonys-john-koller-apples-entrance-into-gaming-market-drives-c/

    It single-handedly turned everyone into comedians when the name was announced; even for people who weren’t closely following it. (see: twitter, facebook)

    I could keep going. But in summary, what started off as an exciting day turned into “Really? That’s it?” for literally everyone I knew who was following the launch, except you.

    >Everybody was talking about this thing for months before its release

    I would argue the apparent target market wasn’t. (And that target is in dispute I guess, as the takeaway I got from the keynote is Jobs wants you to use it in addition to your iPhone and iMac, whereas most people are saying this is for people who will use it *instead of* iphones and imacs)

    But I’m sure the target market heard the feminine hygiene jokes.

    I’m sticking by my “botched” assessment.

  2. You can stick by whatever you want, of course, but I’d hope it were based on something more substantive than that.

    Apple’s stock fluctuates wildly based on wind patterns and planetary alignments and whenever Steve Jobs’s coughs. Basing any type of long-term “analysis” on the stock price after the entire announcement would be silly, much less staring at it minute-by-minute and claiming that was an indicator of anything.

    One guy at Engadget called in “exceedingly underwhelming,” in a post about the PSP. I believe user “JesusManson323” also can be quoted as saying “THE HP SLATE is gonna kick the iTampon’s ass” if you’d like another quote from a trusted industry analyst to support your argument. Mr. Manson323 pronounced his judgement in this engadget post. That post lists all of the faults or version 1.0-isms of the device that everyone is acknowledging, but comes to the conclusion “The possibilities for this device are huge.”

    If you’re basing your opinion on people on Twitter and Facebook then no, really, you don’t need to keep on going. After all, people making sophomoric jokes about the name of the device is the main reason that the Nintendo Wii was such a catastrophic failure for that company.

    But in summary, what started off as an exciting day turned into “Really? That’s it?” for literally everyone I knew who was following the launch, except you.

    Then you missed the part where I said “really? that’s it” or that it was just a big iPod Touch. But again, what you’re ignoring is that I’m not in the target audience (and I’m still tempted to get one), and that this is almost exactly how people initially reacted to the iPod and the iPhone. (And before anyone reads too much into that: the iPad won’t approach iPod or iPhone sales, or even MacBook sales, for years, if even that. I highly doubt Apple expects it too).

    The “everybody” in “everybody was talking about this think for months before its release” were the tech journalists on blogs, magazines, and newspapers. They talked about it constantly, and worked each other up into such a lather that by the time Apple did announce something, it was front page news everywhere. Apple didn’t need to reach its target market before it had something to show off; one of the defining factors of their target market is that they don’t care about technology for its own sake, they don’t want to think about “computer” but about “video/music/book/game machine” and the brand name.

    Again, you say that Apple “botched” the announcement by letting an unreasonable amount of hype build up around the iPad, forcing them to announce an unremarkable machine that couldn’t possibly live up to expectations.

    And I still say that you’re completely missing the point. The type of Internet yabbo who lists his system specs in his .sig file and cracks jokes about “iTampons” is never going to be impressed by the hardware that Apple wants to make. The same was true of every MacBook, as people still complain about the “Apple Tax.” The same was true of the iPhone, which people said from day one was no more “special” than their existing cell phones, and which people predicted would fail when BlackBerry or Google/HTC released a version with superior hardware. Neither the MacBook nor iPhone lines have failed.

    You say “literally everyone I know who was following the launch.” Apple didn’t need to reach the people already following the launch; those people were going to be following it no matter what they announced. What Apple needed to reach were the people who’d think “Hmm, all these people who are ‘good with computers’ seem to be really interested in Apple’s new thing. It must be a big deal.”

    Tonight at the Grammys, Stephen Colbert (niche, nerdy audience, but still big exposure) pulled out an iPad as if it were the latest status symbol. Today, my Mom asked me not two minutes into a phone conversation if I’d heard about the iPad, what I thought about it, and wanted to tell me what she thought about it.

    So what was it that Apple “botched,” again?

  3. Woah the ipod was expensive when it was new. Also, isn’t Cassandra the seeress who foresaw the fall of Troy only no one believed her ’cause she didn’t put out for Apollo? So are you agreeing with those anit-hacker people or not?

    Also, if you’re discussing how “well launched” a new product is, I think that shows the hype around it wasn’t botched. Look at the Segway. If it hadn’t been the center of a hype hurricane, no one would have bought it. Seriously, if it had just shown up on Amazon’s site without any preamble do you think anyone would have bought one? It invented the underpowered-two-wheeled-vehicle-seriously-you-could-jog-faster market.

    Also, I can’t believe I’m discussing how well launched a product was. I will never make fun of my cousins for going on forever about “this season’s looks” again.

  4. After all, people making sophomoric jokes about the name of the device is the main reason that the Nintendo Wii was such a catastrophic failure for that company.

    This quote makes me want to reiterate what I said in my original comment: By saying Apple botched the announcement, I am not saying the iPad will be a failure. I think I went over that several times in the comment.

    It sounds like you’re saying they didn’t botch anything since we’re not the target market. The same could be said about Dreamworks CGI movies since they’re aimed at little kids, but that doesn’t get around the fact that The Adult World At Large seems to agree they make shitty movies. Shark Tale was a total turd, saying “it’s for kids!” doesn’t really negate that.

    I know there was skepticism with the iPhone (mainly the price, which they did indeed botch at launch), but there was a lot of genuine excitement and awe during and after that keynote. It was amazing. I can’t really put the iPhone announcement in the same ballpark as the iPad announcement.

    Oh, and since I’m great at giving you things to rant about: Myst was the greatest adventure game of all time.

    Just kidding.

  5. Who’s yelling? And I don’t yell at you, Jonathan, I just get unpredictably and inexplicably mean.

    Also, isn’t Cassandra the seeress who foresaw the fall of Troy only no one believed her ’cause she didn’t put out for Apollo? So are you agreeing with those anti-hacker people or not?

    I’m disagreeing with the people who are complaining that the iPad will be the downfall of hacking and computer programming. Cassandra in the myth turned out to be correct, but as I understand it, “Cassandra” is now used to refer to anyone who’s constantly predicting doom, whether it’s accurate or not. (Like narcissists are obsessed with themselves in general, not just their appearance like Narcissus was).

    It sounds like you’re saying they didn’t botch anything since we’re not the target market. The same could be said about Dreamworks CGI movies since they’re aimed at little kids, but that doesn’t get around the fact that The Adult World At Large seems to agree they make shitty movies. Shark Tale was a total turd, saying “it’s for kids!” doesn’t really negate that.

    Did you see Shark Tale? I didn’t, and I wouldn’t begrudge anybody who hadn’t. But then, I wouldn’t go around declaring that Dreamworks had absolutely screwed the pooch on that one unless I knew for sure that it was an objectively bad movie. No, you can’t just say “it’s for kids” and turn a bad movie into a good one. But neither can you say that a movie aimed at kids is automatically bad just because it’s not targeted at you. And you picked a bad example, because every account I’ve heard (again, I haven’t seen it myself) says that Shark Tale failed not because it was a kids’ movie, but because it was a bad movie.

    It’d be more like my saying that “Mad Men” fails because it doesn’t have time travel or robots. I could stamp my feet and insist that period piece character studies are not mutually exclusive with time travel and robots, and there’s no reason that they couldn’t have included both. I could point to all of my friends on the Time Travel Robots Message Board who make fun of the show and then infer that that has anything to do with the show’s ratings. I could complain that I never would’ve gotten into time travel and robots if my parents had only let me watch “Mad Men,” and that AMC is ushering in a dark future in which we’re not allowed to watch TV shows about time travel and robots.

    Or I could acknowledge that it’s a fine series that does exactly what it needs to for its target audience, and I’m just not in that audience. They didn’t botch anything unless they released an inferior product, or unless they tried to market a product that nobody paid attention to.

  6. And you picked a bad example, because every account I’ve heard (again, I haven’t seen it myself) says that Shark Tale failed not because it was a kids’ movie, but because it was a bad movie.

    That’s exactly why I picked Shark Tale, because I wanted to go on record and declare that one doesn’t need to be a member of the target market themselves to objectively look at something and evaluate it.

    Several times you’ve compared initial skepticism (like to the iPod announcement) to the product’s eventual success, and I want to point out:

    1. Eventual success isn’t what I was talking about. I was specifically talking about the launch.

    2. But If you do want to look at success, I’m not about to call AOL a great product just because it had billions of dollars in revenue 10 year ago. I’m not going to say Vista wasn’t botched just because it’s on millions and millions of machines (and that I’m happily using it on my current laptop at the moment).

    3. The iPad’s not released, so there is no “eventual success” to look at yet. So if that’s how you want to measure things, it is too soon to claim they *didn’t* botch it.

    There’s this whole sea of iPad letdown out there — much more so than with any other Apple announcement I can remember — and it’s not just the usual whiners. It’s a lot of apple fans themselves. It turned out to be way less of a product than even the pro-apple sites were hoping it to be. Even the biggest of apple fans are struggling with apple’s “magical” tag line.

    There is no way Apple was aiming for this, and this is why I say they botched it. I’m not talking about the quality of the iPad itself or iPad’s predicted eventual success.

  7. That’s exactly why I picked Shark Tale, because I wanted to go on record and declare that one doesn’t need to be a member of the target market themselves to objectively look at something and evaluate it.

    But you did evaluate the iPad, and you said “It was fine. It was good.”

    I guess I don’t get what you’re talking about. If you’re not talking about the quality or potential of the iPad itself, or how likely it is to be a seller, then I don’t know what you think Apple “botched,” or how you think Apple could’ve “fixed” it. Especially if it’s gotten enough “market penetration” in less than one week to be on the front pages of newspapers and mentioned on television and asked about by moms who don’t read tech blogs.

    There’s this whole sea of iPad letdown out there — much more so than with any other Apple announcement I can remember

    Then you don’t remember the iPod launch, which is why I posted the link to those archives. Or the first iMac, which everyone said was a disaster because it didn’t have a floppy drive. Or any product which removes a FireWire connection. Apple fans complain; that’s what they (we) do. And Apple over-exaggerates; that’s what they do, and that’s why everybody reads the “magical and revolutionary” spiel and moves on to “how would I use one of these?”

    Like I said, I’m disappointed that there’s no pressure-sensitive Wacom-designed digitizer on the thing. But I’m not arrogant enough to assume that Apple failed by not including one, or that everybody wants the same thing I want out of it.

  8. So when people compare someone to Cassandra, they’re saying they shouldn’t be believed? That’s actually ironic.

    The scared coding monkeys are wrong though. If a kid’s gonna code, a kid’s gonna code. Hell, I grew-up with computers from the age of six, had a systems analyst mom, to this day associate programming with free candy and still never felt the urge to code, ever. Whenever my mom would start to explain what she did my eyes would start to glaze like a doughnut on a Krispy Kreme conveyor belt. The little brother on the other hand, total Linux fanboy. Ya either got it, or ya ain’t.

    You know what was a great kids’ film? Dumbo. Yes it had racist crows, but “Pink Elephants on Parade” is one of the best animated sequences ever.

  9. So when people compare someone to Cassandra, they’re saying they shouldn’t be believed? That’s actually ironic.

    Not necessarily, it just refers to someone who’s always predicting doom and isn’t believed because they’re dismissed as crazy. Maybe “scared coding monkeys” is the more accurate mythological allusion.

  10. Hmm, reading back through all these comments and such, I can see why Jonathan said I was “yelling.” It never sounds that way in my head, though.

  11. So it’s not ironic, you don’t think?

    And I’m impressed you caught my paraphrasing of the “frightened scratching baboons” from the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the scribes of Sumer predict that the simplified, but time intensive, hieroglyphs will prevent universal literacy and keep the ability to read and write in the hands of a powerful few. Not that many people are up on Ancient Mesopotamian literature nowadays. Good for you!

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