Learning from the iPad

A few days ago, my buddy Steve and I grabbed lunch at a local restaurant. We are both Apple geeks, so naturally our conversation turned to the iPad for a few minutes. He mentioned that HP was supposed to be launching their iPad killer sometime in the near future. This got me to thinking about the iPad, Apple’s history with such devices and what we can learn from this revolutionary device.

Introducing the iPod

rio karma

First, let’s go back in time. Long before the iPod, there were a range of MP3 devices on the market. They varied in size, shape and capabilities. I had the Rio Karma. It was a slick little device that held a ton of music (considering the time in history). There were dozens of companies battling for superiority in the MP3 market at the time, all of them offering different features and supporting a wide range of music formats. For us techies, it was a lot of fun. For the general public, it was often confusing and down right irritating.

Along came Apple, who introduced the iPod. The iPod was simple – in fact, if offered far fewer features than most of the other players. It was easy to use. Apple had worked hard on developing the iTunes platform that made it easy to get your music from CD onto your iPod. I remember reading a book by Guy Kawasaki where he discussed how passionate Steve Jobs was about making his designers continually go back to the drawing board in order to make sure that iPod users could do anything on the iPod with no more than three clicks.

That’s the beauty of Apple. They keep things simple. The offer few features, when they could just as easily offer many more features. But they understand their consumers better than most other companies as well. They get that most of us just want to purchase well-designed products that do what they are supposed to without too much work. For Apple, it’s all about beautiful design paired with utility. Check out Steve Job’s original introduction of the iPod:

There is no mistaking who won this battle. Apple is still the dominant player in the portable music player business. There are alternatives and there are those who enjoy fumbling around for hours to get their alternative players to work correctly.

The iPad versus the HP Slate

We now sit on the brink of another device war – HP is set to launch its “iPad killer.” The interesting thing about this battle is that this time around, Apple was first to market with it’s unique device. Once again we have had the opportunity to see Apple’s remarkable design team at work. They created an elegant device and is still about utility.

I played with one the other night at a Best Buy store. Basically, there is one way to connect the device (via Apple’s proprietary connection cable or dock) and there were about four buttons. That’s it! It is simple to use and it accomplishes exactly what it was meant to accomplish. It is a beautiful piece of hardware that allows you to consume (not really create) the Internet, email, music, books, etc. Sure, you can create some content, but the true purpose behind the iPad is that it acts as a media interface.

The other part of the iPad that is remarkable is its connection to the iTunes interface and iPad-specific apps. Apple understands that their consumers have different needs. The app store allows them to take their iPad and make it fit their lives. Muck like the iPhone, the iPad remains a utilitarian device that is wildly customizable.

HP SlateThe HP Slate promises to do much more. But that is the problem. Some folks with appreciate this. It has more ways to input data. It has many more buttons. And it will do more.

But go back in time for a minute – who won the music player battle and how did they do it? If you’ll recall, it was Apple and they did it by offering a device that did less (in just three clicks).

This will be a fun battle to watch, but if I may be bold for a minute, I’d still put my money on Apple.

Doing More with Less: What Companies Should Learn from Apple

In the book “Rework” (affiliate link) by Jason Fried and the team at 37signals, Fried discusses how small businesses should look to Apple as a model to learn from when developing their own products or services. The premise is simple. Offer a few features and do those few things better than anyone else around.

This was the model that Google built its success upon in the early years. Both Google search and Gmail took complex tools and made them simple and easy to use.

No matter what type of business you own, there is a valuable lesson to be learned in this. The best products and services are those that easy to use and beautifully designed. The majority of consumers don’t want to spend days, weeks or months trying to figure something out. They want it to work “out of the box” without much hassle:

  • Keep your products and/or services simple.
  • Think ease of use.
  • Make them beautiful.
  • Being remarkable with you one feature is far more powerful than what your competitor will ever do when he offers dozens of features and does them all in a mediocre or poor way.
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