The iPad Innovates By Doing Less, Not More

I finally got my 3G 64GB iPad on Sunday May 2nd (I was travelling and wasn’t home on April 30th when it was delivered).  I have been using it extensively, on planes, in cars (with someone else driving), at home, at restaurants and sitting outside in the sun, and I agree the iPad is an amazing device.  What makes it magical is not so much what it does, but all the things it doesn’t.  Sometimes great innovations are not on new features but on the careful design and simplification of features we already know.

The iPad is a great example of this type of innovation.  iPad reviews fall into two camps, those which compare it to a PC or netbook and find it lacking, and those which see it as a new form of computing and find it magical.  I have been using computers for almost 50 years starting with an IBM 1620 in 1964.    Since then computing has been on a relentless march to add new features and functions.  Each generation has provided more capabilities along with ever increasing complexity.  The iPad reverses this trend by offering fewer capabilities and less complexity.

Having been involved with personal computers since the first IBM PC, I find that the simplicity of the iPad is a joy.  Press one button and it instantly turns out.  There is no boot time, no diagnostics, no strange messages appearing on the screen, no virus scan etc.  Rebooting my office computer is a five to ten minute process, I can’t even begin to tell you how many messages fly by, how many programs start and how many files are checked for viruses.  My daily routine is to start the computer and then go for a walk and say hello to my staff.  If I’m lucky, the computer is ready when I get back to my desk.  But even then there is more waiting, I start my email program (Lotus Notes) and another delay while Notes thinks about how to get started.   And at the end of the day, turning off the computer is yet another wait.  I click shut down and Windows wastes even more of my time as it tries to figure out how to turn itself off.  Instant on and off is an important innovation.

The Apple App Store is the only way to get an application onto the iPad.  There have many comments about how the iPad is inherently limited because there is only a single official store for applications.  However in return for this limitation, it is easy for my six year old niece to go the App Store and download and install applications on her iPad.  The installation of every application is exactly the same, there are no confusing questions about install location, feature installation or customer experience programs.  Find an application, push install, type in your password and the application appears on your screen.  It’s always the same.  Updates are equally simple. Every time I go to the App Store it tells me there are updates to my installed and I can update all of them with the touch of a button.  Is the App Store more limited than the open marketplace for PC applications? Absolutely.  Do I find myself discovering and trying more applications for my iPad through the App Store? Absolutely.

The iPad is has no replaceable battery so there is no way for a user to carry a spare battery around in the event the iPad runs out of power.  Every time I take my laptop on a plane I plan my time based on my estimate of how much computing time I will get.  I try to figure out if I have enough power to both watch a movie (which drains the battery faster than reading email) and review the presentation a staff member gave me the previous day.  Is it worth carrying the weight of an extra battery in my bag in case I need it?  The iPad runs for at least nine hours on a charge regardless of what I do.  By removing the replaceable battery feature, extra space could be devoted to the battery itself, increasing the available run time.

The iPad is a great example of how what is left out is often as important as what new features are put in.  Plus it is just a whole lot of fun to use!

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3 Responses to The iPad Innovates By Doing Less, Not More

  1. David Steier says:

    The iPad Innovates by Redefining “More”

    “Less is More” doesn’t quite do the iPad justice. A few years ago (thanks to you), I had a chance to use and early HP OmniBook , what was then called a subcompact PC. It too had instant-on/warm-boot and a few other features for portability, but overall it was definitely “less” a PC, and after a few months of seeing that I had to carry around two machines on typical business trips, I stopped using it. Was the Omnibook innovative? Perhaps , but certainly not disruptively so.

    The iPad, in my mind, is a disruptive innovation precisely because it goes far beyond deciding which features to leave out – it is not a stripped-down PC. The iPad defines a category in which value is measured differently, and realizes that value with a systemic redesign that is as complex, if not more so, than the typical PC. The quality control in App Store’s review process, the power management systems, iBooks, the extensive use of multi-touch interfaces on a relatively large screen, the accelerometer and the racing games and other apps that take advantage of it – these all seem to me instance of putting more in, not less. Yes, the designers of the iPad have left certain PC features out, but to me the innovation of the iPad is in combining “more” into a single platform – and realizing how that combination delivers value, when nobody has done so before.

    My question is if both you and I agree that the iPad is a huge step forward, and that Apple has done the world a favor in creating it, how do we reconcile that with the directive to “Stop Chasing Disruptive Innovation”?

    –David

  2. Bill Shaw says:

    While I’m thrilled with my iPhone (jailbroken and unlocked) I would disagree that less is more with the iPad. Certainly not for the $800+ version you got. Until we see a true competitor that has multitasking, Flash support or HD video support, HDMI, USB, expandable memory, camera/video etc then I don’t see the masses jumping to buy this device. When the competition does show up Apple will either need to create a more desirable product or it’ll be ignored like the AppleTV(have one of these and also hacked to provide more content).

  3. Marisa Walls says:

    I am thrilled with my iPhone too! Nevertheless, I took a look at the new iPad and I thought wow!!! the iPad is very similar to my iPhone (the obvious difference being size… and a few other things). I agree, you do not create anything on an iPad like you do on an Apple Macbook Pro, and you can download tons of apps on the iPhone, iPad, Macbooks, etc. and services like Netflix, watch movies and what not. However, I think what will take the iPad to the next level will be receiving TV via satellite on an iPad – this takes watching TV to the next whole level – travelling iTV!

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