Last week I was on vacation with my family in Williamsburg, Virginia. I highly recommend it if you haven't been there. We stayed at a Hampton Inn which is usually considered a budget hotel. It was a fantastic hotel. I often stay at Hampton Inns because they have everything I want and need at a great price. Big rooms, comfy beds, a decent TV with 100 channels, and a free breakfast buffet. They also have attentive and super friendly service. They always seem to be be staffed with nice and helpful people.
Hampton Inn gets my business on a regular basis for one reason – they focus on things that are important to travelers and don't bother with needless frills. A well appointed business center is more important to me than a fancy lobby that I will never sit in. By focusing on what is of real value, they keep costs low and provide a great experience.
That got me thinking about the iPad. I know it sounds weird but I think about products a lot. I love the idea of the iPad. I have doodles in my notebook from five years ago for a tablet device like it. Yet, I've found little enthusiasm for it amongst regular folk (meaning non-geeks). Even hardcore Mac people who seem to be willing to buy every little thing that Steve Jobs comes up with aren't that interested. Why?
The typical answer I get is that they don't know what it is for. Some will point to their iPhone and say “I already have one and it makes phone calls too!” or “What is it? An eBook reader? Internet device? I already have a laptop.”
The problem with the iPad is not that it can only run one application at a time. That's certainly a problem but one that Apple will eventually fix. The big problem is that it isn't solving a big problem. It doesn't focus on what is important to people. The iPhone did. Apple understood that people wanted information wherever they were. The netbook concept was also successful by providing only Internet access (pretty much) and not trying to be a full blown laptop. eBook readers such as the Kindle or Nook are addressing the needs of voracious readers. They want to be able to carry ten books on a plane and still have it fit in their carry-on bag.
The iPad, in contrast, is neither fish nor fowl. It's an Internet device but with few advantages over a laptop or netbook. It's not exactly an eBook reader. Those have special displays to making reading easier over long periods of time. Traditional displays can be tough on the eyes when reading a book (I know. I tried it). As a media player, it is rather large to haul around just to listen to tunes.
All products must pass two tests. One is the “who cares?” test. Will anyone care enough to take a look at it? Does it grab your attention in some way? The second test, a more stringent one, is the “show me the money!” test. Will someone care enough plunk down their hard earned cash to buy one?
Apple's reputation and design aesthetics will almost always pass the first test. Pretty helps. Cool gizmo features like the giant touch screen will also help to get people to at least take a look. The second test can only be passed by providing enough consumers enough value for the right price. As far as the iPad goes, I'm not hearing the love out there.
I like the idea of the iPad. A small, lightweight, device that surfs the Internet, let's me check email, read eBooks, listen to music, and watch video on a screen that is big enough for my old eyes to see. Others don't share my enthusiasm. Perhaps the iPad tries to do too much. It does seem to want to compete with other devices that most people already have. Or perhaps it is simple too much money for something that doesn't replace a laptop or even an eBook reader.
For a great many people, the value is simply not there. Apple, in trying to create a trend, may have missed the most important aspect of product development – give people what they really want at a reasonable price and nothing more. Here, the value/price ratio appears to be way off. I'm hoping I'm completely wrong since the death of the iPad could set the entire tablet computing segment back.
Or maybe Steve Jobs should needs to stay at a Hampton Inn from time to time.