Amherst Bytes: The iPad 1.5 : Apple and the Path of the iPod
By Dylan Herts '13, Staff Writer
The iPad 2 is not the iPad 2, no matter what Steven P. Jobs announced to the world on Wed., March 2. Sure, he premiered a tablet successor to the original best-selling iPad that features a faster processor, more graphics capabilities and dual cameras. It has a thinner form factor, comes in two colors, and has a new multipurpose cover. But the iPad of March 2 is, however, just the second iPad, an iPad 1.5. We won’t see the real iPad 2 with all of its new features until this summer.

That’s because the iPad has never been about hardware. It’s not a gaming rig, and higher performance isn’t going to make music sound that much better or your friend requests get accepted sooner. For tablet computing, hardware is just an enabler. It makes new applications possible, but it doesn’t improve the computing experience at face value. The iPad’s success came from Apple’s greatest strength: simple software design.

Hardware is a perpetual race to the middle in the computer industry; all vendors purchase components like CPUs and flash memory from half a dozen different suppliers. If a product’s specifications are significantly better than the competition’s, consumers are going to get it at a significantly higher price. Since its inception, Apple has understood that, in the words of Jobs, “in hardware you can’t build a computer that’s twice as good as anyone else’s anymore … but you can do it in software.” Without innovative software, companies essentially compete to sell the same components in different plastic boxes for the lowest prices, minimizing profits and consumers’ choices. An iPad with the fastest processor and best graphics in the market would also be the most expensive tablet on the market. Instead, the iPad was designed to be simple.

As David Pogue (tech columnist for The New York Times) has pointed out, that simplicity has worked quite well for Apple. Using Pogue’s analysis, consider Apple’s iPod: upon its release in 2001, the MP3 player had fewer features, less storage space and cost more than the competition. The “cult of cool” had not been born yet, and convincing consumers that they needed to spend $400 to upgrade from their Compact Disc players was more difficult than simply adding another color or 10 more gigabytes. Apple stock was valued at $9.75 a share, and Steve Jobs’ return to the company from NeXT had yielded little more than a development deal with Microsoft that had hardcore Apple fans upset. Yet the iPod quickly became the best-selling music player on the market. The iPod sold not because it had better hardware or a lower price than the competition, but because its software was intuitively simple to use.

The iPad sold for the same reason. With a large screen and minimalist control interface, the design of the device is such that any user, picking up the iPad for the first time, can use it right away. With that ease of use, the size of the App Store and the potential for new apps, the iPad has become a product with an unlimited market. Apple kept the price low enough for people to purchase it, and its power-efficient processor keeps the device on long enough for people to use it.

All the iPad 1.5 does is bring the iPad up to speed with the hardware capabilities of the competition and set the stage for new features. It’s not the fastest or the most capacious — just the right platform for Apple’s strong software design. Apple hasn’t won the tablet market with hardware. It won’t win with hardware, and it doesn’t want to win with hardware. The software is its ticket, and the new stuff will come in a few months.

Based on Apple’s reliable release time tables, this summer should see the debut of the iPhone 5 and the upgrade to iOS 5. As much speculation as there is on what unreleased Apple merchandise looks like, we have yet to see any hints at new features in iOS 5. But even though March 2 has not revealed the true iPad 2, it presented Apple’s vision for the future in crystalline clarity. That vision just won’t go on sale until June.

Apple has stepped into what Joshua Topolsky (editor of Engadget) has termed the “post-PC era of computing.” Competition between tablet makers will no longer be a debate about hardware specs and clock speeds, but a debate about the quality of the overall user experience. Because of its current hold on the market, Apple can choose the grounds of the debate. The success of the iPod and iPad prove that Steve Jobs has chosen well. User experience is, after all, Apple’s greatest strength.

In terms of buying advice, just go ahead and purchase the iPad 1.5 — the software update won’t cost more than $10. Just watch for what comes out in the new iOS release in June. That update, with new features and functionalities, will bring the real iPad 2 to market. And if Apple has its way, the iPad will go the way of the iPod. That is, to quote Topolsky, “Apple doesn’t just want to own the market — it wants to own the idea of the market. We’ve seen this act before, and we know how it ends. There was a time before the iPod too, when companies like HP, Samsung and even Microsoft fought against Apple for the hearts and minds of the consumer — but I’ll be damned if anyone can remember it.” In a few months, iOS 5 and iPad 2 will hit the market and we’ll see whether this saga repeats itself.

Issue 18, Submitted 2011-03-09 10:43:08