Hearts and Minds
When Joshua Topolsky over at Engadget posted his “It’s Apple’s ‘post-PC’ world — we’re all just living in it” editorial I knew it would drive the Engadet commenters straight up the wall.
Topolsky’s point was that Apple was setting up an argument of language rather than pure technology:
What Apple has done by introducing its “post-PC” language into the vernacular is almost more a game of semantics. Now when Motorola boasts the brain-crushing, bone-splitting power of the Xoom, the company could easily come off like the guy who buys the red Ferrari because he has something to prove.
Apple is in the process of making the iPad the de-facto standard for what the next stage of computing looks like, from the look and feel to the kind of software and experiences you have on the device. 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.
I’ve noticed that the “post-PC” idea that Steve Jobs is pushing is actually a discussion of two separate ideas:
- Does the fact that you have to connect an iPad to a PC defeat the argument?
- If Apple doesn’t want to get bogged down by speeds and feeds why does Apple mention them so much?
“It’s a Post-PC device that needs to be plugged into a PC!”
This is true for now. While the iPhone feels natural (to me at least) to plug into a computer and manage, the first time I plugged in my iPad it was immediately obvious that the “tethered” model was breaking down. I’m of the opinion that it’s only a matter of time before Apple figures out a way to “sever the cable”. It won’t happen in iOS 5 as it’s to soon for such a major shift. But Apple will slowly put the pieces in place until the iPad can truly function on it’s own. (You can see that now in how Apple is using Home Sharing so you can stream stuff to your iOS devices without syncing. Like anything Apple does it’s a small but highly refined step that lays the foundation for future features.)
So is the iPad truly a “post-PC” device? Once you activate it and sync your data the first time the iPad really can be the device that functions as a main computer for most consumers. There will always be computing tasks that function best on a traditional computer. (Much like a person who drives a car can use only a car most of the time, there will be times when when that person will have to rent a truck in order to move a couch.)
“Apple wants to talk about experience because it can’t compete on specs!”
The other half of the “post-PC” era (as Apple sees it) is that products are measured more by the experience of using them rather than the specifications of the internal hardware. But if that’s true why did Apple spend time talking about a “up to 2x as fast” processor and a “9x as fast” graphics?
The key to understanding Apple’s thinking is understanding the difference between four words that are often used interchangeably but are actually quite different:
An example using iPad Graphics:
Specs: (rarely if ever revealed by Apple)
“The first iPad used a PowerVR SGX 535 GPU graphics card (the same used in the iPhone 3GS) while iPad 2 is rumored to carry a duel core PowerVR SGX543 chip. The new GPU also supports Apple’s OpenCL specification which allows applications to use unused GPU processing power for general purpose computing tasks.”
Features: (used as bullet points in marketing)
“iPad 2 has graphics that are nine times as fast as the original iPad”
Benefits: (used as talking points by retail staff)
“Games will load quicker, scrolling will be faster, and animations will be smoother”
Experience: (why people have a connection to the product)
“The iPad 2 feels very responsive. It feels alive! Really fun to use”
Notice that this list goes from the most cerebral to the most emotional. (Apple is shooting for the heart and not for the head.) When Android fans talk about “open” they’re talking about specs on the cerebral side of the spectrum. ”Open” is only the tool, the real question is what features/benefits/experience does that provide to the end user? A political argument about walled gardens and draconian control doesn’t mean anything when scrolling is jittery, the UI is a mess, and the phone never gets updated.
It’s not that specs don’t matter, but they are only tools used to create something more meaningful. The hammer and the nail aren’t as important as the home they are used to build.
This exchange in the Engadget comments between Alex Basson and Andy Skuba perfectly captures the argument between people who get it and the reflexive techie who doesn’t:
Ha. I can imagine it. The Pony Express throwing away their powerful horses for these ridiculous horseless-carriage auto-mobile contraptions. Art editors discarding their paint palettes and X-Acto Knives for this MS Paint silliness. Novel writers abandoning their quills for this type-writter nonsense.
These so-called “innovations” are all merely toys. You can tell that they are toys because I dismiss them as such. In no way do they represent the very beginnings of profound transformations in the way the world works, because I simply can’t see how that’s possible.
I ride my horse to my office, where I write my novels with a quill and illustrate them with a paint brush. The way I do things are the way things will always be done. The tools I use will be always be the tools everyone uses, forever and ever. Incremental improvements to existing tools may occur—horses may get faster, brushes lighter, quills hold more ink—but disruptive changes never will.
To which Andy Skuba replies:
That you directly associate the Winds of Change with Apple’s marketing and self-image strategy makes me question your logic.
Irrespectively, in your illustration the horses should be replaced with toy horses. It looks like a horse, it moves like a horse, and if you are only needed to do light horse-related work then it’s great! It’s the future of Horse! It takes less feed, craps less, fits on your back, it’s log, log, log! Wait, that’s not right. I digress…
Alex Bisson retorts:
But that’s exactly my point. Just as a car isn’t a horse or even a horse-like object, the iPad isn’t a PC. It doesn’t look like a PC, it doesn’t move like a PC, it doesn’t take PC feed, and people who insist on judging it by examining its teeth are missing the point entirely.
It’s human nature to find change difficult. We’re in that weird place in time when the car is starting to catch on and the horse and buggy whip people are getting nervous.