I Don’t Get the iPad, There I Said It

Back in the roaring 90s, I briefly held a position doing technical diligence for a company that wanted to do investments in startups.

It was toward the end of the dot-com Bubble, and everyone wanted to strike it rich, like a VC boss. Startups were printing fake money at the time driven by IPOs, and so lots of companies were spinning up venture arms to get a piece of new startups before they hit big and went public.

We all know how that ended.

Part of my job was to sit with startups, listen to their pitches and report back to the money people with an assessment. Most of what was called diligence in my job description turned out to be a dose of common sense, and I remember being bearish more often than not, which was not always met with enthusiasm, given how easy it was to make money then.

On a couple occasions, the startup pitch people did an end-around and went around me to the money people.

They would then proceed to drop the worst insult of the time.

“Jake just doesn’t get it.”

This was generally a fair observation because my lack of understanding was usually well-founded and boiled down to: I don’t get how you’re going to make money for us or anyone for that matter.

Still, that phrase remains a crowning insult in technology, and it has stuck with me to this day.

Why? Because maybe I don’t get it, and I should. If so, I need more information.

I use it now as a test for new technology, and as I sifted through the coverage of this week’s iPad announcement, I found myself thinking “I just don’t get it.”

Sure, it’s a beautiful piece of technology and design. Yes, it’s portable and convenient. Yes, it makes a ton of sense for some users, like doctors or teenagers. Yup, it’s totally a status symbol.

I get all that, but that’s not enough to explain the sheer volume of sales, some 15.4 million sold in Q4 alone. Staggering.

What’s interesting is that, even two years after its introduction, Apple is still helping us figure out what to do with its magical tablet. To me, all these could-do use cases match my general feeling that iPad is a secondary device, a delightful toy.

Having owned and lost an iPad, I can say there are some use cases that I miss, like playing games, reading and watching TV shows, but for the most part, these are in-between scenarios that my phone and laptop can do, just not as comfortably.

I also miss testing out new apps that are evolving the touch interface, e.g. I’ve been wanting to test out Clear. However, this definitely isn’t a normal use case and appeals to the designer in me, not the user. Definitely not a common use case.

For the most part, I don’t miss it though. I definitely miss the money it represents, but not the actual device.

When I travel, I’m constantly reminded of the iPad’s biggest shortcoming, i.e. it’s horrible for creating content. In airports, I frequently see people using iPad accessories to improve on this problem, most notably, the keyboard. Ever seen a person hunched over a propped up iPad with a keyboard attached? Doesn’t look very fun, but hey, it’s faster than poking the screen.

As a side note, those of you who hate email should be happy that the content creation shortcoming of all touch interfaces has forced people into brevity. It even has a signature, “Sent from my iPhone” the new hallmark of our civilization. But I digress.

To be clear, I like the iPad. I just don’t fully understand its appeal.

That said, I tend to be a serial nay-sayer; so maybe I’m missing something huge about the all-seeing, all-knowing iPad.

Find the comments if you think so.




  1. Actually, I quite agree in this case. I don’t get it and I haven’t got it. For me, the purpose of a mobile device is to stay in touch and interact. And since I rarely use my phone as such, that means typing. And I have found the iPad (or really any tablet/slate of similar size) to be about the most uncomfortable thing imaginable to type on. I survived my brother-in-law’s once for a few minute intervals only to log into web sites and quickly check on stuff I wanted to look up. Otherwise, the phone totally wins as  form factor I can always keep with me (which is what matters most to me) and is still fully functional for my needs.

    If I need anything more (and I often do) then it’s off to a notebook or desktop computer — though as I type this my only “desktop” is a NAS (also used for compute activities) and all my other computers are laptops. 🙂 All the big iron is in data centers. 😀

    Mobile is in the answer. Tablets, to me, don’t read as mobile because you need too many pieces to bring them along and use effectively. So, no, I don’t get the iPad either… and I don’t feel even sligthly bad about it. 😀

  2. I dont get zynga, I dont get instagram, I dont get a lot of them. When I was in school it was cool to read about new startup ideas and pass judgement on them, kind of like you mentioned in the beginning of the blog (only you were paid for that). Now I have stopped judging because I have been proven wrong. But it is not about me or few people around me. There are a lot of people, different types of people in the world away from silicon valley and with varied needs. It is useful to talk to various kind of people..not people in sxsw…normal people living in the day to day world. And you will be surprised! ..oh yes I don’t get ipad either

  3. As you know, my first reaction to the iPad was, “I don’t get it”. I then bought one for reading books (fail), surfing (win) and light note taking (meh). My main use is now the first hour of the day when I am playing catch-up (RSS, email, forums) while lying in bed and when I’m at at friends houses so I can stay connected.

    I ended up buying a kindle for reading novels because the iPad is too heavy and needs absolutely perfect light for reading, or you end up looking into a mirror.

    My recommendation would be, your first purchase should be a computer (laptop or desktop), then if you have money to throw away, buy a tablet. As you say, it is a secondary device, not a mainstay computer.

    I still have the iPad1 and so far I’ve seen no real reason to upgrade. iPad 3 looks OK, but certainly not worth the upgrade from an iPad2 and probably not from an iPad 1 IMHO.



  4. The problem is that you don’t understand that it’s not a laptop. It’s a tablet. With the increase in mobility comes some trade offs. You just have to understand that the iPad isn’t meant for typing papers.

  5. Obviously preaching to the choir. The success of the iPad is a bit boggling to me. Is the demand all fanbois? All status symbols? All in-between use cases? It’s really an interesting puzzle to me.

  6. Yup, I’m familiar w your exploits, and I got the same annoying meta reaction from the glossy display, i.e. watching myself watch it. The more I think about it, the more I like Amazon’s approach to tablets. We sell content, and you know you want it. Here’s something to make it easy and enjoyable to consume our content.

    Aside from selling apps, I don’t see that focus from iPad.

  7. To be clear, it’s a different equation when money is involved. So, yeah I like to disagree, but I also like to make money.

    I don’t get Zynga or Instagram either. Are we wrong? Not necessarily. Maybe we’re wrong about iPad, but I really want to understand why.

    I love talking to real users, and I do it all the time. It’s refreshing to get real perspective, minus all the glitz and glamour of the Valley.

  8. No, I definitely get what it is, and I get the tradeoffs. Be honest, the iPad isn’t really *for* anything other than convenience. You have to understand it’s a luxury item, not a real computing device. Just saying, I’ve done the legwork, and I’m not making an uninformed proclamation. The iPad is a delightful toy. Period.

  9. I have to agree that the iPads are glorified toys and for convenience, I myself waited till the retina screen was out to purchase my first iphone4, I love the portability and how everything I have is linked and with me and viewing is just beyond words. But I recently went to purchase a new computer and I chose a laptop for several reason as you mentioned, keyboard and being able to have storage space like 12 terabytes externally as I currently have. The tablets are limited and unless you jailbreak them are more than limited for what you can do.

    Just my 2 Cents 😉

  10. I use my 1st gen iPad in bed at 2 times: in the early AM before I get up to start the day (checking email, RSS, Twitter) & at night to unwind (more Twitter or maybe reading a book or longer articles that I marked to ‘read later’). Otherwise, I take it with me into meetings to take lightweight notes or track my work email/schedule. 

    It’s purely a content consumption device, best designed to fill the gap between primary computing device and phone (which always goes with you). As such – yep, it’s a luxury.

    But it’s one that I’m content to indulge myself with for now – and can’t see myself upgrading to ‘better’ models. (There’s nothing at all compelling about either the 2 or 3 to me…)

  11. Glad to see I’m not the only person who doesn’t get it. The technology Apple puts into its iOS devices is awesome, and I really wish I could the battery life I got out of my iPad from my MBP and Android phone.

    Still, I wonder what the frenzy is all about, wish I could get a breakdown of user demographics, but that won’t happen.

  12. You make an excellent point that further confounds me, i.e. there’s no real reason to upgrade beyond the loss of new iOS features. I felt the same way about my OG iPhone. So, are all the iPads sold to new customers (i.e. no previous iPad) or to households w iPads?

    I really think it’s the latter, enforcing the status symbol and for teenagers and kids arguments.

    The iPad is a phenomenon that I really want to understand, if only bc the motivations are interesting to me.

  13. The feature gap between different devices is an interesting one, and sometimes backfires. Sadly, the big win for the iPhone 4S was Siri… a feature that I knew beforehand would be one I just wouldn’t use. But apart from that, what draw was there really for device upgraders (especially iPhone 4 owners)? It’s the first phone upgrade I skipped and haven’t regretted it a bit. Makes me wonder whether the same will hold true when the 5 comes out (unless of course they pull another iPad naming change on that too… which I suspect they  will). 🙂 I fully appreciate that tug we gadget freaks feel when something new and better comes out, but sometimes it’s good to step back and ask, “What are we really getting here?”

    Personally, I think it’s high time that Apple be putting as much energy into OS and built-in app improvements as it seems to be putting into it’s hardware. iOS 5.1 is a major disappointment for a point release. It’s sad how many long-standing deficiencies they aren’t addressing. The balance of the jailbreak ROI tipped in favor of /not/ jailbreaking for me with iOS 5… but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of room for Apple to reap a lot of low hanging fruit in this OS.

  14. Turns out Siri is for showing off, but not for actual use, as predicted 🙂 I think the big draw was being out of contract on the 3 and 3G and wanting something new and cool.

    Good points in there. I think the pull they’re feeling is balancing innovative OS features w lagging hardware that’s still under contract, so if anything, the carriers are slowing the innovation. Similar story w Android, but the onus is on them, not on Google.

    Apple does fit a luxury niche that allows them to do this to some extent.

    It’s all flowers and sunshine now, but at some point, the market will get saturated. Right?

    Semi-related, I’m pondering a post on disruptive vs. sustaining/evolutionary/revolutionary innovation that will touch these points.

  15. Here’s why I like the iPad:

    1) portable streaming HD video: from the dining room, to the kitchen, to the bedroom
    2) a skype appliance: front and back facing cameras with a big screen are handy when grandparents want to see their new grandchild
    3) consuming RSS feeds
    4) reading — not writing — email
    5) some games
    6) pandora
    7) much faster than a smart phone
    8) better battery life than a smart phone
    9) charges a LOT faster than a smart phone

    Other than that… yeah, it’s a kind of status symbol. I do think that there is a kind of “critical mass” where something becomes much more intuitive, and then crazy popular for reasons hard for tech geeks to understand… sort of like why everybody flocked to the iPod even tho bigger/better/clunkier MP3 players were available.

  16. These make sense to me. Like I said, I like the iPad, but it defies logic. It’s essentially a portable entertainment device, which I’m noticing as I travel without it. I guess, extending that theory, its popularity would make sense.

    And if you continue, given the current economic downturn, it’s looking a lot more like a luxury item. Not a judgement, just a statement, keeping in mind I used to have one 😉

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