Why Do People Buy iPads?

That’s the question asked by Christopher Phin at Tap! Magazine. Phin’s basic answer boils down to this:

People buy iPads both specifically because they can see where it’s going to fit into their home or office lives, and because they’re understandably drawn to a shiny slab of Apple gorgeousness – from where the useful, practical, productive bit often follows.

I can certainly see that logic. He is not saying that iPads are useless, but that often people just don’t know what the hell they are going to use them for when the get them — but they just want one because they look so damned neat.

When the iPad came out my wife asked if I was getting one, my answer that the time was ‘no’. I was set in two thoughts:

  1. It’s not as good as a laptop.
  2. It’s just a big iPhone and I have an iPhone.

It took just two weeks for the then still unreleased iPad to change my mind. I bought an iPad with the following thought: at the very least it will be a better screen to watch movies on while flying.

That was the extent of my “reason” for buying an iPad. Since then I am a huge proponent of an iPad and if given the choice between a 13″ MacBook Air with no iPad, or a desktop computer + iPad — I would choose the latter.

Hands down, without a shadow of a doubt, the iPad is the best “couch computer” I have ever owned. It is also the best: meeting tool, coffee shop companion, flying entertainment device I have ever had.

But honestly so would be the 11″ MacBook Air.

Oh I almost forgot the iPad is better than anything I have ever used at doing a few specific tasks, including:

  • Reading RSS (Reeder)
  • Reading articles (Instapaper)
  • Restarting my web server (Prompt + 3G)
  • Reading books (Kindle)

I think Phin is spot on when he states:

But there’s something I see time and again with the iPad: people often don’t have, as Darren implies, a clear practical use in mind when they’re buying one; but over weeks and months, they start using it more for all kinds of both predictable and unexpected tasks, and using traditional computers less.

This is partly do to the excellent apps available, but I think a larger part of it all is because people simple want to use the device.

Craig Grannell in response to Phin’s post stated:

Only by embracing new technology and then seeing what we can do with it can we ensure we don’t remain stuck in the past. And for everyone moaning about the lack of obvious utility in tablets, people once said the same thing about computers—and look where that got us.

I can completely relate to this because growing up I had not need for a computer, but I sure as hell wanted one. After getting a computer guess what? I found a lot of things I could use that computer for.

Of course all of this discussion started because of Darren Murph’s post at Engadget where he questioned the utility of the iPad while still disclaiming that he does think they are useful, to someone, somewhere, probably.

Murph:

[…]but this isn’t about proving that a tablet can do one or two things; it’s about the limitations and awkwardness of using one that no one seems to talk about.

and:

Tablets, for whatever reason, seem to defy logic when it comes to purchase rationalization in the consumer electronics realm.

The brunt of Murph’s argument seems to be that he finds the very awkward to use, laptops to be more useful and buyers of tablets to be anomalies.

In fact he believes his smartphone is a far better alternative and cheaper too.

What Murph misses is that no consumer decisions are rational, that’s why we have a world with Ferraris. That’s why we have first class and coach. That’s why we have tailor made hand-stitched clothing and one size fits all shirts.

Consumers sometimes, how ever un-rational, want something neat and shiny. What Murph seems to miss that Grannell and Phin both pointed out is that something can be both “neat and shiny” while still offering a lot of utility.

We saw it first with computers, then the Internet, smart phones and now tablets.

Murph ends with these two questions:

But here’s a genuine question: how many of you actually use your tablet (of any brand) for productivity tasks as much as you thought you would when you lined up around the block to buy it? And after you invest a couple hundred in accessories to make it halfway useful, aren’t you better off (financially and otherwise) with a bona fide laptop?

You already know from my statements above that I use the iPad for far more tasks then I ever thought I would — and it is indeed my preferred way to read email. I don’t for one second think it would have made more sense to buy a “bona fide laptop” because:

  1. I already had a “bona fide laptop”.
  2. And my laptop can’t do some of the things that my iPad can.

If you (you as is anyone) continue to think about tablets in comparison to laptops then you will never understand the value that tablets hold. In the same way that someone that compares car travel to airplane travel will never understand the value of these road trip.

Originally posted for members on: August 22, 2011
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