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The Trouble with Technologists

by Van Baker  |  March 15, 2011  |  6 Comments

It is widely rumored that Apple sold somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 iPad 2 tablets over their first weekend of sales in the United States. International launches are still to come and there is no reason to expect any less success in these markets. This is despite the fact that the technologists have proclaimed it as “evolutionary not revolutionary” and proclaimed the “ten things missing from the iPad 2” in their columns about the product. They want things such as USB connectors, SD card readers, HDMI out ports, etc etc. The things these technologists invariably point to hardware features that they are certain the product needs to have. This perspective comes from the history of the industry where you needed to be technically savvy just to use a product. The people that could use technology saw technology as inherently cool. The more features that you could pack into a device could only make it better. Well to these technologists I am afraid I have to say, “Guess what the world has changed and you are not the market anymore.” Today the market is made up of ordinary people and they have a very different perspective on technology. For may of them technology has a checkered past and they can all tell you stories of how frustrated they have been when they were just trying to make their PCs do what they wanted them to do. They have experienced buggy software, incompatible driver software, malware and viruses not to mention corrupted registries. All of these issues caused their technology to slow down initially¬†and for many ultimately quit working altogether.

Enter the tablet. Here was a device that was simple to use with a manageable number of tasks that it did very well all packaged in an elegantly designed package. It had no expandability in the device and only one slot for connecting it to a computer primarily to be recharged or backed up. Technologists reacted by declaring the iPad was “just a big iPod touch” and predicted it would fail quickly. Instead Apple sold roughly 15 million units in 9 months. It seems that the technologists were not aligned with the market anymore. It seemed that average consumers actually liked technology that was simple to use and relatively stable. The technologists were not needed to explain how to use the technology anymore because an average person could actually figure it out on their own.

The iPad 2 arrived recently and the company sold even more tablets in the first weekend than they did with the initial iPad. What did they add to the device in term of features? They added front and rear facing cameras, a dual core processor, a gyroscope. There is nothing earth shattering about the new hardware features that Apple added to the iPad 2 but there is a big difference between what they announced and what most of the competitors are announcing in the tablet market. While others tout the hardware features and leave it at that Apple announced new compelling applications that make the hardware benefits real for consumers. A rear facing camera is mildly interesting but when you add a version of iMovie for the iPad and price it at $4.99 you make the hardware feature fun and immediately understandable by consumers. A front facing camera is again interesting but the addition of FaceTime makes the hardware change appealing to iPhone and Mac users that are already familiar with the video calling application. In short new hardware features are not very compelling without the applications to make them appealing to consumers. Kudos to Apple for understanding that it is about the experience for the average consumer and leaving unneeded hardware and costs out of the device.

To the technologists I say, “Get over it. You are not the market anymore and consumers are happy with their iPad 2s. Maybe you should consider listening to the real consumers in the market for a change.”

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Tags: apple  hardware  ipad  ipad-2  tablet  

Van L. Baker
Research VP
20 years at Gartner
29 years IT industry

Van Baker is a vice president and research director for Gartner's Retail and Manufacturing Industry Advisory Services. He covers consumer behavior as it relates to electronic commerce and emerging Web 2.0 technologies in the retail industry. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The Trouble with Technologists

  1. Jim Fowl says:

    Excellent article, I think this neatly sums up the Market today.

  2. Jeff Hall says:

    Although your point is well made that the requirements of technology geeks no longer define the evolution of the iPad, I think you are missing the point that ordinary users are frustrated about the ipad’s basic functionality – like not being able to print, not being able to display Flash movies and (most annoyingly for me) the fact that I can’t tether my iPad to my iPhone on the occasions when I’m out of range of a wifi hotspot.
    Sent from my iPad 1

  3. Albert says:

    Technologists want a device for what they can get it to do.
    The rest of us want a device for what it can do for us.

    This reminds me of a TED Talk I watched recently by Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action (at the website link)

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  5. Jason Dea says:

    Great post! I believe we’re at a point in technology innovation where success won’t be measured by how far companies can continue to push Moore’s law perpetually making everything faster and smaller. Instead the big winners will be based on elegance in design. I think human factors and ease of use should now be driving design requirements.

  6. zzmooc says:

    If only the iPad had a USB connector you could connect a proper keyboard and wouldn’t make so many typos:P

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