Unpopular Opinions: How the iPad has hurt the marketplace
Apple recently released the iPad mini to much acclaim from their fans. It's got me reflecting on how things have changed since Apple popularized tablets back in 2010 with the introduction of the iPad. When the iPad came out, my initial reaction was pretty cautious.
Like most people, I was amazed at the ground Apple was making with innovations like the iPod and iPhone and so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I really didn't understand the point of another touch based device that had only a fraction of the functionality that netbooks and smaller laptops had at the time and was, ironically, less convenient to use. Less convenient because you couldn't put it on your lap to use it and it didn't have a keyboard which meant you had to hold it with one hand and type with the other... which is fine if you haven't spent countless hours mastering home row like I have.
So basically, I just couldn't figure it out. It seemed like a really useless product who's only redeeming quality was that it was "cool"... in a really superficial way. It wasn't useful, it couldn't display websites featuring flash (which had a significant market share at the time), and worst of all, it defeated its own purpose in that it wasn't convenient to use while on the go (for reasons I pointed out earlier). This parody video summarized my reaction, for the most part.
That would have been well and good if it weren't for the fact that it caught on. I was convinced that people would see through the smoke screen of gimmicky touch user interfaces (which are far less capable of navigating existing user interfaces and websites which dominantly featured rollover interactivity... something you can't do with a touch screen). I laughed when I saw the price tag because I thought, surely, people won't waste their money on something that their smart phone can already do but in less convenient ways. But, I was wrong. Tablets have since become a standard in computing.
Even as Apple imposes its iPad mini on us, even though they ridiculed other manufacturers for making smaller tablets, I still can't believe that people can't see how useless tablets are compared to the much more useful, convenient, and usable technology that already existed.
Shall we talk about what happened to Flash as a result of the iPad? Many websites provided an extremely engaging user experience thanks to Adobe's Flash technology. That's not to say it didn't have its shortcomings, but I think I can unequivocally say that the good far outweighed the bad and that's probably why it caught on so well and why some designers focused their attention exclusively on Flash (and are now marginalized thanks to Apple's refusal to accommodate it). Flash opened the door to nearly unlimited potential in terms of what designers were able to do with their websites and that's why it was heavily featured on the web. I'd hate to take a guess at how many high profile websites were using flash, but I'd wager that it was more than half in one form or another. So Apple looks at the landscape of the internet, with all its flash websites, and just pushed through a product that couldn't display them at all and then had the nerve to say that it was one of the best browsing experiences out there. Sure, one of the best at displaying only a fraction of the internet's content. And by one of the best, I mean one that you constantly have to zoom around on in order to properly view any of the website designed for larger screen resolutions at the time. That's laughable. Imagine if a TV manufacturer came out with a new model that simply couldn't display half the shows out there and then had the nerve to say that it was magical and the best viewing experience you've ever had. Anyone with rational capabilities would dismiss it. For some reason, that didn't happen with the iPad.
All of this isn't to say that tablets don't have their uses, but they seem so few and far removed from everyday computing that I can't understand why they've caught on the way they have other than to assume it's because Apple devotees are so loyal to their brand that they'll buy and advocate anything that Apple shills out. This is supported by the fact that lots of manufacturers have tried introducing tablets in the past and they were largely ignored by the market. But when Apple does it with existing functionality people already had on their iPods and iPhones, people go crazy for it. As a result, tablets have now become commonplace which means all the standards in interface design have to now accommodate smaller screens, lower computing capabilities, no flash, and less capable touch based technology because Apple expects the entire world to accommodate their technology which they've imposed by throwing their weight around and strong-arming the market rather than actually building devices that work within the framework of the existing browsing and design standards that made the web what it once was.
Now websites are being designed for dumber and less capable technology because Apple got it's way and we are just eating what we're being fed because it has an Apple logo on the package. It's unfortunate and sad and it's made my job as a web designer much more difficult.
So to sum it up, I don't believe, as many do, that Apple is intent on producing usable and functional products. Rather, I'm becoming more convinced that they're out of ideas and are now simply taking advantage of their loyal fan base and being reckless with their heavy influence. This quote from Steve Jobs should at least make you second guess their motives:
" While one could increase the resolution to make up some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size. Apple has done expensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff.
There are clear limits of how close you can place physical elements on a touch screen, before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."