Apple iPad design - incomplete, intentionally

Thesis: Apple is willing to ship an incomplete product when entering a new market, such as with the new Apple iPad design. Because they are entering a nascent market, this has the effect of generating more revenue from the product line. This has been demonstrated repeatedly by Apple (when led by Steve Jobs), first with the original Macintosh, and then the iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad. By shipping incomplete products initially, Apple gives "early adopters" and affluent buyers compelling reasons to upgrade when new product versions are produced.

Apple iPad design - incomplete, intentionally

Two years ago I wrote about my admiration for the discipline Apple shows with the features they don't include in their products. I first wrote about this when Apple released version 2.01 of their iPhone OS, when they still didn't have copy and paste support. I referred to this as "Apple's willingness to ship an incomplete product". As a tablet owner six years ago, I also wrote about the Apple iPad design as an early tablet user.

Having worked as a consultant with many customers where every whiz-bang feature had to be in Release 1.0 of a product, I admire Apple's ability to say, "No, we're not going to include that in this release."

Until recently I thought Apple had four main reasons for their discipline:

  1. The technology for the desired features wasn't where they wanted it yet.
  2. They didn't know how they wanted a feature to work.
  3. They just didn't have the manpower to get a feature completed by a known release date.
  4. From a design perspective, they always prefer "minimalism", and it's easier to add functionality than take it away.

After the recent iPad and iPhone 4 releases -- with ship dates just three months apart -- I now believe there's one more reason: Apple may intentionally withhold product features to give "early adopters" and affluent buyers reasons to upgrade to future product releases, in this case, new iPad releases.

Apple iPad design and the cutting room floor

A major benefit Apple has in breaking into new markets is that Version 1 of their product can be incomplete. For instance, last year, when Apple was finalizing all the iPad specs, there were no other tablets blowing the world away. Microsoft was rumored to be developing the Courier device, and I'm sure they found out all about the Courier they could, but that was the only other potential tablet competition.

All other small form factor competitors were creating netbooks, and in the iPad, Apple had something very different. As a result, whenever they made the call on the final iPad production specs, they knew they didn't have to include every possible feature in the iPad, and consumers would still buy the device.

I suspect that just like a director of a movie, when it came time to make the decision on the final features for the iPad, Mr. Jobs and company intentionally left some features on the cutting room floor. Think about it: Two products that are shipped three months apart, and the iPhone 4 has two video cameras, video calling, and a new, high resolution display, while the iPad has none of these.

iPad design - just the basics

Again going back to the "minimalism" theory, you could argue that Apple shipped the iPad with only the basic features required to sell the product.

Here's a short list of product features that can be found in the iPhone 4 (ship date June 24, 2010), which the original iPad (ship date was no earlier than March 1, 2010) does not have:

  • The iPhone 4 works as a telephone.
  • It includes not one, but two cameras.
  • Video calling.
  • HD video recording, and video editing.
  • Retina display. (326 ppi, versus the iPad 132 ppi.)
  • Three-axis gyro.

Of course there are even more differences between the products, but these are the ones that come to mind right away.

Apple iPad design and Apple's business model

From a business perspective there's nothing wrong with Apple's approach, and in fact it's obviously very good for the company and their shareholders. It's also one of the benefits of entering new product markets. As Guy Kawasaki has written, "Don't worry, be crappy", which should be followed by "Churn, baby, churn". It takes great discipline to ship a product with missing features, and with discipline comes rewards.

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