The New iPad: How A Gut Renovation Masquerades As Incremental Innovation

We’ve gotten greedy. We — the media, the industry watchers, the tech enthusiasts — have an insatiable hunger for novelty. The original iPad wowed us because it introduced an entirely new form factor. iPad 2 slimmed down and got a snappy cover. The new iPad shares nearly nothing with the iPad 2 hardware, according to Apple executives I spoke with. Its retina display has 1 million more pixels than a large-screen HDTV. The new A5X chip has, according to Apple, four times the processing power of Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip. Compared with iPad 2, it has a nicer camera, a video camera, dictation input, and 4G, while still squeezing out 10 hours of (Wi-Fi) battery life. It’s a wee bit thicker and an ounce heavier. And yet, in my conversations with numerous reporters over the past few days, the theme they kept bringing up was “incremental innovation”: Will the next iPad be innovative enough to maintain Apple’s momentum?

If the iPhone 4S is a case study, the answer for consumers is a resounding “yes.” The 4S, though not as dramatic an update as the technorati hoped for, has been the best-selling iPhone ever. The new iPad will fly off the shelves too: We expect tablets, led by the iPad, to reach 60.7 million US adults by the end of the year, or 19% of the US population. The engineering feats accomplished in the new iPad would have been inconceivable in the early days of personal computing, when colored pixels were in themselves a revelation. We the tech watchers may be jaded, but Apple’s consumers still appreciate the mesmerizing beauty of an ever-nicer screen.

It’s also worth noting that the innovation behind the new iPad doesn’t stop with hardware. Apple’s product strategists also lavished attention on the software — a priority that differentiates Apple from competitors like Sony, Samsung, and Toshiba. Every single Apple app from email to Safari has been overhauled for enhanced resolution. The release of iPhoto for iPad (previously only available on the Mac) is in itself worth study: The multitouch gestures invented for the photo-editing software surpass even Adobe’s innovation in the well-reviewed Photoshop Touch app. Apple’s apps set the standard for third-party developers, who have now contributed more than 200,000 apps for the iPad to Apple’s App Store.

Apple’s insistence on blending hardware innovation with services innovation will keep the iPad at the front of the tablet pack for the foreseeable future. But as James B. Stewart of the New York Times argues, it’s just a matter of time before Apple’s growth confronts the law of large numbers. Forrester’s CEO, George Colony, has told me that he expects Apple’s growth to slow considerably by 2015. I suspect he’s right. Not because the new iPad is “incremental innovation,” but because our sense of what innovative products are has warped to the point where if Apple’s next product doesn’t make cars fly or enable mind control, we yawn and change the channel. Or . . . wait in line at an Apple Store to buy the latest, greatest, “incrementally innovative” new product.

The lesson for product strategists in any industry is to stay true to your own sense of what’s innovative. Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for Apple, told me that Apple’s engineers and designers “won’t change a product for the sake of change” — it has to be better in a way that will matter to customers. Apple designs its products for its customers, not the press. Product strategists would be wise to heed the same lesson — if you’re asking if your product is innovative enough, make sure you’re doing it for customers, not for shareholders, reporters, or anyone else.


Not really true

The iPad will face significant competition from high end hybrid tablets and low end media tablets, while not fulfilling the exact needs of either target segment.

Completely and totally true

Tech pundits and the tech-obsessed commentariat who follow the keynotes (like myself) need to internalize the last sentence of your post: Apple doesn't want to dazzle them, they want to dazzle the general public. The obsession with new products being DIFFERENT rather than just BETTER is childish, like the widespread disappointment that the iPhone 4s looked just like the 4.

It's hard to imagine the iPad form factor changing much, since it's basically just a pane of glass and a battery. Future iterations of the iPad will probably look exactly the same, though getting thinner and lighter, and pundits will bemoan Apple's lack of innovation. At the same time the experience of using it will get better faster and more useful and more enjoyable, and each iteration will be more well-loved and more briskly-selling than the last.

This is a great post very

This is a great post very insightful. Well written. I tend to agree with the main body of the article.

However, me still thinks that Apple could still improve on the iPad further. At least to make it less dependent on a MAC or PC in this alleged Post-PC World!

Marketing bull

"Apple designs its products for its customers, not the press"

So it is in the interest of users to leave out an SD card slot, HDMI and standard USB.

Something smells even more considering the HD iPad bloats up memory and standard connectivity needs massively.

So are you saying they left

So are you saying they left out an SD card slot, HDMI, and USB because they were designing it for the press? Even though the tech press is always complaining about exactly those things?

But yes, those things are left out for the consumers. Apple keeps things as simple and as thin/light as possible, so they don't want to have two extra ports that only a fraction of iPad users will ever use. Those who need SD cards or HDMI out can purchase adapters made by Apple. But Apple would rather users use built-in wireless solutions like iCloud or AirPlay.

I would like to see sales stats for the SD card and HDMI adapters, to see what percentage of iPad users actually wanted that functionality. I am willing to bet it is very small, in which case Apple was right to leave them out of the base iPad.

And what would standard USB accomplish that the dock connector doesn't? I think I can make some guesses as to what you might say but I won't presume.