In his New York Times op-ed piece yesterday, former Microsoft vice president Dick Brass commented on Redmond’s inability to make the kind of hardware that people want to buy:
Not everything that has gone wrong at Microsoft is due to internecine warfare. Part of the problem is a historic preference to develop (highly profitable) software without undertaking (highly risky) hardware. This made economic sense when the company was founded in 1975, but now makes it far more difficult to create tightly integrated, beautifully designed products like an iPhone or TiVo. And, yes, part of the problem has been an understandable caution in the wake of the antitrust settlement. Timing has also been poor — too soon on Web TV, too late on iPods.
He’s right about the iPhone and TiVo: they are “tightly integrated, beautifully designed products.” Here’s how I know: my wife uses — and loves — both of them. And she’s basically a Luddite. She’s not interested in the ups-and-downs of technological innovation. She wants her tech to work, period. She doesn’t like tinkering with computer settings — and she resents ever having to tinker with computer settings. And, no, she could never program the VCR, but she can record and watch shows on the TiVo, because its interface makes sense to her.
I bought our first TiVo on impulse after perhaps a few too many drinks during a faculty recruitment dinner. My two dinner companions spent a considerable amount of time singing its praises. My wife and kids were away, visiting Grandma. I went home, wobbled onto the TiVo website, found that they were having a sale, and the TiVo appeared a couple of days later. My wife eyed it skeptically, but she soon realized that she could not only program it herself but also use it to skip commercials, which she loathes. Instant love affair.
Same with the iPhone, which I persuaded her to get when the 3G came out. She was skeptical about the need for mobile e-mail, text messaging, and the other features that the iPhone offers, though she was willing to be persuaded because she saw it as a souped up iPod (another piece of tech she immediately loved despite never really being a Walkman person), and it would allow her to carry one device instead of two. Now she can’t imagine life without the iPhone: she texts, e-mails, takes pictures, and I think she’s even Twittering.
The Kindle, on the other hand, was a bridge too far. She loves books too much to contemplate reading a novel on a Kindle, despite my assurances that after a little while you forget it’s not a book because you’re engrossed in what you’re reading. For me, the Kindle doesn’t replace books: it’s just another way to consume text, and it allows me to read at moments when I wouldn’t otherwise (because the hardcover book I’m reading is too heavy to carry around or because the newspaper is too inconvenient to take out, assuming that I have it and she doesn’t).
Admittedly, the Kindle isn’t so good for newspapers or magazines or anything that requires color or vibrant images to make its impact. Hence the title of this post: I can’t wait to get an iPad in my hands. I’m not one of those many commentators who is disappointed by the specs of the device, because I don’t want it to replace my laptop computer, and I don’t want to make video calls. I want an iPad so that I can read the digital texts that the Kindle can’t display to good advantage, and I want to be able to read these texts not only on the go but also in bed. (Bringing the laptop to bed immediately results in the hairy eyeball.)
Moreover, I think it’s going to be a great device for my dad, who’ll use it in lieu of a laptop when he’s sitting in the living room, and for my kids (the New York Times pointed out that Apple had perhaps just unwittingly created the world’s greatest toy). Who knows, maybe my wife will even enjoy reading on it: after all, she’s already used to the interface. And I’m quite certain that the iPad is going to be the kind of tech that she has always liked: the kind that just works, and works well. Unlike, say, WebTV, one of my least successful tech purchases ever.
So we’ll be getting a WiFi-only iPad about 60 days from now, with a high-end WiFi+3G version 30 days later. I’ll let my dad and my kids sort out who’s going to end up with the WiFi-only.