From The Apple Cookbook: A Recipe for Tablet Makers

The iPad is a fine mix of ingredients from the internal components, the external ecosystem, and the marketing machine that Apple has perfected over the past 10 years, since the introduction of the iPod. In a way, the iPad is just one dish that Apple could serve for the rest of this decade, and in years to come.

It starts with an idea:

Is there room for a third category in the middle? Something that’s between a laptop and a smartphone. The bar is pretty high. In order to create a category of devices, those devices need to far better at some key tasks.

That was it. No fanfare, no specifics, just a vague, overarching objective. The company knew that netbooks weren’t the future. Smaller was not better. Using a mouse or input other than your finger wasn’t going to cut it. The tablet Apple wanted to build needed to be simple, accessible, and affordable. The basic features of the tablet had to be better at things we took for granted on PCs prior to the iPad’s introduction.

While that idea was simple, it was original. It was raw and unseasoned. At the time, tablets were not new news. The concept was just poorly fleshed out. Having a touch screen on a full OS was not sticking enough. After the iPad, ideas just didn’t come to fruition. Natural evolutions, like better notifications, app displays, and hardware certainly came to the forefront. But the original idea that the iPad started is still the latest of its kind.

The components had to be the industry standard. This doesn’t mean the fastest processors, the biggest hard drives, or the thinnest displays. It means that where you touch the screen, you hit that area with precision. When you hit the volume, home, or sleep/wake buttons, they don’t click and they don’t jam. The screen needs to look as beautiful as it has to look without sacrificing loads of battery life.

Battery life, incidentally, is the biggest complaint I’ve heard in regards to “non-Apple” tablets today. Even if Flash is never used, the components are mismatched with the next ingredient..

The software is of utmost importance. A favorite quote of Steve Jobs:

People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware. — Alan Kay

People laughed off the iPad for looking and acting like a big iPhone, but the wallets responded with a big “So what?” People wanted apps. They liked iOS. Flash wasn’t important (If it was, the tech industry would adjust to create substitutes later.). The iPad’s software was not OS X, because the iPad was made for a different, lighter, and more adaptable UI. People already knew how to use the UI too, since the iPhone was the hottest selling phone in the world (then and now). Software that only works on some devices (read: Android apps) or is not developed to match the hardware produced (read: Windows apps) is doomed to gaining any traction in the tablet space.

The iOS triumph is arguably found in the marriage of software with the easy distribution model found in the app store ecosystem. Customization of a device is what makes it user friendly, so having apps that cater to everyone makes it a natural choice for computing. App Stores that sell apps that are useless, backed by unfamiliar brands or bogged down in ads are dismissed by the masses. People have voted for cheap, lightweight apps that serve 1 or 2 functions at most. Apps that have an ad or two, but don’t get in the way of the experience. The ecosystem that Apple has made makes it dubiously easy for people to suck their bank accounts dry with app purchases. I’m guilty of falling in love with the buying experience so much that I have dozens of apps that I payed for 10 minutes worth of use per app.

Marketing the software and hardware package is what gives people the first taste of the dish. What will I be able to use this device for, and why will it work custom to my needs? Watch an iPad commercial, then watch a TouchPad commercial. The iPad commercial shows the software at the forefront. You see specific instances of multiple applications back to back. The finger is the focal point of contact. The screen is bright and the content is brought front and center. The narrator speaks to you naturally, and tells you what makes the iPad the iPad. The tablet is made for everyone.

The TouchPad commercial tells a different story. The first 20 seconds shows a few entertainment apps, modeling the device as one for primarily consumption. Since I produce a lot of text and take even more notes, my conclusion about the TouchPad would be, “It’s flashy, but isn’t for me.” The last 10 seconds was someone singing to me with their face in it. So I know it has a camera, but since when do I dedicate 1/3 of my time on a tablet for taking pictures or video? That was the back of the device, by the way, that usually has better quality built in.

The final ingredient is found front and center in Apple’s spice rack: magic. Yes, this is a zesty, often cliché element, but one that has given the enigmatic company a tight grip on the public eye since 2001. How does it all work? What is in the iPad? Ask a tech blogger and he’d tell you there is an IPS display on top of the latest touch screen technology and an A5 processor. Ask a consumer and they’ll say, “Well… I press this button, and all my apps are there.”

Hey HP — only a few people care that your tablet has Beats audio or Flash. Can I browse the web quickly? Does it sound decent? Can I share photos with family and friends quickly? Can I tell a story to someone with a few flicks of a finger? Is zooming really just with a pinch? Apple answers all of these questions by inviting you to come try it. If you can’t try it, the commercial is usually on the spot. There’s nothing magical about the iPad for a small few use cases, but for the general public, the iPad is placed on the top shelf.

As this is a cookbook, the recipes I described above are things Apple has at their disposal everyday. It is what makes Apple the largest, most successful producer of hardware and software to date. Tomorrow, Apple’s product, almost assuredly, will not deviate from their cookbook. And as any chef, or producer of content for that matter, will tell you — stick with what you know.

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