The real reason why the iPad will be a success

Those who are dubious about the iPad’s impending success (and I suspect that you are one of them, Baruch) are of course in danger or repeating history (qv iPod, iPhone). I have no intention of replicating all the arguments pro- and con the iPad, so I will limit myself to just one wholly original observation as to why I think the doubters once again are not getting it:

1. The iPhone was a success from the start, but it really became a ubiquitous device when it proved competent at a whole range of tasks beyond Apple’s original marketing copy. (It was just “a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device,” remember?) Now games rule on the iPhone, and as many parents will attest, the iPhone’s one true calling is as breakthrough child pacification device.

A similar role awaits the iPad. No, not for children; rather, look to the burgeoning end of the demographic curve: baby boomers.

I know many baby boomers who are intimidated by computers. Plenty are not, but a great many spend far too much time wrestling with viruses and drivers, wondering what a DLL is, and generally not knowing the difference between their RAM and a hard disk — all just so they can read emails and check their bank account online. Some boomers have sired offspring who gladly help them with remote tech support sessions, but many others have not, and suffer for it. The reason for all this misery is simple: Computers are still too complex for those not prepared to give them their undivided attention. That’s even the case for Macs.

Not so with the iPhone. I’ve seen that thing understood within minutes by 2 year-olds and 84 year-olds. It does one thing at a time. Your finger is the cursor. There is no need to tap things twice before stuff happens. You are allowed to turn it off with the power button.

But the iPhone isn’t perfect for baby boomers. The screen and text are too small for aging eyes, the keyboard too cramped for confident typing, making it unusable for even basic office productivity tasks.

Enter the larger, faster iPad. It’s a complex computer simplified, which makes it a perfect fit for those whose remaining life is too short to spend it defragging drives. Add the keyboard dock, and the iPad is versatile enough to be a baby boomer’s only computer. The only thing it won’t let them do is videoconference with their grandchildren — which is an omission I hope they fix in next year’s version — but on the other hand, at $500 this much is forgiven.

My prediction: Within 2 years you will be reading articles describing how it was obvious — with hindsight — that the iPad would be a hit with aging baby boomers. But who needs hindsight when you have Ultimi Barbarorum?


49 thoughts on “The real reason why the iPad will be a success”

  1. I totally agree with you. I was explaining the iPad launch to my parents last night and I was shocked at how quickly they got enthusiastic about a light (i-e not heavy), intuitive, simple, and graphically pleasing way for them to access fresh digital content. These are people who routinely tear their hair out when it comes time to update virus definitions or file income taxes online.

  2. This is very true, most of the web commentary is by web 2.0 hipsters/freelance graphic designer Nathan Barley types. My Mother can use this and have video conferencing working out of the box.

  3. I think you’re dead on. Within an hour or so of seeing the keyboard dock that Apple wants to make available for the iPad, I thought to myself, “this would be perfectly suitable as my mother’s next computer.”

    She is, as you astutely observe, a baby boomer who is often baffled by her own computer – despite her dependence on it.

  4. This is a fantastic insight. It relates to my notion–which I haven’t yet seen mentioned–that the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad is, in truth, an entirely new computing platform. It’s the third platform from Apple. No, not the fourth; the Newton, independent OS that it was, was not a new computing platform on the level of the Apple ][ or the Macintosh. This is. It needs its own name, because it’s going to replace the Mac eventually, just as the Mac replaced the Apple ][.

  5. I like the way you think. Trouble is, for a baby boomer the omission of a webcam for video conferencing with their children is a glaring omission. Totally kills it.

  6. An interesting observation. I was watching the announcement being liveblogged, and thought it was good, just not quite my cup of tea, so I probably wouldn’t get one. Then the blogs and twitter fizzed into life, and everyone ran to be the first one to say what was wrong with it in the most concise way. Then, I spoke to my father a day later. He has recently upgraded to his second iPhone, and convinced my mother to get one herself. He loved it, and seems convinced he’ll get one later this year.

    This all makes a lot of sense, bearing in mind the iPad is a bigger iPod Touch, but not *just* a bigger iPod Touch – the larger screen makes it easier to read, the extra glass makes it easier for less nimble hands to do the job, and despite what we thought the iPad’s focus would be, it turned out to be office functionality and books. Not games, not creating YouTube clips, but office suite apps and reading material.

    Personally I’m disappointed that Apple didn’t take the plunge and make a specialist iPad paint program in their own Apple way, but if the iPad version of Autodesk Sketchbook looks any good, I won’t mind. Sketching on my iPod is the main use I get out of it.

  7. wanna know why there’s no camera on the iPad? because they wanted to hit the $499 price mark. but in 9 months time, when they release the next iPad, they can include the camera, OS 4.0, at the same price point. What apple loves doing is keeping things simple, by keeping the price simple.

    you can’t have everything in a device at a price you want right away.

  8. Absolutely agree. My baby boomer, non-geek brother is a prime target. He is already talking about selling his MacBook in favour of the iPad. But, hey, I’m a geek and I have to have one too. Surfing in bed after waking up and just before sleep. And in front of the TV. And for presentations. And for use on holiday instead of carrying my 17″. And for gaming. And for who knows what? This is a device that we will use for purposes we haven’t yet invented. Well done Apple!

  9. Not only are you right about boomers loving it, but for more reasons than you listed. Here’s some more: 1) simpler UIs are more elegant, not less (a complex hard to learn UI is INFERIOR) 2) to many of us (especially if not road warriors) the small size of smartphones has no advantage, yet it has the disadvantage of difficulty seeing and typing (most ppl don’t get this) 3) boomers still use cameras to take pix–most are nearly as small as a smartphone and we already know how to use them. No cam=no big deal 4) boomers READ, and if iPad means have a Kindle with your computer–TWO-fer! 5) playing audio and video is big for boomers…that’s enough toys for us and they can add more later.

    It would be a BIG mistake to assume boomers will only like this because we are so non-technical. I am a highly technical PC user. I was running Win7 beta dual booted with Linux on all my machines a year ago, and I replace my own motherboards.

  10. I’m a boomer; turn 60 this year. I’ll be getting an iPad: 64Gb version with 3G. It’ll go well with my iPhone and two iPods (one a Red Wine Audio iMod).

    It won’t be too handy when I need to toss together a perl script but one of my four Macs or my linux box running snort that I feed to a MySQL backend via barnyard2 will suffice. The only way Windows runs in this house is via vmWare on one of the iMacs.

    Oh yeah. I’m the goto guy around here for support. You know, the one the youngsters hound when their boxes can’t connect to one of my wireless networks. Damn ankle-biters.

  11. Hell, my wife and I were just saying tonight, dammit, we want something to surf the web while sitting on the couch and consuming DVR fare…the iphone is too small for effective digital content consumption. And yeah, as I approach 40 the eyes are getting weaker (I find myself using the walgreens magnifier glasses for casual reading) so perhaps this demographic is a bit bigger than we imagine!

  12. @Davros My parents wish there was video-conferencing out of the box, but there isn’t. People are expecting a 3rd party peripheral to fill that need, but without Flash and a camera to access natively in the hardware, will that be hard?

  13. You guys are kidding me right? The ipad will be a huge success because our parents are going to want one?

    Yeah. That baby boomer generation can now play Peggle and Bejeweled in a larger format and they’ll make large print e-books for them. Wow.

    Maybe an entire wave of geriatric apps. You guys nailed it.

    That is, unless they want to watch some of their favorite television shows on Hulu. Or, have a nice video web chat with their grand kids.

    But, hey, if they want to write an email, or have a video chat with someone, all they have to do is turn their ipad into a netbook by plugging in a web cam and a keyboard.

    Yesterday was the first real chink in Apple’s armor. The guys at Google and even Microsoft were probably laughing their asses off after that presentation. “That was it? That was the great tablet computer?”

    Now, about that Crunch Pad.

  14. Jeeez, can we please stop with the generational stereotyping?

    I think it is correct that there is a certain population of computer users who can’t deal with the complexity of using pc’s and will love getting there hands on something more intuitive. I think we’ve known that for years. But so far, the netbooks have offered little improvement. And they range in age from 13 – 101. Some people grok the stuff and some don’t.

    And I suspect that it won’t be only the technophobes that buy the iPad. I do most of my reading on my Macbook and I can’t wait to try out the iPad. Too bad I have to say the word “iPad”, though.

    (From Andy Borowitz: “Apple launches Text-Sharing Device – the CoTex”).

  15. I think your perception of Baby Boomers is a little questionable, and frankly feels like something that you might have heard snobby, young, digitally savvy people say ten years ago, when our mothers didn’t have computers, email, and Facebook accounts.

    But it’s 2010. Millions and millions of boomers are already using computers every day on their jobs, and have been doing so for a decade. They may hate them or find them annoying or confusing, but they do use them. Those few boomers who don’t have one at home, and again they are precious few now, will have a hard time justifying making their first and only computer purchase a $500 device with no keyboard, no storage, and a tiny screen when they can spend $400 for a Windows PC with far more (from their perspective) power and features.

    The iPad is for people who already have computers, and it will never replace a “real” computer for 99% of the people who buy them. It is a second, third, or fourth window into the virtual lives we lead. Not at all a first timer’s entree into digital life.

    Everything you say boomers want from their computers can be said about everyone else, teenagers and Xers. The stereotype of the profoundly computer-illiterate baby boomer is just not true, but the idea that simpler computer interfaces are good for everybody is definitely true.

  16. I like the concept here, but don’t understand how everyone sees it as the perfect computer for the older set when they still need a real computer to sync it with.

    Yes you can add photos right from your camera, and technically you could buy all your music and movies, but most other things sync up with a desktop computer that needs to stay current. Even if you manage that, forget breaking or losing it because you’re not getting it back.

    I’d love one for my grandma too, but I can’t see it working.

  17. Hi Nick,

    You don’t need to sync it with a computer if you don’t want to or have one. You can buy music, apps and books from within the device. You can recharge it directly from the mains. You can use iPhone apps like Evernote and Dropbox to backup or store your stuff onto the cloud.

    You can already get iPhone apps for printing wirelessly. I’m guessing you will be also able to print via a USB adapter.

  18. Good practices for the care and feeding of a PC

    1)keep your antivirus and firewall up to date
    2)periodically run a virus scan and spyware detector
    3)occassionally defrag you drive
    4)update windows as required
    5)if a program updates itself, tell your firewall popup to allow it access to the Internet (and if you don’t recognize the program, hit “allow” anyway and hope nothing bad happens)

    you can set up some of these to be automatic, assuming you know how, but sometimes they make your machine slow as mollasses (background virus scan in particular). Forget about boomers, I’m a freaking electrical engineer and I find this stuff a major PITA. Sure the iPad has limitations (no skype video chat sucks) but it’s the first computing device that really takes away all this hassle,( except the iPhone of course). Yes your stuck in Steve Jobs’s walled garden of apps but as a primary device for non-techies and a secondary device for households with multiple laptops already, it’s a winner.

  19. Only time will tell but I have my doubts seniors will be pleased about the cost of actually owning and downloading digital content with subscriptions rates and bandwidth limits. That the gotcha Apple is trying to hook you on. They are not making that much money on the hardware. It might work on the 20 somethings but us old geezers are tight with our money.

  20. Initially i had a very similar impression like many here: ‘Yes! Finally a computer my parents can use!’. But there are 2 and a half shortcomings on the iPad which unfortunately will restrict iPad for parents in my opinion:

    – the iPad still needs a host to sync to, which doesn’t go with the very appealing idea of the iPad as a replacement. Okay, that wouldnt be too bad, the kids could help out once with their machine. But no backups that way.

    – the only reason Mom wants a computer: e-Mail/Chat and unloading tons of images from her Digital Camera. How to connect a camera without a host? See above.

    – exactly same goes for Dad, just replace Camera by Printer in order to ‘write an official important letter once in a while’

    My 0.02,

    1. PS: Oh yes, all those ideas about Bluetooth print/sync mobile whatever: my parents are not too motivated about tec, so rebuying all peripherals to fit to a iPad will be not understandable for them (neither for me). I think this would have gone for many people: if Apple would have added one single USB-Port to connect that printer from 1999 or that camera from 2004, this one thing would have made the iPad such a nobrainer for many.

      1. You’re assuming a lot of things here.

        – iPad does not need to sync. You can if you want to.

        – If you check out the details, there’s a plug especially for cameras: “iPad Camera Connection Kit”.

        – Printing will a no-brainer.

  21. Christopher Fahey, I’m not sure about all baby boomers. But this is perfect for my 65-year-old dad. He’s not stupid but he doesn’t understand why he has to fanny around with PCs and doesn’t want to pay for a Mac (which I doubt he’d find that simple anyway). This is perfect for him.

    The other thing that I think my dad will fall for is the sit-roundability. He’s the kind of person who likes to sit around with other people reading the paper. And is unduly excited when he finds something neat on the web. I can see him passing it round.

    To be honest, I can see all of us passing it round.

    I think the real reason it will be a success is the sit-roundability and the clunky keyboard. I think the fact we’ll end up doing more doodling (I can see people at work doing collaborative mindmapping in Starbucks, for example) and back-of-the-napkin stuff.

    Ultimi barbarorum, there’s a great piece here saying pretty much exactly what you say (but without the baby boomers) – Quietly, Apple get rid of computer UI cruft:

    Here’s my round-up here, where I basically say the same as the above but from a work/learning perspective:

  22. Hi Ben,

    Those Mac/PC system requirements are only if you _want_ to connect to a Mac.

    For upgrades, it’s probably best to visit the nice man behind the Genius Bar at the Apple store. He is always happy to help.

  23. I think you’re spot on. My wife is a boomer and the first thing she said when I showed her the iPad was, “I’m glad you didn’t buy me a notebook.” Apple will sell a slew of them.

  24. Bento,

    That’s assuming you have an Apple store near your place. Most people don’t, some countries don’t even have an Apple Store, but resellers, that may not be as kind as an Apple happy employee.

    And I’m sorry but having to go out and reach your nearest store to upgrade your operative system is everything but revolutionary and magic … That’s kind of stepping back in time.

  25. Here’s a genuine baby-boomer’s opinion. I’m 64. I learned Fortran, Cobol, and Pascal at architecture school in the mid ’70s. Got a Tandy Radio Shack box when all my mates were fiddling with the ZX80, sometime around 1980. Learnt Basic – you had to. Programmed Tandy to speak to printer ASCII character by character. Added floppy readers. Lots of plumbing until Apple made the plumbing cleaner, just like plastic pipes. Never been without a fleet of Macs since they appeared, and Palms, iPods, iPhones… Can I even begin to express to you all the depth of my astonishment and disappointment that UI’s still – still after 30 years – make us do so much headscratching, so much of what should have been straight out of the box? It is unspeakably boring and time-consuming. But I don’t think the iPad does enough to let us all off the hook.

    1. Spot on with iChas’ comments… i’m hardly of boomer age (in my mid-thirties), but started fussing about with Macs in ’84… The Apple folks understand the line between design + technology.

      As a user / consumer of nearly every Apple product for nearly two decades, I can say the iPad (sans the dreadful name) will gain ground and convert even the nay sayers…

      Pros: Price / Functionality / Scaleability
      Cons: Design aesthetic (c’mon Jonathan Ive, this one was a bit light for you…)

      Another big year for Apple folks, ’nuff said.

  26. Remember the days of Apple when Steve Jobs was absent? The started building beige computer boxes and were heading straight for obliviation.

    The iPad is just like the iPhone: limited, but … pretty. It’s not rational to get one, you can get more for less. But so is a BMW.

    I tossed my Windows Phone the day the iPhone 3G came out. I never looked back, never missed any of its ‘better’ features. I remember my last BMW: the crappiest cup holders! I never drove a better car. The feeling of joy one has when spending time with ‘nice’ things is not rational. But it explains why we (somewhat…) quickly get over the pain of paying $400 for a phone, $800 for an iPad … and $800 for a car inspection…

    Steve Jobs is brilliant, probably one of the last great entrepreneurs this country has. His savvy and rational brain doesn’t run the show – this passionate gut feelings do.

  27. I think this is right on the mark. Another area where I think the iPad will be a HUGE success – and I’ve not heard mentioned by anyone is vertical applications – health care, military, retail. The iPhone and iPod Touch are already used in these industries and the iPad with it’s screen size and faster processor are perfect in these applications.

  28. “Computer simplified” is totally what I see the iPad is. Everything my mom ever do on a computer can be done on an iPad. Similiar to my user experiences on other Apple products, I think the iPad will just work – it may not have lots of overwhelming functions, but what is offered will Just work.

    My mom will be getting an iPad.

  29. I think Lenovo really needs to push its U1 hybrid and skylight when they hit the market later this year, hopefully making skylight even easier to use than it currently appears.

    Having a removable tablet in a laptop shell that syncs when it is removed is a far superior option to the iPad, especially if they sell the slate component separately so you could have multiple slates with one base station (cloud computing redux).

    I’ll probably get one of these for my parents instead.. Two if they bring the slate component closer to the Notion Ink Adam with a PixelQi screen and Tegra 2..

  30. It amuses me that no one remembers that netbooks historically weren’t just “small, crappy computers that didn’t work well but were easy to carry”. Originally, they were supposed to be useful primarily as a networking device. With minimal local storage.

    The reason that the iPad doesn’t have “a ton” of storage or a slew of physical interfaces is because, to use more current lingo, it is truly designed to take advantage of cloud computing.

    How do you sync your camera? Wirelessly. With Eye-Fi as one example.

    How do you print? You plug your USB printer into an Airport. Or most any other 802.11 access point.

    Where do you store “your files”? You either plug a hard drive into your Airport (AppleTV / Time Capsule / favorite home media server) or you store them “in the cloud” (Back to My Mac, MobileMe, and Google Docs come to mind).

    Where do you get your files? Well, if you don’t have a computer already, you don’t have any files to get. If you do have a computer, you can sync them. And Apple would be more than happy to sell you everything else you need.

    Apple is rarely about making devices to do things one used to do in the same ways that one used to do them.

    I think the fact that it works with a Bluetooth keyboard is wonderful.

    I suspect that we’ll see live upgrades eventually. For all we know it’s already in there.


    I also know a fair number of people who couldn’t rationalize $50/month for home Internet access or $100/month for cellular Internet who will be absolutely thrilled to pay $30/month for unlimited 3G data service.

    Especially for an Apple product, I think the AT&T service rates *and* the iPad hardware pricing are two of the most “revolutionary” features of the iPad.


  31. Do you know what baby boomers do? Write emails. Mostly. They already learned how to do that 10 years ago, and that’s all a computer is really for, in their view.
    They don’t get on youtube. They don’t get on facebook. They write emails.
    No baby boomer is going to be willing to write an email on the iPad screen. And sure, you can get an external keyboard – but that kindof defeats the point, doesn’t it.
    The iPad will hit it off with the spoiled teenagers who already have everything – so here’s a great device that allows them to watch their youtube videos and browse their friends’ facebook profiles on a bigger screen.
    It’s a giant iPod touch, and it’ll be used as such.

    1. @M “Do you know what baby boomers do? Write emails.”

      And, how do you know this? I’m 65. I worked in Apple USA Marketing for six years, at Silicon Graphics for three, and at numerous other tech companies.

      There are tons of people my age and older who are active on FB, watch and post videos, get their news off the internet, manage their banking and investments, and yes, some even use Twitter.

      My mother was 94 when she died two years ago. She was using her PowerBook for online banking, ordering her medication, reading her hometown newspaper, gambling (not too much), AND sending email. It’s my personal opinion that she would have loved the iPad.

    2. My baby boomer mother lives on Facebook. It’s how she sees pictures of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s how she communicates literally daily with her grandchildren. She’s gotten to the point where it’s easier to get her to answer Facebook messages than emails. If it weren’t for eBay, she’d probably never live Facebook.

      My baby boomer father hates email. He had to use it at work and by God he’s no longer working for a living. But he lives on the web, YouTube, and video poker tournaments. He is the person for whom “a web terminal” is the perfect device.

      The only problem that my parents will have is that they’ll have to budget to buy the two that they’ll definitely need. They typically end up using my retired computers and there’s no way I’ll have a retired iPad in the near future. ;-)

      I’ve several nephews and nieces in their teens and mid-twenties. They don’t correspond, they don’t write, they IM, they SMS, and/or they tweet. The iPad has all the keyboard and screen that they want.

      If I put Bejeweled, Scrabble, and on an iPad, my girlfriend will never make eye contact again. Except to ask me to make Netflix streaming work (now that might be a problem).

      I used to have an iMac G4 sitting in the living room as a web terminal and TV guide. So it doesn’t take much for me to think that an iPad would be way funner sitting there than an iPhone or iPod Touch.

      There are a ton of usage models for the iPad. I think everyone will be surprised by just how well it sells. And I think they’ll be even more surprised by how many houses quickly become multi-iPad households.

      I’ve a friend who theorizes that the entire point of the AppleTV was to convince the media companies to make their media available — so that Apple would have it *now* to offer on the iPad.


  32. Your analysis and prediction is spot on. I think the only unanswered question is ‘will it be a Kindle Killer?’

    1. It doesn’t need to ‘kill’ anything. Even if Kindle holds 60% of the ebook landscape and iPad only 20%, Apple is still selling apps like hotcakes.

  33. This baby boomer for one is insulted by the condescending tone of the opinions expressed here. Not all of us are technologically challenged or too stupid to know our way around our Macs or PCs. Some of us have even been called upon to actually teach our kids and grandkids some skills gained through our experience, to make them equal to their peers.

    1. Yes, Giorgetta, I too detected a tone which was at best condescending to our boomer parents and older people in Bento’s post on the iPad, and I have been waiting for someone to pick up on it. I however, have been vilified as a sexist! For having portrayed women as superior consumers over men! And his ageist post got more hits than my sexist one!

      I think it shows today’s priorities and prejudices in stark relief. It’s ok to talk down to the old. Truly there is no justice.

  34. I typed in “IPAD for old people ” and this is where I landed. My mom is 82 and would really like to get on the internet but is easily stumped by technological devices. For instance, I’m frustrated trying to get her to use the DVR I got her. That said, my mom loves reading and is intrigued by the constant website references on TV. Anyway, she says she wants to learn to surf the web, read books and look at family photos. I think the touch and intuitive user interface of the IPAD would be perfect for her. What do you think? Reply…

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