Why I returned my iPad mini

My friends and colleagues would agree whole-heartedly I’m an “Apple fan” who loves to wax poetically about the wonderful, amazing products and interfaces coming out of Cupertino–but don’t most designers? ;-) I own several Apple devices (including 3 Macbook Pro’s and this Macbook Air I’m typing on), and still have my original iPhone and original Mac mini. I’ve enjoyed all of them immensely, despite various minor flaws here and there; after all, nothing is perfect! From the delight of midnight pre-ordering to the joy of unboxing to the fulfillment of daily use…there is a holistic silhouette of a positive experience carried across, reinforced by the brand of Steve Jobs’ Apple. 

However, today for my first time I reluctantly returned an Apple device, the iPad mini. Shock and disbelief, I know ;-)  But this story is actually more than mere dissatisfaction of a specific product, but hinting at tremors of strategic concern in the back of my mind about the future of Apple as provider of beautiful disruptive innovation. 

First, the iPad mini…Why did I return it? In a nutshell: 

– No Retina display, text rendering was poor and blurry, caused major eye strain
– Smaller touch targets (and I have small hands!), everything seemed shrunk
– It’s yet another device I gotta manage (a more prevalent problem, sigh…)
– It’s frankly not an innovative product, but a reactive one (more on this below)

Thus, I couldn’t from my POV justify $362 (total price with tax). That said, the thin light slate form factor with a clean stylish appearance is exquisitely crafted and was really quite nice to hold and carry.

Second, those concerns in the back of my mind…perhaps more of an issue symbolically, to me at least, is that the iPad mini does not represent the trademark Apple spirit of disruptive innovation, but of “me too” reactionism. This was very clear in the introductory live-streamed event, with the direct side-by-side visual and verbal comparisons to the Google Nexus 7. It’s quite literally an iPad just shrunk down to compete with lower cost and lower margin/no-margin alternatives from Google and Amazon. No doubt the iPad mini will sell millions and make billions, with lots of happy faces this holiday season. But, so does McDonald’s :-) 

So I keep coming back to this question: where’s that authentic Steve Jobs-inspired Apple innovation? Not just for the iPad mini but also iOS at-large, which is feeling rather outdated in 2012 with it’s wiggly icons, and infuriating  multi-tap sequence to just change the damn brightness. Where’s the magical use of NFC to directly send content between devices? Or novel gestures for navigation, orientation, manipulation, particularly from the bezel and edges…or from underneath? Or fresh, engaging cross-device, multi-screen interaction models like Wii U and XBOX SmartGlass are starting to advance?  (Every time I see those cute iPad mini ads with the two iPads side-by-side, I keep thinking something cross-device will happen, like magically I move a photo from one iPad to the other…but sadly no). Or a service comparable to Google Now, which anticipates and provides information on-demand, collated from your prior aggregated interactions? Or go all out like the now-dead but still fascinating MS Courier concept, really pushing the possibilities for hardware and software? 

There’s great opportunity for UI and UX innovation (or even just convenient improvements) that could’ve been tentatively introduced in the iPad mini as a “dipping the toe in the water” before spreading to the iPad, iPhone, MacBooks, etc. So it’s curious and disappointing to see that didn’t pan out yet. Instead it seems Apple panicked and reacted, instead of leaping ahead to what’s next, by-passing the whole argument altogether and envisioning something we didn’t realize we really needed…and would delightfully enjoy. 

** By the way, two recent posts by others go deeper into the challenges Apple faces beyond just “removing skeuomorphism” and the need to fight for innovation as a disruptive voice at the executive level. Both are quite good and deserve more than a few moments to reflect upon. I agree, there seems to be something amiss in this post-Steve era that removing faux leather stitching or reacting to competitors just won’t fix. And all it takes is returning a single product, to expose that.


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