At a glance, the iPad is the simplest product to duplicate. After all, it’s just a sheet of touch-sensitive glass with a logic board and giant battery attached.
So why is it proving so difficult for competitors to capture its magic?
Simply put, the iPad challenges the technology industry to build a cooperative product. A cooperative product being one in which you cannot immediately discern the conflicts between all of the teams responsible for the end-product.
In a post-iPad world, a product isn’t going to be good enough if its hardware is outstanding but the software calls in sick. Or where the software is intriguing but the hardware is slow. Or worse, where the marketing team comes up with something so outlandish that it defies comprehension.
In management theory, there’s a well known construct called the Project Triangle. The idea is that a product has three potential properties (Good, Fast and Cheap) but can only optimize two of the three. I’d argue that the iPad is responsible for a new paradigm: Expressive, Understandable and Cheap.
Expressive (which I’d also call macro-functional) means a user is able to accomplish their tasks, however specific, with minimal compromise. Software quality and, to some degree, quantity make this possible.
Understandable means a design (both software and hardware) that emphasizes simplicity without compromising power. Users aren’t forced to fight through a morass of options to accomplish simple things. This requires an opinionated, rigorous editorial process carried through both the product design and its supporting ecosystems.
Cheap means price, value and the cost of a user’s time. If a product requires a mod-kit right out of the box to feel useful, it has already failed. Yes, even if it costs $249.
The essence of the points above are little more than a distillation of Rams’ 10 Principles for Good Design.
Yet instead of optimizing two of the three properties, Apple has managed to optimize all three. So I’ll leave you with a riddle: how can you balance a triangle on all three sides?