Restating the Problems of Computing

Peter Drucker is fond of pointing out that the last buggy whip manufacturers were models of efficiency. So what? What happens if you are efficient at doing the wrong things? That cannot be labeled progress. In fact, one indicator that an industry is in the mature or decline stage of the product/service life cycle is when it is also most likely at the apogee of its theoretical level of efficiency.

The point is this: In industry after industry, the history of economic progress has not been to wring out the last 5 to 10 percent of efficiency, but rather to change the model in order to more effectively create wealth. From Walt Disney and Fred Smith, to Bill Gates and Larry Ellison—these entrepreneurs did not get where they are by focusing on efficiency. All of these entrepreneurs created enormous wealth by delivering more effectively what customers were willing to pay for, not by focusing on efficiency.
— Ron Baker, Pricing on Purpose

I think the iPad fits this description pretty well. It’s nowhere near as “powerful” as a modern laptop, yet millions of consumers are choosing it over the $1500 machines they would’ve used a decade ago.

There are a lot of constraints built into the iPad, but those constraints haven’t cost us much in terms of what an average user can accomplish with it. Average users don’t buy computers for their gigahertz or gigabytes. They buy computers for their ability to browse the web, check email, and look at Facebook.

None of those things require a whole lot of “power.” They don’t require the ability to have two windows side by side, either, and the iPad does just fine without the ability to do so.

This works out just fine for just about everyone, even a power user like myself, because I know I can only really focus my attention on one thing at a time.

It’s amazing how many “power” problems become non-issues for average users, by simply restating the problems of computing with that simple truth in mind.

In designing that constraint into the iPad, Apple took advantage of the limits of human attention to build an operating system that knows how to use more of the “power” it has on just the thing we’re doing right now.