So, in the early-ish hours of this morning, me, and the five-year old child inside me tiptoed downstairs, flipped open the laptop, and ordered the fourth generation iPad. I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t excited. My iPad is due to arrive in exactly a week’s time, and I imagine many of you are also waiting. Now the fourth gen iPad is by no means a quantum leap in tablet engineering. Essentially, it’s still the iPad it was a few months ago, with a couple of small tweaks that make a big difference. I can imagine that most people who currently own a third generation iPad would find it incredibly difficult to justify upgrading to the new iPad, quite a few probably will, but here’s my question; What sort of product upgrade do you prefer? The kind of neat, subtle tweaks year on year that we often see from Apple? Or something a bit more drastic?
As I recalled last night, this week’s iPad mini event brought with it a string of Apple hardware upgrades, and whilst many of the upgrades showcased were a really big leap forward, the products themselves remaind essentially the same. The event also brought with it the two different examples that I want to explore when it comes to product advancement, because the iMac recieved its first major overhaul since 2009, bringing with it significant hardware upgrades and a fantastic new design. The Macbook Pro, Mac Mini, and iPad however, were all given much lighter treatment, but they can also be considered new products.
The subtle tweak
This method certainly favors the company over the customer. For this method, the example I’ll use is the iPad, which I’ve mentioned enough already. The new iPad isn’t really new… It’s just the last iPad on steroids, pimped out a little bit, shaken, but not stirred. For Apple, that means that whilst some effort will have gone into redesigning internals to accomodate the Lightning dock and the new processor, very little in the way of ingenuity and innovation were required, and, as you can see, the marketing campaign (below), hasn’t really emptied the think-tank either.
Despite the apparent lack of effort on Apple’s part however, it still looks good on paper. The update – for one – means that Apple has a fancy new product to show off to the world, and it also means that Apple’s devices remain on top of the curve. With new products like Microsoft’s Surface entering the market, its important that Apple does everything within its power to keep its tablets at the forefront of mobile technology. That’s why – from a corporate point of view – the “subtle tweak” method is much more favorable. This method comes at the expense of us, the customer. With new products appearing as fast as they currently are, its incredibly difficult to make the right decision when it comes to purchasing a tablet, as I’m sure anyone who recently purchased the 3rd gen iPad has found out. It puts the consumer into a limbo where one has to decide “stick or twist”. Should I stick with the product I have now, and wait for an upgrade further down the line, or bank on the new release and hope the next instalment doesn’t blow this one out of the water. The same kind of thought process will have plagued the minds of iPhone customers following the release of the iPhone 4S, this was definitely a “subtle tweak”, and without the benefit of hindsight, will have proven a difficult choice to make for some.
More drastic measures
Alongside the iPad mini, came the brand new iMac. This product hasn’t received a significant update since 2009, and I must say, it looks absolutely stunning. This method of upgrade certainly favours us, the consumer. Imagine, you buy your iMac brand new in 2009, it serves you well for 3 years, and just when you think that it might be time for an upgrade, oh look, there’s a new iMac! Perfect. The signifcant length of time between iMac upgrades means that consumers aren’t left in a grey area when it comes to upgrading, and they aren’t left constantly making life decisions trying to stay up to date with the iMac range. At the prices Apple demand, investment in an iMac a few years ago will have proven a much easier load financially, than buying a new iPad every year. In this case, Apple are called to bear the brunt of this kind of upgrade. Fitting new and improved parts inside an iMac as thin as the latest one will not have been an easy task. It’s safe to say that Apple’s design team will have had their work cut out with this one. Furthermore, whilst Apple has been tinkering in the design room, they may well have been losing potential sales as prospective customers turn elsewhere for a computing solution. I know that this won’t be true across the board, but I certainly think that Apple will have had to absorb at least a small loss.
Personally, I think that Apple do a pretty good job acheiving a balance between these two methods, but then again, I also like Nickeback. So I put it to you, “subtle tweak”, or something more drastic? Which do you prefer? What’s your reasoning, and are Apple doing it right? Leave your comments below, and be sure to tweet me @TiP_Stephen