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The iPad Mini and the Changing Purpose of Things

When people were first speculating about Apple creating a tablet, there were certain problems that it was supposed to address. At the time, all of these problems were assumed to be somewhat impossible. These problems were, in my memory, primarily the following:

-Can you make a color tablet? (For some reason at the time this was doubted.)
-Can you make a product that will save the newspaper and magazine industry by giving people a way to consume them digitally?

Apple creating the iPad almost seemed like Apple taking a dare from different worlds. Could they create a digital device that would save newspapers in a digital age? Could they make that device do even more, like play videos and let people surf the Internet?

In my mind, this was the prompt that led to the iPad. Remember how ridiculed the name was? Now it’s one that 2-year-olds shout with reverence. This is how things change.

I started thinking about this after the iPad Mini came out, and it quickly became apparent that it was somewhat perfect. After poo-poo-ing the idea that Apple needed a small tablet, I tried one, and then pined for one until I broke down and bought one, even though I wanted to hold out for a retina display. I already use it far more frequently than I had the regular iPad. Compared to the mini, the first iPad seems overly large, clunky even.

This has made me question the initial design of the iPad. Didn’t Steve Jobs, after all, argue for a larger size, leading to the comical headline, Seven Inches Is Enough, RIM Tells Jobs? There was a lot of dismissal from Apple when it came to smaller tablets, yet they eventually released their own.

So what gives? Well, I think 7-inches maybe was too small for a device that was supposed to replace the newspaper. (Another question – wasn’t the newspaper itself poorly designed to begin with – too big and awkward?) But the iPad as primarily a replacement for the sunday paper is hardly how anyone thinks of it anymore.

Instead, the process of publications switching to iPad versions is still being figured out, iPad magazine subscriptions haven’t exactly taken off and well … the publishing industry is still in decline. But at the same time, people are reading more than ever, just differently. For example, apps like Flipboard let them aggregate news from many sources, for free.

The better news is that the iPad has evolved to do a lot more than replace the paper you read with your coffee. It has trained a computer illiterate world into the Internet. It has given toddlers their first interaction with the power of technology. I have been shocked by watching my mom, who has rejected computers her whole life as “confusing,” suddenly sitting on Pinterest all day, shopping online and even asking me if she should sign up for Instagram. She literally calls “the Internet” “the iPad,” because to her there’s no difference. My niece and nephew, 4 and 2, can navigate the iPad more impressively than my 7-year-old classmates could play Number Crunchers.

And Apple has realized this. Maybe it was initially trying to replace large papers for large hands, but they realized that didn’t mean they shouldn’t make an everything-machine for very small hands. People have called the iPad Mini the “paperback” version and the regular iPad the hardcover. The harcover comes first but isn’t it the paperback you want to keep in your purse?

I think this brings to light the importance of looking at the original challenge a product was supposed to solve, and thinking about how its purpose has led to new opportunities. For example, with many things we make at Zeus Jones, we stop at the end of the year and ask, “Why did we do it this way?” When we trace back the reasons why, we sometimes see that it has become something altogether different from what it started as. There are many ways something evolves over a year, and that creates a lot of potential opportunities that could be overlooked.

It’s important to be honest about the way something’s purpose can change, rather than be stubborn about what it was originally created to do. What’s a better challenge, getting newspapers online, or getting a generation that thought they were “too old” for technology onboard? If Apple had stuck to their original belief about the ideal tablet size, well, I wouldn’t have spent so much time reading on my iPad mini last night.

-Becky Lang



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