The Missing "Why" of the iPad

This is part two in a series on last week’s iPad event. Part 1: Whither Liberal Arts? | Part 2: The Missing “Why” of the iPad | Part 3: The Magical iPad

Christina Warren took issue with my article, Whither Liberal Arts:

To this I have just one response. It’s the best Apple commercial in years – maybe of the decade:

And it debuted in April 2013. This advertisement – which is virtually perfect in every single way, is all about story. It is the absolute personification of story and emotion…

So are we really going to say that liberal arts are gone from Apple because of an ad designed to show off the amazing industrial design of the iPad Air? Let’s be serious.

This, unfortunately, completely misses the point (and misrepresents my argument to boot):

  • My disconcernment was not only with the iPad Air ad, but with the entire keynote. Everything was about Apple, from the opening repeat video to the self-praise for free to the ridiculous demo about the Eddy Cue poster. What was absent was any demo or discussion about the way humans might actually use Apple’s products for real (the Life on iPad spot being the clear exception).
  • My argument was about the iPad, not the iPhone. I have written that Apple’s strategy and storytelling around the iPhone are spot-on and a good idea. Moreover, I think Apple is doing great things with the Mac, upping the software value prop and lowering the price at a time when Windows has never been more vulnerable in the consumer space.

    It’s the iPad, though, that is devoid of a story (in fact, as Pavan Rajam points out, Apple has not done a single on-stage demo for the iPad this year). The difference in clarity and specificity between Apple’s iPhone strategy – increase value, both in features and in higher order benefits – and whatever it is they’re doing with the iPad is reflected in the marked contrast between the humanity of the spot Warren references and the abstract iPad Air ad.

  • The larger problem, though, is a misunderstanding of what the liberal arts reference is all about. It’s not about the story, or lack thereof, although that is a symptom. It’s not about the ad, and it’s not about emotion. Rather, the question that the liberal arts answer is “Why.”

    Yesterday’s presentation covered the “What” and “How” of the iPad, but it had nothing about “Why.” Why does the iPad exist? Why should consumers buy it? Why does it matter? These are answers that cannot be found in a spreadsheet or focus group, but only in experience, empathy, and philosophy – i.e. in the liberal arts.

Moreover, these are not idle questions. Tim Cook himself showed why they are so pressing:

Plateauing iPad Growth
Plateauing iPad Growth

That line is flattening much too soon for a product as truly revolutionary as the iPad.1 It is not obvious to customers what the iPad is and why it matters.

This, then, is what makes the iPad different – and yesterday’s event more alarming – from a story-telling perspective: a phone and a computer are known quantities. There is no need to answer why. And so Apple’s continued excellence on the “What” and “How” truly shine. The iPad, though, has always been different by virtue of being not only a new product, but a new category. It needs not only the design of “What” and the technique of “How,” but the meaning of “Why.”

There is no one in the world better at “What” than Jony Ive, and no one better at “How” than Tim Cook. But who at Apple knows “Why”?

  1. Why is it revolutionary? Stay tuned…