Since swapping my iPad 3 for an iPad Mini last week a lot of people have asked me if I made the right decision. Without a doubt the answer is yes.
Not only is this the right iPad for me, but I totally agree with tech pundits who predict that this will be the main iPad in a year or so.
I’m sure Apple won’t retire the bigger iPad, but when you say ‘iPad’ to most people, they’ll picture the Mini in the way most people now see the iPod Touch when you say ‘iPod’ rather than the click-wheel classic.
At first, I was sceptical. When the iPad Mini was unveiled onstage, it was the first Apple launch in recent memory that didn’t really interest me. I had an iPad 3 and had no desire to replace it with the Mini just because it was newer. Especially as it didn’t have a retina display.
But then I actually saw an iPad Mini in an Apple Store. It just looked right. It didn’t look like an iPad Mini; it made the iPad 3 look like an iPad Obese.
I sold my 32GB iPad 3 wifi to a family member and bought a 32GB wifi and cellular (4G) last Friday. I love it.
One of the first differences I noticed was the Mini’s lack of a retina display, more specifically, how obvious its absence was to me as a retina iPad user. I had wondered if it would only be obvious when compared to a retina model, but as I also have an iPhone 5, I immediately noticed the colours were a little washed out and the text wasn’t as crisp as on a retina device.
But that is where the negative comparisons end. Having a smaller iPad has obvious benefits around portability and comfort of hold-ability, but what has really taken me by surprise is how I use my iPad Mini - and all my other devices - in a totally different way thanks to the smaller form factor and LTE connectivity.
My commuter activity used to be…
Books - Kindle
Web, Twitter, Facebook, messages - iPhone
Magazines - iPad
Despite being glued to my hand in the evening, my iPad 3 hardly got a look in on the train; my Kindle was my most-used device in terms of time spent on it and my iPhone battery needed charging through the day because it was used so much on the train - my commute is two hours door-to-door.
Since getting the Mini, my Kindle no longer comes on my commute with me. My iPhone still has 90% battery by the time I get to work and my iPad is glued to my hands until my train gets into Victoria.
I no longer have to spend the evening planning my media consumption the next day around the lack of connectivity on my iPad. Books and magazines can be downloaded on the move and on a whim, which I expect to drive me to spend a lot more in Amazon’s Kindle store and iTunes.
Apple often gets stick for not reinventing the wheel with every product launch, sometimes fairly. But evolution is just as important as revolution, and sometimes a few evolutionary tweaks here and there, while seeming insignificant in isolation, are enough to cause a revolution when viewed collectively.
A few inches here, a few pounds there and suddenly the iPad is more usable on the go, has a greater need for cellular connectivity, which encourages different consumption, e.g. I’ll now use Netflix on the move rather than just my son using it at home.
The iPad Mini won’t be the perfect iPad until it has a retina display, but until that day inevitably comes, it’s certainly the best iPad and was easily the right decision to switch.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve looked at a web service like Netflix and wanted to yell ‘BUT WHAT THE HELL SHOULD I WATCH’.
Recommendation algorithms, social suggestions based on what my friends have watched and a decent site search are all essential tools for a modern web service, but they only serve people who a) know what they want to watch, or b) want to watch more of the same stuff they or people like them always watch. Perfect for sliding down the infamous cliched long tail; not great for finding a new head.
With social and recommendations getting all the buzz, editorialisation by a team who don’t just get the product, but also get the content, is becoming the unsung hero of content discovery.
Virgin Media’s TiVo box* is a great example of a product that applies the editorial layer to great effect. As well as the recommendation layer, our TiVo Editor can highlight new shows in the Discovery Bar that appears at the top of the TV screen.
So if Virgin gets an amazing new series like Community on the service, you don’t need to wait until you’ve watched something that the TiVo Mind feels is enough like Community to recommend it to you based on your previous viewing. We can tell you about it the day it arrives, inside the product itself.
Apple has realised the untapped power of editorialisation too. As well as the iTunes Store’s Single of the Week, the App Store has recently bumped up its editorialisation with a new Editors’ Choice category. While the carousel has always highlighted new/interesting apps or categories, the Apple staff are now more explicitly holding my hand through the buying process, not just telling me what to buy, but also adding a human touch. I buy more apps now from that carousel than ever before.
Netflix UK has also got it in the act, beginning a Recently Added blog about new content as it arrives on the service to help raise awareness of the fact it’s constantly adding to its often criticised UK catalogue. It’s a start, but still too separated from the product itself to be as useful as it could be.
BBC iPlayer’s Daniel Danker has gone one step further, even shifting the team’s seating arrangements to encourage a tighter bond between editorial and product: “I came to the BBC because I wanted to bring together editorial and technology,” he recently told VoD Professional.
“The relationship we’ve forged between editorial and product divisions is fantastic. Today, folks from Editorial sit shoulder to shoulder with designers, engineers, and product managers. You can’t tell where one team ends and another starts.”
Social channels like Facebook and Twitter are undeniably useful for editorialising content, but the smaller the gap between the point of content consumption and editorialisation, the more effective it is - just ask anyone who has worked on a newspaper website about the woefully low conversion rates from promoting online videos in the print product.
A streaming service or VoD platform without editorialisation is nothing but a database or a collection of thumbnail images, just content without context. Social and recommendations may be sexy and new, but without his throne, a king is just some guy on a chair.
* My employer
A few years ago in an English newspaper, there was a story about a near-fatal stabbing. The victim was rushed to hospital, where during an X-ray to determine the extent of any damage, a small cancerous growth was found. It was removed and the man made a full recovery, remarking that were it not for the stabbing he might have died from the hidden cancer that was quietly causing more damage than the knife.
In 1906, British scientist Francis Galton went to the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition, where he witnessed a weight judging competition. A crowd of farmers and local people had gathered, and were paying sixpence to enter their guess of how much the ox would weigh ‘slaughtered and dressed’.
Galton had little faith in the intelligence of the average man, so decided to conduct an experiment to back up his argument. When the competition was over, he collected all 787 guesses written on discarded tickets and analyzed the data. What he found shocked him: the average guess was 1,197 pounds; the correct weight was 1,198. The ‘dumb’ crowd’s judgment was almost perfect.
Groups of farmers aren’t always right. Stabbing does not always cure cancer.
It seems absurd to point out that a solution doesn’t have to work either all the time or not at all. Penicillin is not a failed drug because it doesn’t cure cancer. Some things aren’t supposed to be universally applied and when we stretch an idea way beyond its effective plasticity, cracks begin to show.
Popularized by New Yorker staff writer James Surowiecki’s 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds ideas such as crowdsourcing and the hive mind began to seep into the mainstream thanks to fully-functioning embodiments of group-think theory like Wikipedia and Linux.
Seemingly blowing the economic model of the rational man –– one who only parts with his time for hard cash –– out of the water, the founders of such experiments became the pin-ups of a post-expert infosystem, a digital nirvana where the crowd was king yet the monarchy was mocked.
But what do we actually have to show for the crowd’s toil, years later? As recovering digital evangelist Jaron Lanier points out in his book You Are Not A Gadget, if 15 years ago he’d told people that all we’d have to show for this revolutionary approach to problem solving would be a new type of encyclopedia (Wikipedia) and an adapted operating system (Linux), people wouldn’t have been too impressed. As fascinating as the Wikipedia model is, we already had an encyclopedia model that worked. We already had Unix.
Web 2.0 experiments have achieved some amazing goals. But like the wisdom of crowds theory that inspired/intellectualized them, they are limited.
Wikipedia isn’t always wrong. But it also isn’t always right. The same is true of crowdsourcing as a tool.
Ask a crowd to calculate how many balls are in a jar, how much an ox weighs or the correct price for a company share, and the crowd will often out-perform its most-accurate member.
Where there is a right answer, the crowd will flourish. A good rule of thumb –– while not 100% accurate, of course -–– is if you can count it, you can crowd it. But when it comes to more qualitative issues, crowdsourcing isn’t supposed to work. Look at the gulf between the crowdsourced music charts and the opinion of experts or critics. One is no more accurate than the other in essence, but if I wanted to find the best new music, I’d ask the expert, not buy the number one single.
Likewise, crowds can find the weight of an ox, but not the prettiest ox. And, as author of Crowdsourcing: How the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, Jeff Howe, told me, ‘I find the crowd adept at weeding out the ugliest oxen, but they’ll often miss the strange beauty.’
Applying a tool as if it is a toolbox only leads to mistakes. As the old saying goes, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Galton learned the folly of assuming the crowd is always dumb. But we need to remember that it’s not always inherently intelligent, and even if it is it may not be the right way to solve your problem. Forgetting this creates perceived failures and damages the reputation of a good theory that wasn’t meant to be universally applied.
It’s about selecting the right tool for the job. Use a spanner as a hammer and all you’ll do is break the tool and the nut.
* Post written in 2010 and reported on new site
It’s unfair to ask people who don’t have a sense of the opportunities of tomorrow from the context of today to design - Jonathan Ive