(Dis)Ingenuity

As of the time of this writing, Apple is on stage doing their dog and pony show where they’ve announced the “iPad Pro”:

  • 12.9″ screen
  • Detachable “Smart Keyboard”
  • A stylus called the “Pencil”

There’s other aspects of the device that will show up in spec sheets once their show is done, of course, but I don’t have them on hand right now. That’s OK: the nitty-gritty hardware specs are relative, but let’s talk about this gem:

I have to admit, that’s pretty amusing, even prescient, since Steve Jobs hated the idea of a stylus. But it’s also very sad, and very disconcerting because it’s true: there’s a contingent out there, possibly a very large contingent, that will find no irony in that comic. To them, the Surface will always be a clone of the iPad, even when the iPad Pro has clearly cloned features of the Surface.

In some ways, there’s a parallel between Apple and Nintendo. At first glance, both companies seem to march to their own drummers, doing what they believe to be great and innovative things that people don’t know they want because they’re steeped in mediocrity. Following the pack is something that both companies want us to believe they are against.

But there’s a difference in the approach of each company. Nintendo introduced the Wii when other companies were beefing up the processing and graphics hardware. They shied away from always online and relied on friend codes. They wholeheartedly support handheld gaming with the 3DS, even though a lot of people never use the 3D features. Nintendo does different and doesn’t really go out of their way to explain themselves except to say that they do things their way because they want to, and that’s a good a reason as any.

Apple, on the other hand, wants you to know that they’re different. In fact, they hold these media circuses so that you don’t forget it and so there’s no ambiguity that Apple is not Google, not Microsoft, not Dell, not HP. They open with financial and sales reports. They flash products on a massive screen with minimal clutter. They present feel-good video and image montages over acoustic indie rock soundtracks to capture the attention of the trendsetters who are into those kinds of things. If Tim Cooke delivered his presentation while swinging from a trapeze over a pool of flaming lava, I don’t think people would consider it to be out of place. It’s a show for a show’s sake, but also serves the purpose to frame their actual product announcements within the bounds of a spectacle. If you just want to learn about a product, go to CES and be among the common, sweaty masses. If you want to feel like you’re investing in a piece of The Miracle, then ascend and buy Apple.

Apple’s not that different, though, as you can see if you hold up an iPad Pro next to a Microsoft Surface. There’s the precision stylus. There’s the detachable, fold-over keyboard. If the iPad Pro had been announced to have a collapsible kickstand it wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, except in appreciation of Apple’s apparent design savvy. No one from Apple would ever acknowledge that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or that they’re imitating at all. On the flip-side, Apple would never claim that they’ve cut their features from whole cloth, because doing so would be considered bad form since it’s no secret that the Surface exists. The good news for Apple is that they doesn’t have to admit or deny anything. The hardcore Apple fans might not even acknowledge the existence of the Surface, allowing them to vehemently argue on Apple’s behalf that they did invent the stylus and the flip keyboard cover. The more moderate iFans will simply claim “so what?” because “Apple has surely done a better job with these features because look how popular the iPad is compared to the Surface”, a conclusion regarding two products with similar features which aren’t even congruent in time. There’s already op-eds claiming that now that Office on the iPad Pro is a first-tier application, there’s “even less” of a reason to invest in a Surface. It’s like to many, the field is up for grabs until Apple decides to step foot on the soil, and then the battle is instantly over. No contest, even if Apple beats their opponents with their very own weapons which have gone from “so what” to “oh mah gawd best thing ever!

By doing what they’ve done — basically, copying a few of the best concepts that the Surface advertises — Apple has both admitted and not admitted that maybe they’re not always overflowing with great and magical ideas. But they also don’t care, because people won’t care except to release pent up snark and irritation with Apple (a la this post). If it has an Apple logo on it, it’s automatically vaulted above and beyond all other offerings. At worst, those other offerings will be derided as the copies, and that’s the level that really bugs me. In the end, it’s all inconsequential: use what you like and what works for you, but for crying out loud, give credit where credit is due and don’t leave a blank space where that credit would reside so your rabid fans can fill it with their unbound love for your brand and do your dirty work for you.