Explaining the Unexplainable

I bought a new iPad. I don't have it yet. It should arrive on April 10, if Apple's confirmation email is to be believed. But I want it. Now.

When asked, I struggle to explain why, in the same why I struggled to explain why I wanted the first iPad. As a culture, we still have trouble communicating the appeal. The way we judge technology is still rooted in mid-90s spec wars that pitted functionally identical Compaq, HP, and Dell machines against one another. iPad will not win spec wars. There are PCs, tablets, and even smartphones with more powerful processors, larger and more expandable storage, and faster graphics. On this battlefield, iPad is the clear loser. And yet it wins.

It wins not only in sales volume, but also in the way it integrates into users' lives. It wins on experience, on utility, on the joy factor. It is increasingly capable - I am quite literally capable of accomplishing all of my work-related tasks on it, save for heavy-duty spreadsheet work - without compromising its essential ease of use. It is the most versatile computer I have ever owned.

Apple recognizes the foolishness of competing on specs. It is focused entirely on experience. Look at its naming conventions. During its iPad announcement, Apple mentioned the number of pixels in iPad's new display a couple of times, but consistently referred to it as a "Retina Display." No one is buying a new iPad because of its pixel count. They're buying for the Retina Display, for the experience of holding glowing paper in their hands. It's the same product with a different emphasis, but in this market, it might as well be a different product altogether.

None of these strengths are obvious from a checklist of specs, yet each is core to iPad's appeal. And looking at sales figures, Apple is successfully communicating them. But for those who are inclined to view tablets as toys in the same way that command-line adherents viewed the MacIntosh as a toy, it makes it difficult to explain why iPad is worth owning. The best method I know is to place iPad in the doubters' hands and watch them explore.

Experience is how we explain the unexplainable.