What the iPad Pro teaches us about user experience

Paul Boag

The mistakes of the iPad Pro provides some valuable lessons on user experience and product design.

I wanted to love the iPad Pro. I saw it as the answer to a problem that had been bugging me for ages. Every time I went travelling for work I would have to take my laptop and my iPad. My Laptop so I could work, and the iPad so I had something to keep me entertained while trapped in my hotel room every evening.

Instead I have come to rate it as one of the worst purchasing decisions I have ever made. But not for the reasons you might think. Unlike many it is not the keyboard I dislike or the extra weight that comes from the bigger screen. No, for me the failure of the iPad Pro is death by a thousand cuts.

But I don't want this post to be a rant. I want to see if there is something we can learn from the failure of the iPad Pro, as user experience professionals.

Lesson 1: Be careful how you present things

The biggest problem with the iPad Pro is the way Apple have sold it. They have presented it as a device for professionals. Hell, it's even in the name.

In truth this is about as far from a workhorse computer as you could get. This is not a replacement for a laptop even on a short business trip.

I'll get to why in a moment. But by framing it in my mind as delivering something it could not, Apple served only to create buyers remorse. Buyer’s remorse leads to anger, damages trust and undermines long term sales.

The lesson here is simple. If you say you are going to deliver something, make sure you deliver. For example if you say you are going to deliver a great customer experience, do it. Don't be the equivalent of a clickbait headline, all promises and no fulfilment. Too many organisations say they are dedicated to providing an outstanding experience. But words are cheap.

Lesson 2: Be sure before you decide to be different

The reason the iPad Pro fails as a laptop replacement is Apple's insistence on doing things there own way. So many hold Apple up as an example of a company who innovates and isn't a slave to user research. But that has come back to bite them with the iPad Pro.

Take for example the lack of a file system. It makes any kind of serious work almost impossible. Sure, you can do most things without it. But the experience is so frustrating that you long for a laptop.

That is another lesson we can take away from this. If people are familiar working in a particular way (such as using a file system) make sure you are damn sure before you change that.

A lack of file system on the iPad Pro means it is hard to do serious work. Why change something people are so comfortable with?
A lack of file system on the iPad Pro means it is hard to do serious work. Why change something people are so comfortable with?

Also just because an alternative approach worked in one context (e.g. On an iPhone) does not mean it will in another. In short, don't make assumptions. Always use data.

Lesson 3: Think about the greater experience

The final thing that Apple seems to have overlooked is the greater ecosystem. When we design something it does not exist in isolation. It has to work with other things and nowhere is that more true than in Apple's integrated experience.

A device like the iPad Pro, which Apple has aimed at a professional audience, has to have pro software to go with it. But time and again the software falls short. It lacks fundamental functionality that a pro user needs. Functionality that you would get on a platform like OSX.

This isn't just third party software either. It is also Apple software. Presenting on an iPad using keynote is a frustrating experience compared to a Mac.

iPad apps like Keynote are inferior compared to their Mac counterparts.
iPad apps like Keynote are inferior compared to their Mac counterparts.

The same is true with Safari. Because it identifies itself as iOS, websites serve the mobile version. This despite the fact you are working on an enormous screen. Don't even get me started on any web app where you have to upload a file from that non-existent file system.

Now the Apple fanboys say that we should just wait. That software will come in time. But I am not sure that will happen. The problem is that advanced functionality takes time to create. That means the software has to be more expensive. An expense the consumer isn't willing to swallow. The reason? Well it comes back to expectations. Apple has conditioned people to expect iOS software to be cheap. This means it is always going to be inferior.

I believe that Apple saw a market segment that needed filling. They then released a product without considering the experience. The result is that this fanboy is suffering from buyers remorse.

Lesson 4: Beware choice paralysis

But it is worse than that. I have had my confidence in Apple knocked. They are not helping this feeling with their line up of products.

You see I still have the same problem. I still need a light device to take to conferences. One I can work on. But what should I buy? Should I get a MacBook Air 11 inch or go for the 13 inch? Or perhaps I should go for the new MacBook. Hell, perhaps I should wait for the next version of the iPad Pro.

You see Apple have made another big mistake. Their product line has become complex. They are committing the cardinal sin of user experience, overwhelming the user with choice. A sin that Steve Job's saved the company from when he returned to the helm back in the 90's.

Apple have lost clarity in their product lineup. Is the same true for your company?
Apple have lost clarity in their product lineup. Is the same true for your company?

Apple was suffering from the same overwhelming lineup back then. He simplified it all down to two laptops and two desktops. One for the consumer market and one for the professional. That was it. Four choices.

Apple could do with that same clarity today. And the chances are so could your business.

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