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iPad 2: Forget Specs ‘Mattering’…Shoppers Don’t Even Know What Specs Are

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Yesterday I wrote a brief article about why specs don’t matter to most shoppers. A lot of people seem to disagree and have spent the better part of today pointing out why the Xoom and other tablets have more GB, GHz and MP. One tablet may have more or less of them, but in the end most consumers don’t have the faintest clue of what all the gibberish on the side of a gadget’s box means.

Yes, you’re probably smarter than average and can flip through stacks of spec sheets and quickly ascertain which device is the best of the bunch to buy. But mere mortals or shell shocked when they’re confronted by specs.

Specifications are confusing as heck, even for some techies who think they know it all. Manufacturers typically put their best specs forward or emphasize numbers that really don’t mean much.

Take for example the early Intel Core i7 processors. I was absolutely stoked to get an HP Envy 15, complete with a 1.6GHz processor! It was one of the fastest processors available on any notebook at the time, but some readers over at Notebooks.com disagreed. A few of them even called me stupid for talking about such an expensive notebook as being great since you could get a 1.6Ghz processor in a $300 netbook.

iPad 2: Usability and Reality Matters

What matters these days is a device’s usability and its ability to complete tasks that people actually want to complete. That’s the beauty of Apple’s keynote presentation of the iPad 2 yesterday. Steve Jobs and friends actually showed us how the iPad 2 could be used. They didn’t show some highly improbable tech demo or focus on hardcore fanboys’ needs. Instead, Apple focused on things like banging on drums in Garage Band or splicing together a few clips from a Hawaiian vacation. Instead of talking megapixels and image sensor specs, Apple showed us how your kids will love distorting their faces with Photobooth.

Spec Quiz

Most consumers don’t have a clue what the following terms actually mean. Some have some general understanding that having more of some of these items is better than having less, but they can’t nail down what these acronyms actually mean or what the components actually do.Can you?

  • GB
  • MB
  • MP
  • GHz
  • MHz
  • Processor
  • Whr

Even if you do know what the acronyms stand for, can you explain in plain english how each impacts real-world users?

Consumers Don’t Buy Specs

It’s not that consumers are stupid or ignorant, it’s just that the average consumer spends the vast majority of their waking hours thinking about things other than tech specs.

The reason tech companies generally market specs is because they always have and because engineers and geeks have too much influence over how devices are brought to market. It’s time to let the geeks debate specs behind closed doors and for consumers to hear more about how devices can entertain them or make life easier in one way or another.

If you take a look at how some of the most successful gadgets were launched, you’ll see that most of the focus was on capabilities and user experience, not on specs. The original iPad is of course a perfect example of this. The experience of the iOS tablet was its main selling point and millions of consumers sold themselves on it after getting to play with the iPad at retail stores.

The other, and perhaps more miraculously, successful gadget launch was not from Apple, but by rival Microsoft. The Redmond company spends a fortune developing products in its labs. Most never see the light of day, but once in a while the stars align and the company turns some geniuses’ experiment into a real live product. That’s exactly what happened with the Microsoft XBOX Kinect, which broke all sorts of sales records when it was released during the 2010 holiday shopping season. Millions of XBOX Kinect controllers were sold within weeks because it was an awesome product and consumers could see the value in buying one. Microsoft could’ve geeked out about all the IR and 3D motion sensing in action, but it instead focused on things like hiding from tigers and jumping to grab coins.

iPad 2′s Missing Specs

The iPad 2 spec sheet over at Apple.com is pretty readable as far as spec sheets go. There’s plenty of information there to satisfy all but the most hardcore geeks.

Instead of geeking out over the iPad 2′s flash memory, there’s just a sketch with a couple of digits followed by GB. No transfer rates, no RPM equivalents.

Another thing that’s missing altogether from the iPad 2 is the amount of memory on board. With most devices, the memory (RAM)  section of a spec sheet is quite detailed. Information about the speed of the memory (MHz) and of course the number of MB or GB inside the device are present. Since all iPad 2 models have the same amount of RAM and the iPad 2 is the only device Apple will be selling on store shelves that runs iOS 4.3, why bother? It’s not like consumers are going to buy a Xoom instead because of this spec.

Another thing that’s missing from the Apple iPad 2 spec sheet is a bunch of trademark symbols, which are usually peppered throughout non-Apple spec sheets. In other words, mere mortals can actually read the iPad 2′s spec sheet without re-reading lines.

When the Apple iPad 2 actually goes on sale, the retail price tags won’t have many specs at all except to indicate the amount of storage in each model and whether it has 3G or not.

Don’t Hide Behind Specs

Humans buy devices, not specifications. When you see a wall of confusing specs it means the product may not be worth buying. Great gadgets should explain themselves and self-demonstrate well. If you need a product expert to show you the virtues of a device and can’t discover them on your own, you might want to look elsewhere.

Could you imagine if everything else in the world was sold like tablets and computers? People don’t lust after sports and luxury cars because of the specs. There’s a deeper connection between cars and drivers that makes them ignore numbers they can’t understand. You can usually spot a a ho-hum car model when you see ads on TV stressing that it has ‘more horsepower, more MPG and more cargo room’ than the competition. By those measures, a Toyota Camry might be a better buy than a Mercedes sedan. But good luck trying to get Mercedes owners to swap their sedans for a Camry.

Price matters quite a bit to consumers, but they’re willing to spend money when they understand why an object is better than the competition. There are a lot of things that can’t be described by a spec sheet, including why most people would rather have one of the above cars much more than the other.

Xavier Lanier is the publisher of Gotta Be Mobile and a photographer. He uses too many devices to count, but his current favorites are the iPhone 5s, HTC One, Nikon D800 and Sony RX 100M II. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

8 Comments

  1. RK

    03/04/2011 at 12:53 am

    Part of it is that people don’t care about specifications nearly as much as style. At the same time, I think a bigger factor is that with one year obsolescence and every app being made for devices that only differ in their storage capacity, there are no situations in which a device will feel “too slow” unless you’re willing to keep it for 3+ years. Cell phone contracts have trained people to look at phones as disposable commodities. Computers are a less transient purchase, especially considering how much more versatile they are.

  2. Anonymous

    03/04/2011 at 1:06 am

    Well said, Xavier.

  3. Bethnglenn

    03/04/2011 at 1:56 pm

    Then there is this view of how specs can be mis used:
    http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/03/03/steve-jobs-reality-distortion-takes-its-toll-on-truth/?section=magazines_fortune
    That writer makes the same point as Xavier, it just doesn’t affect the average consumer. And it also doesn’t affect popular coverage, it just throws more dust in the eyes of the consumer.

  4. Heightsguytoo

    03/11/2011 at 6:15 pm

    I agree and I think unless tablet manufacturers stay away from promoting specs instead of the user experience they will have a hard time competing with the iPad. Tech geeks love specs but most just don’t care about specs if the tablet performs below the user expectations.

  5. Hahahahaha

    03/14/2011 at 7:59 am

    thanks wiener lol

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