Mercedes: Tablet Edition

Not long ago, my mother was looking into buying an iPad. Despite the fact that I don’t own a tablet of any kind, she had some questions to ask me about it. This wasn’t all that surprising; I end up getting tech questions about all sorts of things from family and friends who assume I’ve done some amount of research on All Things Tech (and, generally, this assumption is correct). What was at least moderately interesting to me is that all of her questions were centered around the iPad itself: “How much storage should I get?”, “3G or no 3G?”, “Should I get this or that accessory with it?” At no point did she ask me “Would I be better off buying a different kind of tablet?” or even “Should I be buying this?”

…so I took the liberty of presenting these questions to her as the ones she probably should be asking.

For the former – “Should I be looking at the Xoom, TouchPad, or any one of the other available on the market today?” – my answer (for my mother) was “No.” She shrewdly flipped this question around on me: “What would you buy?” My laughing reply: “Not an iPad.” Well, she was kind of taken aback at this, so I trotted out the old apples and oranges metaphor. I don’t have a strong use case for buying a tablet other than “They’re kinda cool” so I can’t really say what features I would be looking for in one, but I know what I don’t want: overpriced proprietary hardware (right down to the charging connector), a proprietary OS and software that I can’t fiddle with, and an app store over which Apple has complete and total control. For my mother, the use case is similar – i.e., “They’re kinda cool” – but feature-wise I have a hunch that none of the above matter all that much to her. She just wants it to look sleek, work well, and integrate with all of the accessories she was also planning on getting. Well, it’s hard to beat the iPad on that front.

My mother doesn’t want a utilitarian piece of hardware to play around with, one that’s easy to get under the hood and work on. She doesn’t want a Chevy or a Ford. She wants a Mercedes. And in many ways, that’s what the iPad is: a luxury product for those that have the disposable income to be able to afford it. In fact, I would argue that all of Apple’s products are luxury products. Why else would a MacBook cost $1,200 when I can get nearly identical – even superior! – hardware in a PC for under $500? Because you’re paying a premium for that Apple symbol on the lid.

This brings us to the second question: Should she buy it? Well, that question is kind of moot at this point; she already did. …and I don’t really see anything wrong with that. She had a picture in her mind of what she wanted, and that’s what she got. I wouldn’t go so far as to call her a fanboy – I’m pretty sure this is the only Apple product she owns – but she definitely, at least this one time, caught “Apple Fever” and I don’t think she would’ve been satisfied with anything else. Had she bought the Chevy, all she would’ve thought about while driving it is “How much nicer would this have been if I were driving that Mercedes I was looking at?”

What’s my point? Well, I don’t know that I really had one to begin with, but if I did it’s probably something like this: If you’re going to buy something like this, attempt to have a well-defined use case. If you can’t do that, at least go into it with your eyes open as to what your motivations are for deciding on this technology or that. If you can’t do that…well…fuck it, it’s your money I guess; spend it however you like…but don’t come to me when your Mercedes breaks down, I don’t have the know-how or the equipment to work on it and you’re just gonna have to take it to the dealership.