Apple iPad 3: No One Needs It, But It’s a Great Illusion

Apple released its third generation iPad today in San Francisco — but our Paul Bonner says Apple has just re-iterated his still valid question with this iteration. That is? Why does anyone need a tablet? They don’t, Bonner says. But there’s a difference between want and need, which reflects Steve Jobs’ ultimate triumph as a marketing genius, even after death. Here’s why.

Today Apple released its third generation iPad. But no one needs it, so far as I’m concerned.

The new iPad — called simply: the iPad — is an iteration on the iPad 2 in many ways. Check the specs at to see how it compares with the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Asus EE Transformer Prime. Apple fans are already pre-ordering but the reality is: No one needs this iPad.

After selling 55 million Apple iPads to date, a number expected to exceed 100 million by the end of this year, Apple is enjoying the last and greatest success of Apple’s Steve Jobs era. And that’s not because it has sold the most units — the Apple iPhone sales figure of 300 million units dwarfs Apple iPad’s sales — it’s because the question lurking all along is still valid: “Why does anyone need a tablet?” And no one needs it. Steve Jobs figured out how to make you want it.

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There is nothing you can do with a tablet that you couldn’t do– and even far more efficiently–with your smartphone or netbook or notebook. But the question, while still valid in this release of the third generation iPad — is also irrelevant.

Everyone needs a tablet because everyone wants one. Demand for the iPad is driven not by need, but by desire.

Larry McCaffery wrote about the triumph of desire-based marketing in the 1991 fiction anthology Storming the Reality Studio. He wrote, “This is the postmodern desert inhabited by people who are, in effect, consuming themselves in the form of images and abstractions through which their desires, sense of identity, and memories are replicated and then sold back to them as products.” That’s exactly what’s happening here.

Steve Jobs was the world’s master of marketing desire, and the purposeless Apple iPad — in any iteration — represents his ultimate triumph. As long as his successors remember that the company’s success rests entirely on its ability to stoke that desire, Apple’s triumph will continue.  It doesn’t matter if a dozen manufacturers with Android devices ship faster, more capable and less expensive alternatives: people will still be willing to sleep overnight in the parking lot outside the local Apple Store to get their hands on the newest Apple iPad.

And Apple will continue to win the tablet wars — for as long as Apple knows how to market desire, not just gadgets.


  • I love this quote, Paul:
    “Demand for the iPad is driven not by need, but by desire.”

    So true.

    -RAP, II

    • Actually, I’ve got an Android tablet, which is fun but hardly essential. Combined with a full-sized Bluetooth keyboard, it comes close to matching the capabilities of a cheap netbook.

  • There are going to be hard core Apple iPad 2 owners who will dive into this just because of the display, which is truly extraordinary. I spoke to Robert Scoble right after the announcement, and he said, well, I want one. He has an Apple iPad 2. It’s the screen — and the marketing. NICE piece, Paul. So glad you’re at

  • Written by a true Apple hater who has no idea the usefulness of tablets because he uses an Android tablet, which as we all know, is a total epic fail.

  • An Apple hater? Gosh Zaphod, I don’t know how I could have been any nicer. I called the iPad a triumph and Apple’s greatest success, identified Steve Jobs as world master of marketing, and predicted that Apple would dominate the tablet market for a long time. Perhaps I offended you by taking a moment to consider the meaning of all that success? If so, you’re free to argue with my conclusions. But please don’t waste anyone’s time with name calling.

    • +1 to Paul. I would be the first to say that the iPad is a superior tablet. But I’m also first to say, i STILL want a Transformer Prime. ;)



      -RAP, II

  • @Zaphod:

    I think it’s important to clarify the terms of discussion here. I got the sense that Paul was presenting a dispassionate- at times, glowing- analysis of the psychological/sociological implications of the iPad’s success, and of the way in which Jobs tapped into the market of desire.

    In this context, to argue that people don’t need iPads is similar to arguing that people don’t actually need televisions, or cell phones- these things became ‘necessities’, markets were created for them- but would anyone argue that cell phones are useless, or inferior to landlines? No. That would be silly.

    I don’t think our contributor was literally saying that iPads are useless, as he is no doubt familiar with the many wondrous things a tablet can do. They are, however, a luxury device which provides the same functionality that most buyers already have in their notebooks, smartphones, etc. Doesn’t seem like a particularly controversial opinion, to me.

    I, myself, (a mac user) have salivated over the iPad since its release, but can’t bring myself to buy one when I can just use my iPhone or tote my MacBook around, instead.

  • I totally agree with the article. One small note though, this is nothing new in human history and human civilization…

    Vanity would sooner or later enter the digital era.

    Vanity is not inherently evil… may sound cynical but without vanity humans would never have discovered the virtues of art.

    Ipad is a work of digital art; one has to admit, in the digital era, art has lost it’s uniqueness, which used to characterize art in the past. Rembrandt never thought he could produce a million original replicas of his paintings, but for Steve Jobs, the work of art didn’t have to be unique. After all that is probably the most notable contribution of our era to the concept of civilization, art accessible to the masses.

    It didn’t start with Apple, the mass reproduction of music and books started it all a few decades back in the 20th century. What Steve Jobs did is that he first understood that even a machine can be elevated to a work of art per se… Some car manufacturers also worked in this direction but their creations have always been very expensive and indeed rare… Steve, on the other hand, decided that “beautiful technology” should not be too expensive, and he managed to make his vision come true.