The iPad and the other tablets: a parable

As one tablet manufacturer after another spectacularly fails to achieve what they seem to think should be a fairly simple task -- make a competitor for the iPad that takes significant market share -- I am reminded of an old Yiddish folk tale, that goes something like this:

There was once a poor man, who managed to find a job working as a driver for a wealthy merchant. He spent his days driving the merchant in his fine carriage to his appointments around the town. In the evenings, after leaving the carriage at the merchant's opulent mansion, he walked home to his hovel, where his wife had a meagre meal of barley gruel waiting for him; they had not the money for meat.

One evening, however, the driver came home to his wife in a state of great excitement.

"I know how he does it!" he exclaimed.

His wife looked up from the stove. "What do you mean, Yakov? How who does it?"

"Goldstein," said the driver. "When I drove him to his last appointment today, with Shlomo the tailor, instead of waiting in the carriage like I usually do, I went to the window and watched what he did!"

"You foolish man," said his wife crossly. "If he had seen you, Goldstein would have fired you! And then how would we eat?"

"Pah!" replied the driver. "Now that I know Goldstein's secret, I don't need to work any more. Soon we will be as rich as he is!"

"But how?" asked his wife, frowning. "How does Goldstein make so much money?"

"It's so simple! He has a little book, and I saw him open it, and show it to Shlomo the tailor. In it were little pieces of cloth, of all different types, each bound into the book. Shlomo leafed through all the cloth pieces, and then he pointed at a certain one. Goldstein made a note in his diary, and Shlomo gave him a bag of gold coins!"

His wife looked baffled. "Are you certain that is what you saw?"

"As certain as I am that my name is Yakov!"

She nodded. "Well, I have some scraps of cloth here and there, and we could cut some pieces out of the curtains. I could make you a little book like Goldstein's," she said.

So she sat up half the night making a little book out of all the scrap pieces of cloth that she could find around the hovel, and the next morning, just after dawn, Yakov ran eagerly with it to the house of the tailor Shlomo.

"Who are you?" asked Shlomo blearily.

"I am Goldstein's driver!" said Yakov eagerly.

"Oh. Well, in that case, you had better come in," said Shlomo, thinking that Goldstein had sent him with a message or a parcel.

Once in the parlour, Shlomo turned to Yakov. "So what do you have for me?"

With trembling hands, Yakov handed over the little book. Shlomo looked at it, a trifle perplexed, and then started to leaf through the swatches. He shook his head.

"If Goldstein thinks -- "

Yakov interrupted him. "This is
my book. Nothing to do with Goldstein."

Shlomo looked even more perplexed. "
Your book? So what do you want from me?"

Yakov clasped his hands together. "A bag of gold, like the one you gave Goldstein yesterday."

Shlomo threw back his head and laughed out loud. "A bag of gold? For these
shmattas? You must be joking!"

Yakov shook his head angrily. "No, I am not joking. I want a bag of gold! For showing you this little book, just like Goldstein did!"

When Shlomo saw that Yakov was serious, he sat him down at the dining room table. "My dear fellow. You clearly do not understand. Goldstein's little book is his book of samples. He shows it to me so that I can see the quality of the cloth that he has in his warehouse! All of it is much finer stuff than the scraps in your little book, but even so, I would not pay him a copper for his samples. I gave him a bag of gold so that his warehouseman will deliver five hundred bolts of the finest silk to my shop this morning! No other reason. Do you understand?"

But Yakov did not understand. He became even more angry, shouting, accusing Shlomo of treating him unfairly. Shlomo tried to reason with him, but eventually he lost patience, and had his servants throw Yakov out onto the street, where Yakov continued to rage about how stupid and irrational Shlomo was to anyone who would listen. Few would.

The experience of Yakov the driver is similar to that of the other tablet manufacturers. They see Apple reaping great riches from their little iPad, so they decide to create their own tablet computer. They cobble it together from bits of technology that they have lying around, and they show it, hopefully, to the buying public.

"Look!" they say. "It has all the same things as the iPad! A touch screen, an app store, this Android operating system which is just as good as IOS. It's thin and light. It's just the same! So give us bags of gold!"

But unfortunately they do not truly understand the iPad. They are offering, cargo-cult-like, a set of technical specifications to people who want the finest, most beautifully crafted user experience. They think that they can simply cobble together something that looks like an iPad, and they will instantly reap the rewards of Apple's years and years of painstaking product design and development. They really do not have a clue about the true nature of the transactions between Apple and their customers. And they show no inclination to learn.