Why no one should care about the iPad2’s RAM

March 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ve written briefly on the iPad2 before but as other people keep discussing it I keep feeling the need to answer one reoccurring argument: “iPad2 sucks because of <such and such> spec. This <other tablet> has more <such and such>” which then usually degrades into name calling and horribly irrational insults.

As a computer nerd I love knowing about the numbers in my gear. I keep track of these things meticulously and often buy by comparing these numbers, such as most of us do. However! The more and more I think about design the more I realize that this truly should be one of the last things on my list.

Design and Functionality

The main point I want to make here, if you read nothing else in my rant is this: When choosing a gadget to fill your need ask simply “Does it fill the need?” and leave it at that. Does having a better processor actually fill the need any more than the alternative? And perhaps it does; I can name lots of things that I need beefy specs for. I built my desktop computer as a rendering beast, sure I need beastly components inside it. But my iPad, who is a consumer gadget like any other and was compared as such, does it need four hyperthreading cores? In my life it exists almost exclusively to browse the internet, takes notes in class or watch Youtube / Netflix. The 1 GHz processor is more than enough to keep it humming along. This is good design. Once I start running into lag or sacrifices to my user interface it becomes bad design –moral: cheaping out usually equals bad design as it most likely impairs the functionality in some way.

So it’s a balance, of course. Too little power and you’ll ruin functionality but too much power also ruins functionality, because part of function can be cost or weight; in this case, cost.

RAM. In the post PC tablet context it could be summed up simply as “The ability to load large applications or multiple smaller ones”. Yes, my iPad has 256MB or RAM. Yes, the iPad2 has 512MB and yes, these are comparable to the amount your Windows 98 machine had which is to say, almost nothing. But! It’s an arbitrary scale we nerds attach to the number. We think it’s low because we know there is a lot more and we know you need at very minimum 2 GB of RAM to run a modern desktop. But the iPad isn’t really designed to be one, nor should it be thought of as one. I’ve run into a RAM shortage only once whilst using my iPad and that was when opening a large AutoCAD drawing while multitasking, the former of which is a really ridiculous use of a tablet (but that’s a different rant altogether). The point is, 256MB is plenty enough for what the object is designed to do and the fact that we think it’s low is almost completely invalid when arguing about the highly subjective “Which tablet is best”.

‘Best’ of course is tricky, since everyone is expecting different things. There is no right or wrong here and it’s strange to me how bitterly people will fight about it; they’re different products meant for different people. The iPad is a fantastic way to solve the goal it’s trying to solve. It works. People don’t need to know about RAM or resolution or processor architecture. They don’t care, why should they? It works. That’s good design.

Apple’s Cult Following

I say all of this not as an Apple fanboy but as a design fanboy; which at this stage in electronic design is almost synonymous. I will never understand why people take such fierce sides as when talking about sports teams or brands or countries. As self proclaimed capitalists, it’s actually hilarious how stuck in our opinions we become… anyway. Another time.

I may not agree with everything they sell or how they do it or whatever, but it’s hard to deny that Apple has a cult following made up of people who find the products usable. Shock, I know. Some people in the world don’t want to spend days booting Linux kernel on their digital watch; half of them (myself included) are frustrated trying to get the Microsoft mouse out of that bloody plastic-cardboard-plastic-plasticbag packaging that seems designed to keep the product in it’s clutches as long as it can. That’s horrid design. Of course people prefer Apple, have you ever opened the iPad box? Step one: lift lid smoothly off box. Step two: enjoy iPad to it’s full capacity.

This is starting to get multidimensional. Second moral: make packaging a pleasure to open. You don’t need to protect things with 14 layers of waste material that end up making the buyer regret purchasing it. That’s how NOT to get a cult following. That’s how you get young-punk designers to rant on blogs.

Back on Track

Design, I feel, is about making a better world; a better life for your users.

Will there always be bizarre, angry people to argue about useless stats like RAM? Yes. Is the iPad meant for those people? No. Clearly, those people don’t understand the iPad sells to people who want a device that does exactly what’s advertised – and does it very smoothly, and very well.

To agree with the above, will there always be alternatives to appeal to those types? Yes. That’s why Android exists.

Will these people ever realize that it’s useless to try and argue someone into changing camps for no known benefit? I will probably never know…

Last Kick at the Cat

I was in the store playing with that Samsung Galaxy and it was really, really laggy. Like. Unusable. I’m not sure if it’s just the demo model running something heavy in the background (woo multitasking, such a game changer *eye roll*) or what, but it was pathetic. So… Glad it has more RAM and stuff… that’s a cool statistic…

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§ 2 Responses to Why no one should care about the iPad2’s RAM

  • Karl says:

    Anyone to some extent will find it hard to be objective about design, and I’m one of them.. but I had about 5 minutes of play on my friend’s iPad last week and I kept grabbing it every time his back was turned just to mess around on it again. It’s sleek and works perfectly, so you’re not wrong there. Pretty much the only problem I can find with Apple these days is the horrible grating sound the mouse makes when I move it on a table, along with its scroll wheel. That’s literally it. Apple have honed their design philosophy to something unreal, and while all the alternatives like Android are refreshing, it’s almost as if Apple is becoming the Gold Standard of design.

    • Brennan says:

      Ideally, and I’ve written this in other things although I can’t remember if it’s published or not… ideally there would be one ultimate design that reaches the perfection of that object.

      I’m not saying Apple is perfect, no one is perfect by far, but ideally, proper design would be the optimum in everything and serve the people for the perfect price to benefit both supply and demand.

      Unfortunately there are things like fashion and style fads that actually hinder true design in favor of selling on an aesthetic or useless level (though I am definitely NOT saying aesthetics are useless, they happen to be the most subject to fads. Rams himself despises such fashion.) and so this pure form, this true design will really never emerge. Not as long as humans are fundamentally as we are now and caught up in such superficiality.

      That’s the least of our worries as designers, though, since we can still make the best product we can and occasionally jump on fad bandwagons to sell to fashion conscious people.

      The interesting thing is that Apple doesn’t design for fads. These machines are milled out of solid chunks of aluminum, and really, they are the ideal mix of completely cold and devoid and still incredibly gorgeous to people of all fashion styles.

      And so, everything aside, I sincerely hope Apple is the gold standard of design, the world would certainly be better if others followed and strived for that. Good design is practical, useful, functional AND gorgeous products without a particular trendy style; that, in almost every way, is Apple today.

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