Business Lessons I Learned From The iPad

What business lessons can we learn from the gadgets we play and work with? Here are eight ideas.
Co-founder, KISSmetrics
October 28, 2011

Have you ever thought about why you love the products and gadgets that you use the most? I’ve been thinking about that question now for the last year as I used my iPad for business, and I have been reminded of some very good business lessons.

Here are eight.

1. Find the gap in workflow and fill it

There’s a lot of discussion about whether people should get an iPad or not. I discovered that if you have a laptop and iPhone, you probably don’t need an iPad because you already have the tools you need to complete most of your tasks.

So why did Apple decide to release a product that wouldn’t fill any real gaps in workflow? It’s simple, really…Apple has a customer base that will buy just about any product they develop.

You probably won’t be so lucky.

That means you have to look at how people are working, playing and looking for ways you can improve their productivity. When you are doing your research, here are a couple of questions to ask:

  • Can you make several disconnected processes into one seamless one?
  • Do they use more than one tool to accomplish a task? Can you help them complete that task with one tool?
  • Can you create a tool that eliminates steps from their task?

Look for the gaps in people’s workflow—and fill it. If it’s big enough, you have a winner.

2. Multi-tasking is important

Even though some people say multi-tasking makes you stupid, a lot of us still do it and feel really productive when we do. Besides, busy professionals and entrepreneurs couldn’t survive without multi-tasking.

That’s why it’s a little surprising that Apple’s first version of the iPad didn’t allow you to multitask.

You couldn’t check e-mail, jump online, search through Evernote and jump back to the e-mail while the programs ran in the background. You had to close out each task before starting another one. Gizmodo called this lack of multitasking a “backbreaker.”

Apple survived that hiccup and released iPad 2 that allowed you to multitask.

What does that mean for you? Try to give people what they want, in this case, the ability to perform more than one task at a time. And if you don’t on your first version, you better listen to your customers, and then implement the things they request.

3. Offer people the option to control the experience

For the most part, Apple wants to control how people use their products. However, like the iPhone, you can jailbreak the iPad to make it do exactly what you want it to do.

Jailbreaking comes at a cost, namely your warranty is no longer in effect, but for the adventurous and techy it offers greater freedom than the average user will ever experience.

The business lesson here is to allow customers to control the experience. Respect their individuality.

Often, we try to control how the customer uses our product. You might have a very firm idea in your mind on how a product should be used. Your customer, on the other hand, may get the product and use it in completely different ways.

With a new product you need to hand the customer a very early version of it and watch how they use it, and then develop the product based upon their feedback.

Here are some other ways to give freedom to customers who use your product.

  • Check boxes – Facebook allows you to manage what notifications you receive, how you receive them and how often.
  • Profile – Adding pictures, bios and other details is a great feature that respects people’s individuality.
  • Backgrounds – MySpace is easily the king of individuality, allowing people to download personal backgrounds and music. Your iPhone is personalized when you put a picture on the lock screen.
  • Recommendations – Amazon make you feel like a unique person the company understands as they make recommendations about books you might like.

4. Meet unexpected needs

There’s no question that iPads are the perfect consumption device. You can read, listen and watch just about any content. This is one of the reasons I love my iPad. The consumption experience is incredible!

In fact, reading newspapers and magazines are very much like reading the same thing. The New York Times, for example is similar in format, and you can navigate it like the real thing. Because it’s on the iPad, you get the additional benefit of skipping around, something you can’t do with a print version.

What’s the business lesson? Well, some people like the real thing. They like holding a book or newspaper in their hands, so if you can create an experience that closes the gap between the real and the virtual, you just may gain customers.

To pull this one off it will take some serious brainstorming and creative thinking. But when you are thinking of unexpected needs to meet, try not to think of the obvious.

For example, I know some people who love their Moleskines notebooks but gave them up when they figured out that they can take quicker notes with the iPhone’s voice memo feature. The Dragon Speech Recognition software allows bloggers to be more productive in a similar way.

5. People buy on emotions

The iPad 2 is a luxury toy. Even first generation iPads are still expensive, and like I mentioned above, there are plenty of arguments for not buying one.

So you have to wonder why so many people bought the first version? You’d think people would conserve their cash and hold off until the price dropped and the product got better. Especially since we are in a recession.

Even the Kindle, which is much cheaper, outperforms the iPad in some categories. But that didn’t stop thousands of devoted Apple fans from buying the newest iPad.

What happened?

The iPad is kind of like the trophy wife for nerds. Owning an iPad says a lot about you.

  • You have a lot of discretionary cash, whether that’s true or not.
  • You belong to an elite group of people who own Apple products.
  • You are smart and techy.
  • You can talk to other people with iPads, creating your own little clique.
  • You own one of the coolest tech products out there.

As you can see, owning an iPad creates a perception about you that people envy. It may not help you do anything better than what you already have. But it elevates your status.

The business lesson for you is to figure out what emotions your customers will respond to most when it comes to your product. There are a basic eight emotions you can play upon:

  • Fear
  • Pride
  • Belonging
  • Joy
  • Surprise
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Disgust

6. Leverage ecosystems

One of the reasons that Apple is so successful is that it uses a version of the vendor lock-in model of customer retention. What I mean by that is it creates products that work together and only together for the most part.

All of Apple products are tied into one platform, the iOS. That means if you have a Mac and an iPhone, you’d be crazy to buy any other kind of tablet, even if the iPad was inferior.

The genius in this strategy is that if you can get a critical mass of people buying your first product, any product after that will be a breeze to sell because you have set up an ecosystem that people don’t want to break.

7. Compete with the market only when you can do it better

Even though I love my iPad I admit that it probably isn’t the best tablet out there. There are arguments that Android tablets are even better. Way better.

So you have to wonder why Apple would enter a product into a crowded market where it couldn’t make a better, faster machine. The truth is Apple doesn’t have to do that because they basically turn our commodities into cool products. The iPhone is a great example.

Before the iPhone there were lots of great options for smartphones. But none of them were really cool.

So the takeaway for you and your product is to find a niche to dominate. But if you can’t find that, enter a product that does what current products do, and enter with a faster, better or cooler product.

It helps if you are a visionary like Steve Jobs, but you can still create cool products even if you aren’t. How? Just start asking people what they think the ideal cool product is. And start looking into other industries. When you broaden your horizon you may come up with some surprises.

8. Make it simple

This last one may seem obvious, but the truth behind this business lesson came to me in such a powerful and vivid way that I just had to share it.

After I had my own iPad, I decided to buy my dad one. I was skeptical at first, but it turns out that this was the first tool I could give to my dad and not have to teach him how to use it. Straight out of the box he was using it. I was stunned.

If you think about it, the iPad will probably be the first product on a large scale that seniors will actually buy and use because it’s so simple.

The takeaway here is two-fold. First you have to obviously build a product that is simple to use. But the really important part is the second half of this lesson and that’s you must keep trying.

Over and over again.

Apple pursued perfection not just from product iteration to product iteration but from product to product. Lessons learned from the iPad were surely used on the iPhone. Lessons learned from the iPhone were surely used on the iPad.


Whether it’s my iPad or the airlines I love to fly on, I always try to think of the reasons why I love those products and services so much. I learn so much about what makes a successful product, and then I try to apply those lessons to my own businesses. I recommend you do the same, too.

Do you own an iPad and have you learned any great business lessons?