When Tech Products Fail to Offer a Sense Possibility

Seems like GoPro, the maker of the ubiquitous action video cameras and Apple's iPad are stuck in a slowing sales trend.

Both the GoPro and the iPad were visionary products that did what it was meant to do in a way that no one expected — they are amazing products. The problem is, when a product is that good at one thing (a hallmark of a singular vision, which is normally a good thing), people invariably are exceedingly satisfied and aren't easily persuaded to upgrade, especially if the upgrade doesn't add much to the utility/experience.

Both the GoPro and iPad are great at one thing. I love these products because they're well designed, well thought out and just works, as advertised, out of the box. However, I'm still using a HERO 3 and a iPad Mini (first gen). I feel no need to upgrade because these products are actually rather pricey and the additional benefits they give me for the upgrade is pretty small comparatively.

Which brings me to a question I've had for a while — why do we get 'gear-lust' when it comes to photographic equipment? What's the difference between the aforementioned products and photographic equipment? The iPad doesn't seem to be too badly off at first glance. It has a large developer community (where I hear developers are unsatisfied with sales) and an extensive accessory mini-industry behind it — not to mention Apple juggernaut brand power. You can turn an iPad into a reading machine, a gaming machine, a movie-making machine, you name it. There is, as Apple says, an app for that. So the confounding thing is, why aren't people upgrading like crazy? More powerful CPU's and GPU's would make the experience even better. You can run the latest operating system and have no problems with software compatibility. And yet, fewer people are upgrading to newer models.

GoPros are great products. They just work (although I've had friends whose GoPros were unreliable) and are extremely popular with active lifestyle demographic. GoPro's are cameras too so why aren't they being upgraded more often like other cameras? What's the difference?

I feel that we get GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) for photographic equipment because of three distinct elements — photography itself, a sense of control and the joy of having a complex tool at our disposal. Let's take a look at each of these one by one.

First photography is a fantastic hobby for anyone who finds creating art exciting. It offers an amazingly fast learning curve and instant gratification of steadily improving results, without going to school. (How far you advance is another thing altogether.) Second, a camera offers you a sense of control. You control all aspects of the picture making process. Third, the camera is a seductive tool. It is more often than not, amazingly well built, costs quite a bit and feels great in your hand. It's a precision tool that helps you achieve the first two points. A new camera offers you, more often than not, new levels of automation, a different arrangement of buttons in the human interface design, a feature that seems better than what you have now, so much so that this widget will actually impact your picture taking for the better. I think it's a sense of 'possibilities' that we find so alluring with new cameras.

Certainly with the GoPros, you're 'creating' something but it's basically a one button push affair. Everything else is automatic. With the iPad, you're consuming content more likely than not. And if you have a smartphone, which people upgrade more often than iPads, you play your games and edit calendars and take notes and so on on the phone and read or browse the web on the iPad because of its bigger screen. Reading doesn't require the latest super fast processor. It also doesn't help that every single iPad looks exactly the same (not true but for most people, true).

So where does that leave the GoPro and the iPad? GoPro is 'doubling down' on software, which is frankly badly needed and the iPad got fresh new models in the iPad Pro with the intriguing Pencil. I don't get much of a feeling of possibilities with newer GoPros and while the iPad Pro with Pencil is interesting to me (I'm a designer so I can certainly see the benefit of having a digital version of a sketchpad and pencil), for most people I don't think it offers the sense of 'possibilities'.

I understand Apple needs to sell umpteen million iPads per quarter so it is essentially a consumer device. But if they can figure out a way for the iPad to do actual work (as in being able to ditch your laptop level of work), it will transform the industry. To do that, the iPad will need to have a user accessible filing system for starters. And probably connectors and memory expansion slots. Unfortunately, I don't see this happening.

A sense of possibilities is alluring for creative people who buy technological products because it feeds on our yearning to be better, to feel you're getting closer to a higher, more loftier goal. Now if I only had the funds to buy the new Phase One 100 MP kit, I'll be taking much pictures, I'm sure of it!