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The Problem with Unwanted Features

by on May 22nd, 2012

I love almost everything about my iPad. The size, the weight, iOS…almost everything. There are, unfortunately, a number of features that I simply find little to no use for, and I’m sure there are a number of features that are universally underwhelming. under-used and under-appreciated. Unfortunately, as the iPad and the tablet platform matures, this poses a number of potential problems for everyone involved – from Apple and hardware manufacturers down to us, the consumers. For the sake of the argument, let’s use the iPad’s camera as a prime example of a universal feature that’s mostly ignored.

The Case Against the iPad Camera

Ok. Let’s be honest. We’ve all tried the iPad camera once, maybe twice, just to get a feel for its capabilities. We take the obligatory goofy looking Photo Booth picture and try out the video capturing feature, and we set it aside for the rest of eternity fully assured that we’ll never find a practical use for it. Little surprise. Afterall, the iPad is too bulky for any kind of stable free-hand photography and videography, and there are many other mobile gadgets that simply fit the task better (any smartphone, to be honest). In my opinion, it’s probably the least useful feature of the iPad (feel free to debate that in the comments below).

The Cost of the Camera

Just like any kind of physical hardware component, there is a physical cost of the camera. Apple has to pay for the camera itself, of course, but the per unit cost of that is pretty low when you buy in bulk like Apple does. There are plenty of other hidden costs as well – namely the cost to design the circuits to incorporate the camera hardware, the cost to write the software to allow the camera to work correctly with iOS, the cost of sourcing and selecting the right camera itself, to even the cost to drill the hole into the back of the iPad aluminum case. In spite of the low raw hardware cost of the iPad, the costs do add up and hit both Apple’s bottom line, as well as ours.

Keeping up with the Joneses

If there’s so much potential cost in keeping these unwanted features, then wouldn’t it be easier to just rip it out and ignore the whole thing ever happened? Well, Apple certainly has a track record in cutting their loses when it comes to unprofitable or underutilized features. Take iWork.com for example. They’re shutting down the beta at the end of July. There are, however, a number of problems in doing so. Firstly, the cost to remove a feature may actually be higher than continuing to support it. The same kind of costs involved in incorporating the camera in the first place (hardware design, re-engineering iOS, etc.) would have to be reinvested to remove the feature. More importantly, though, there is a Cold War like obsession to continually improve the hardware and the platform as a whole. Removing the camera, regardless of how useless it is on whichever tablet platform, is seen as taking a step backwards in the never-ending need to keeping up with the Joneses. As long as this keeps up, we’re only going to keep accumulating these useless features that sound great on paper, but are unusable in practice.

The Real Problem with Useless Features

Now, in all honesty, useless features are generally just annoying, rather than detrimental. I would argue otherwise. As mobile operating systems continue to grow in size and complexity, supporting features that are unnecessary only open up potential security holes, beyond the innocuous ones that allow the fine folks at the iPhone Dev Team to help us jailbreak our devices. In fact, this is the exact problem that Microsoft continually runs into with Windows. With Apple dominating the mobile computing space, both the iPad and iPhone are becoming prime targets for hackers to exploit, fundamentally countering Apple’s reputation in secure and safe computing.

With Apple’s WWDC coming soon, it’s going to be interesting to see what they will introduce in iOS. While I’m sure there will be plenty of gems, I’m sure there will be plenty of potential flops as well. With the maturation of the tablet platform, will Apple still be able to wow us? Or will they try to distract us with shiny unwanted features that will just make investors giddy?

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Posted under: iPad Rumours

  • Sean

    I completely disagree that the camera is useless.  I have used the camera for several different reasons. I used it to take photos at my daughter’s birthday party.  I used it to record my eldest daughters music concert and I’ve used it for FaceTime with friends.  Additionally, the camera is used in many applications for QR Code scanning and Barcode scanning, just to name a couple.  The camera is not there just for the sake of taking pictures or recording video, but also for applications to “see” things they need to operate.  Several food tracking applications, for example, use the camera to scan a barcode and enter the nutritional information into the app so you don’t have to manually enter it all.  If we’re talking about useless apps, let’s instead talk about the useless default apps on iOS that we can’t remove, like the Stocks App on iPod Touch/iPhone (seriously what does my 13 year old daughter need with a stockmarket app?).

  • Guest

    I also completely disagree — the camera is super useful. I use facetime all the time to talk with my parents and show them what their grandson is up to. The back-facing camera makes it easy for me to focus on him, rather than contorting myself to use the front-facing one. This is the second biggest single improvement (besides the retina display) I have found moving from a gen 1 ipad to the new one.

  • Rox

    I agree with the message above. I even skipped 1st iPad gen due to the lack of camera. For skype and facetime, this priceless, specially between grand parents and grand children. I’m also surprised to see the amount of “ok” looking video that I’ve done with it. Specially outside the country where my iPad is more useful than my iPhone (due to lack of afffordable network).

  • Otto

    counter-examples: facetime, skype (yes, BOTH cameras are great to have to show to the other side what you currently see – from babies to nature stuff);  there’s an astronomy app that overlays star/plane names over what the camera sees; what about future ideas, which can only be done once the hardware exists? article fail.

  • Gad

    I believe there is a balanced view to have here on the camera. In my opinion, the back camera, as a told for taking photos and videos in indeed useless. The front facing camera for FaceTime, Skype and a multitude of other tools I use to stay in touch is extremely valuable to me.

  • MleB1

    Readers – don’t get fixated on the camera. As Sam notes in the article, that’s simply one example of a feature that doesn’t work for that user.

    Goodness knows there’s plenty of ‘features’ in the iPad / iPhone / iOS that some can do with, others without. In my case, its mostly the iOS features that frustrate most – pointless software or poorly developed apps built into the iOS that cannot be removed and that Apple seems unwilling to fix. And that can a drag on the limited resources of your device, as the program lies unused and/or you must seek out a 3rd Party app to do the job properly.