Designing Trojan Horses

What do OXO Good Grips kitchenwares and the Apple iPad have in common? It may be hard to think of how chunky-handled potato-peelers and cutting-edge tablet computers may be related, but I think both are really "Trojan horses" of product design. When I read the reviews, look at the UI, and play with it (admittedly, I don't own one yet), I've come to think of the iPad as a device aimed primarily at the Baby Boomer Generation. This is significant when you consider how the iPad is marketed and discussed in the media: like most new technologies, there is a heavy emphasis on early adopters, younger people, and the tech-savvy elites. Apple is too experienced to introduce a product just for seniors or anyone else outside of the 18-34 demographic that content producers trip over themselves to attract. Despite the fact that 'boomers have far more disposable income, the leisure time to use and buy lots of apps and books, and a strong desire to keep up with the "digital natives", it would probably be suicide to market the iPad this way.

To the original question - what do these products have in common? Good Grips were designed using Universal Design principles to the accommodate aging hands of seniors. However, this veneer of utility masked the real market of style-conscious consumers needing a reason to replace their perfectly good utensils with new neoprene-handled models. The iPad is not your grandmother's computer, but with its giant buttons, bright high-resolution screen, and ease of use, it could be. The tenets of Universal Design are centered on the notion that designing to accommodate the requirements of people with disabilities can yield products that by default work well for everyone else. The iPad is a big step forward that takes advantage of the most profound aspect of computers - their chameleon-like ability to adopt forms that belie their endless computational (and networked) abilities - and creates a new category of devices. Even though they have made a clean break with previous computer forms (iPhone notwithstanding, even other tablet devices adhered to the desktop computer metaphor), Apple knows full well to proceed with caution and let the market inform its evolution. Apple promotes it as an empty vessel as much as anything: most of the language from Apple uses word like "magic" and "never before" to describe it, leaving consumers and media to fill in the gaps.  Similar to many other products marketed to younger people, but adopted by older consumers, Apple needs to keep up appearances to through the gates.