February 11, 2011
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Polishing More Clearly

If you cook, you need a knife. You only need one knife, really. Kitchen stores want to sell you entire sets of knives – chef’s knife, paring knife, boning knife, bread knife. These can be useful, but if you’re not fluting mushrooms or boning quail, you need your chef’s knife. But because you're going to depend on your one knife a lot – and because knives present inherent dangers – you want your one knife to be a good knife.

What do we mean by “a good knife?” Some people might think this means “a really big knife”. My wife has a giant Sabatier that was a lovely gift, but it’s far to big for me to use, and ludicrously oversize for Linda. I think knife enthusiasts sometimes think that a good knife is one that looks great, a knife with a nifty finish and a wonderful handle.

But what we really want is a knife that’s sharp, well balanced, and easy to maintain. A good knife is a knife that cuts what you want to cut.

Hardware and software are like kitchen knives. Great materials and interesting shapes help draw attention in the store. They might be pleasant to look upon. Durability and economy are nice things, too. But what matters is cutting and chopping.

The iPad is a knife that’s both exceptionally attractive and exceptionally good. The pretty handle helps get people to notice it, and that’s not irrelevant to its success. The press and much of the industry seems to think that the iPad is a success because it is so beautifully polished. That’s a mistake.

The Kindle, for example, has never been well polished. It’s frankly ugly. It does one job: it lets you buy books right away. It’s a job worth doing. And so, people love it – not because the “experience” is right in every detail, but because it lets them read what they want to read.