2001 changed the world in more than one way. The year saw Apple’s i-debut with the iPod. Apple revolutionized the way you listen to, buy and carry around music. It essentially created an ecosystem that led people in swarms to first buy a personal music player and then customize that player via iTunes making Apple the leading retailer of music.
Apple once again played out its magic in 2007 with the iPhone. By designing a smartphone around third-party apps, Apple created the infrastructure for a highly customizable mobile experience. Where the Nokias and the Blackberries of the world solved a specific problem (such as uninterrupted access to emails) and provided apps as an add-on, the iPhone became a general product with an unlimited availability of customization options via apps.
Apple’s adept at creating devices that are the center of your world. Its ingenuity comes from creating generalized products for a world obsessed with customization.
So what’s up with the iPad? An iPhone on steroids? No multi-tasking, no USB, $499 for 16 GB, no Adobe Flash support?? With its namesake, you can safely argue that the product name has absolutely no sex appeal. Has Apple failed to deliver a game-changer this time?
I don’t think so. Remember- measured by absolute sales, the iPhone wasn’t a game-changer until its third generation. With the iPad, I believe Apple’s doing what they have always done – they’re experimenting.
The world is being overrun with a deluge of information and the most successful content providers will find a way to disseminate information for its target consumers. The NY Times, BusinessWeek etc. – these are the kings, queens and lords of information and the iPad tries to breathe life into these estates of old.
Apple’s not trying to make a new kind of computer. If they were, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot. Nor is it creating a new communications device. It’s instead creating a generalist product that isn’t really targeted at any one segment of user. The product instead acts as infrastructure for disseminating information.
Interacting with a device like the iPad isn’t new to the user – thanks to the iPhone that successfully broke the user away from the limiting stylus. The iPad therefore doesn’t require the user to learn a new language – Apple’s made sure of that.
The iPad is simply a bigger and better toy for the world of apps to play with. To the consumer, it provides two major benefits:
- Entertainment: Games, Music, video and e-books- the iPad allows users to carry their content around with them while augmenting Apple’s online retail business.
- Disseminating Information: Allowing massive customization via apps, the iPad provides users with a better way to organize the information in their lives than a limited device such as a phone or as sophisticated a device as the computer
The lack of flash support and the limited memory space on the iPad are annoying traits – but Apple’s just trying to figure out what will work when innovative new apps hit the app store. It’s counting on the early adopters, the programmers and the businesses that work on its hardware to tell it what they want.
I believe that the iPad is a game changer and the corresponding increase in sales will occur with the next couple of generations. Here’s how I see it playing out:
- Initial iPad sales to early technology adopters, brand loyalists etc.
- Apple pushes the Apple bookstore with more partnerships and titles to gain enough supplier enthusiasm in the channel to spur innovative information dissemination techniques.
- Release of new, innovative apps that wouldn’t have worked on the iPhone platform – These apps will be targeted to specific user groups. A good example is a presentation app that allows speakers to organize their slides in real-time (i.e. during their presentation) as explained here.
- Further push on iPad based games, productivity applications etc. Apple will probably allow programmers to easily migrate their development projects between the iPhone and iPad developer SDKs.
- Apple uses this time to determine the features most important to suppliers and consumers – example: Is it Single or multi-tasking? Flash support or HTML 5 support? More storage space? Etc.
- Software upgrade or next generation of iPad hardware will be released.
Apple’s Vice President of Design, Jony Ive, probably puts it best. The iPad is just one large piece of glass. There’s no pointing device - you use only your hands to interact with it and you can use whatever orientation you want. There’s no up or down with the iPad - It’s designed to be customizable to its user’s preferences.
But there may be a thorn in Apple’s plans. App releases on the iPad are strictly policed by Apple’s screeners. For an experimental platform, this may severely limit innovation. On the other hand, it allows Apple to govern the kind of projects that prevail on the iPad. What do you think?