Saturday, April 3, 2010

iPad thinking


Apple is about to ship (in the U.S. anyway) it’s latest gadget known as the iPad. I thought that I’d cover why I think this device will have a similar impact as other Apple devices such as the iPod and the iPhone. The broad basis of my argument proceeds along two lines of reasoning: rational and emotional.

On the rational side I would say that there currently isn’t a successful ‘tablet’ style device out there at moment. Lots of people have tried to create something but they haven’t really taken off. Sure, the odds maybe against Apple here but that still doesn’t mean they can’t be successful and fill what is a current hole in the market.

Next, I’ll point to the fact that no matter what Apple bring to market a significant number of people will buy it. This alone gives the product momentum which many competitors fail to achieve. This is one of the differences about Apple, they don’t have users they have fans and fans buy whatever you peddle. Thus, the first shipment is already sold out and second one is also I believe. That’s a pretty good way to kick start any market acceptance.

We are now living a world where ubiquitous Internet is almost a reality. It is certainly more ubiquitous in the places that we frequent, i.e. at home, at work, travelling, etc. the iPad is a device for these places because it supports ‘instant on’ and access to the Internet. Wanna see what’s on TV? Grab your iPad and view the on line program. Want to catch up on the news before a flight? Grab your iPad and get the latest information. The key factors here are ‘instant on’ and form factor. Being bigger than an iPhone reading becomes less of a strain and you also don’t have to wait for it to boot. Also don’t overlook that we have an aging population and our eyesite isn’t getting any better.

In the places that we frequent where the Internet is not ubiquitous (like cars) the iPad will most likely drive connection there as well. Imagine a GPS screen the size of an iPad rather than that of a pokey iPhone? What about all those places you need to lookup while on the move? What about some entertainment (movies and games) while you’re travelling (on a bus or train rather than driving a car in this case)?

However, rationally I think the most powerful feature of the iPad will be as an eBook reader. Take a look at all the books kids bring home from school these days. Imagine if they were all available in a simple device like an iPad. Electronic books allows students to much easier search, mark up and  share the information they use in their studies. I’m not only thinking of kids in school but what about those in technical colleges and universities? Need to check something in the text book while you are in the lecture? Just whip out your iPad to see. Again, in the past eBooks have never really taken off but that doesn’t mean they won’t now.

I do a lot of reading and writing everyday and I can see the iPad working in both aspects. I take a lot of notes in a paper notebook everyday simply because it is easier and quicker to do this than entering it in via a keyboard. I also don’t always have a keyboard in front of me and once again, most mobile devices screens are too small for this. However, an iPad is in a similar form factor to what I’m already using with my paper notebook so it has already checked off one box here.

As I said, I do read a lot of stuff as well everyday. From emails, to web pages, to magazines, newspapers, to RSS feeds, fiction and non-fiction I read it all daily. I certainly see the appeal of all that reading matter being in a single place. I see the appeal of it all be searchable as well as being able to remember where I’m up to. I also see the potential for this information to be delivered automatically to an ‘instant on’ device that allow me to read any of material whenever the mood takes me without me ever having to worry about how or when it gets onto that device.

I think you can start to see the rational reasons why the iPad may become widely accepted as a ‘new platform’ for IT in the very near future. But about the emotional reasons? These reasons have no logic but they are none the less just as valid in my opinion.

Firstly the device is from Apple and Apple is cool. Apple doesn’t make technology devices, it makes consumer products. As much as IT people love to discuss Apple technology it is the ‘huddled masses yearning to be free’ that buy their stuff. That’s why it looks the way it does and that’s why it is sold the way it is. If logic had anything to do with it we wouldn’t find the PC vs Mac ads funny now would we?

Secondly, to a consumer the iPad is simple. It doesn’t have a keyboard (which most users hate), it is just like a notebook. You simply point at what you want and it appears. Remember, I’m talking about emotion here not reality. I believe people secretly yearn for simpler technology, most use less than 20% of the features available in current software because it has become a case of feature overload. Something that is simple had great appeal.

Lastly, no matter what you think about Apple’s products you have to recognize that they have been successful. One could argue that iPod and iPhone were devices that changed our world and forced many others to reconsider the position in the market. Again, there is never any guarantee in a commercial world about what will be successful but if history is anything to go on then you’d certainly have to say it has a better than average chance.

So there you have it, why I reckon the iPad will be a success. Maybe not initially but the more I stop and think the more I can see an application for a device where one doesn’t currently exist. More importantly one where the iPad would fit the bill. I believe the real secret to the iPad is not that it is more technologically advanced but that it is simpler, or perceived that way, that will make it a winner with its target market – the average consumer. Too often technology people get seduced by the geez whiz factor and forget that the far bigger market is those who simply want something they can use easily and makes them look cool. That my friend will be the iPad I believe.