Jan. 28, 2010

Posted by in Off Topic | 5 comments

Why I Think the iPad Will Succeed

If you’re sick of iPad stories, forgive me for bringing it up and ignore this post. But if you’ll allow me to take a break from my usual fare, I’d like to share some hopefully original thoughts on the iPad buzz. When I first saw the iPad, I was honestly skeptical. I kept waiting for Steve Jobs to talk about the new time travel app. But after further consideration, I’ve decided the iPad will be huge. Since I’ve encountered much ongoing skepticism since yesterday’s announcement, I thought I’d use my blog to elaborate my perspective.

The iPhone generated excitement, in part, because it did things no phone or handheld had done before. Many people are disappointed that the iPad did not bring such novelty. As one observer commented, “This is great, but what am I going to use it for that I can’t already do?” Yet I submit that this is exactly the point. Rather than introduce new uses, Apple has created the iPad as a new way of doing things we already do.

The iPad is not simply a large iPod Touch; performance reports and the new iWork apps indicate as much. But the iPad certainly lacks much of the flexibility and features in a laptop running OS X or Windows. It truly is a new type of device. A Windows tablet PC is essentially a regular laptop with a touch screen, stylus, and perhaps no keyboard. These tablets still run the same sort of software as a regular PC, and still include all the hassles and complexities of a full-blown computer that many people have gotten used to or overlook.

If you’re technologically savvy, you may miss what I’m talking about. But if you’ve ever provided technical support to people who aren’t technologically savvy, you’ll realize how much people still struggle with the intricacies of desktop operating systems and applications. Navigating file systems, decrypting error messages, finding device drivers, configuring security software, managing program details, monitoring memory usage – PCs (and Macs) can be overwhelming for someone who just wants to send e-mails or look at photos.

Enter the iPad. When friends ask me for advice on buying a new computer, I always ask what they will use it for. Nowadays, most people say they’ll use it for “browsing the web, reading and sending email, enjoying photos, watching videos, listening to music, playing games,” and typing up a document every now and then. I used quotation marks in the previous sentence because those words come straight from the Apple press release announcing the iPad. Many average consumers never task their computer’s powerful hardware with anything beyond these basic operations. The iPad can fill the same role with an intuitive and deceptively simple interface.

That certainly won’t suit everyone, which is why Apple will still make the MacBook Pro. Power users and techies will demand applications or customizations that the iPad cannot provide. For these users, the added complexity of a desktop operating system is a help rather than a hindrance. I’m not surprised that such people would be disappointed by the iPad. I’m a geek myself – I have no intentions of buying an iPad. But I also wouldn’t buy a pink phone or a large-print book.

There’s definitely a market for the iPad, and the iPhone helped prepare it. If Apple had introduced an iPad years ago, I doubt developers and users would have shown an interest in what would appear to be a dumbed down computer. But the sort of simplified, gesture-based system found in the iPad was revolutionary in the world of small mobile devices, which were already dumbed down. Now that consumers know the iPhone interface and developers have created applications to complement it, both will give the iPad a try.

I’m not phased by all the lists circulating of iPad shortcomings. No Flash in Safari? I won’t miss a buggy, resource-hogging, proprietary plug-in being embedded in web pages. No multitasking? Apart from “Pandora while typing,” few use cases for the average consumer would justify the complexity, and iPhone-style switching will remain quite usable. No HDMI out? As if non-techies routinely hook up their laptops or iPods to big-screen TVs. No widescreen? It’s not only for video – the form factor is two widescreens put together (notice how many native apps use a split-screen pattern) and works well for two orientations. No camera? The iPad is more mobile than a desktop PC, but not as mobile as an iPhone – webcam use might have made sense, but will not be a deal-breaker for many. No GPS? Again, think of it more like a sub-laptop than a super-iPhone. No open development? Now that you mention it…

I do get concerned about how closed Apple ecosystems can become, and the iPad is no exception. I don’t think the iPad is without faults, and I’d certainly like to see aspects of it become more open. But the best way for that to happen is real competition. Microsoft doesn’t have a good track record in this regard, and while Android has promise, I’m not yet convinced. Even without a comparable device on the market, though, I think we’ve only begun to see how much web applications will play a role the future. Web pages were never conceived as a mechanism for building dynamic applications, but software development keeps shifting towards the browser.

This is only the beginning. The iPad is the first in this new category that mixes a simplified computer with an enhanced portable media player. (By the way, before you mock the name, remember how often “pad” is used in the context of notepads or memo pads and how funny “iPod” must have initially sounded – I won’t be surprised if people are talking about “pad computing” in a year or two.) I’m convinced that Apple knows what they’re doing once again, and that people will be intrigued by a device that lets them accomplish their basic technology goals without all the usual hassles. For many users, that really is magical.

  1. I think you’re dead on with it’s potential uses and how that relates to the general non-techie consumer.

    The problem is that those people usually ask their techie friends what to buy. Since many of the techies don’t appear to like the iPad too much, it is doubtful that they would recommend the iPad to their friends, even if it would be a perfect fit for the average consumer.

    Most tech-enthusiasts will only recommend something that they themselves would buy if for no other reason than to validate their own purchasing decisions vicariously through others. (This is a known effect in the cycling community – don’t ask the guy you work with who bikes everyday what bike you should buy, he will recommend something that validates his own tastes/ideas about what a bike should be and won’t actually listen to what you NEED).

    So, I don’t think you would be mistaken to recommend this to the average consumer, but I am doubtful about how well Apple will be able to sell these due to the concerns I outlined above.

  2. @nickhacks: Very good point. But I think once again, Apple has already helped paved the way. Their “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads have helped establish their brand in people’s minds – when people mention to me they’re thinking of buying a new computer now, they almost invariably say they wondered about getting a Mac.

    Now add the element of the Apple Store. I’ve seen several writers say that when you actually hold and use an iPad, things click and you’ll want one. If someone’s wondering about Macs and stops by an Apple Store, they’ll get to see an iPad firsthand and will probably understand better than their techie friends why it suits them well.

    Also, I think that once it gets some traction, the iPad will spread by word of mouth. I remember some people outside tech circles not knowing much about the iPhone or not being interested in it, but then when a friend of theirs showed it to them, they were sold. That’s even part of what convinced me to buy one. :)

  3. @theharmonyguy You make a good point as well. Apple does have the infrastructure (stores) and branding to help them with this. And since the iPad is priced lower than an actual Mac, people who wanted a Mac but couldn’t really afford it might settle for an iPad.

    I think Apple is going to have a bit of an uphill battle due to the initial reaction, but it will be interesting to see what happens nonetheless.

  4. OzzyGreene says:

    Why i Still Think that ipad has nothing new:
    no1. if i need to brows the net ,send recive emails,music or watching video i’m gonna use iphone its much smaller.
    no2.if i need anything else i can use mac air which has 2.** GH processor ,cute and light
    no3. if i need to read A book ,,ppl who like to read books while they are outside the home ,,i dont think that u can convince to read soft copies,,

  5. Don’t have a lot of money to buy a house? You not have to worry, because it is real to take the business loans to work out such problems. Hence get a secured loan to buy everything you want.


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