What’s with the iPad?

After studying the announcement, considering 3rd-party opinions and watching Steve Job’s entire keynote, my take is that Apple has another hit in their hands.

One can argue that iPad version 1.0 is not quite there, but regardless, it is a solid first pitch that has claimed that odd space between smartphones and laptops, in a way that will forever change how we use computers.

In his presentation, Steve made his most revealing statement early: “Apple is the largest mobile devices company in the world”. This is how Apple perceives itself moving forward, and it informs every new product decision that Apple will make.

In a world where people want to communicate and consume media on the go, traditional desktops have already given way to laptops. But while laptops promise mobility, they bring along significant desktop baggage like slow startup time, poor battery life, unnecessary weight and a tired desktop keyboard + mouse user interface that’s barely suitable for mobile computing. Just ask any traveller who has struggled with trackpads, or shopped for a reliable mobile mouse, or searched airport terminals for a place to recharge batteries between flights, or wrestled with using a laptop in a tight airplane seat.

And while smartphones offer some mobility improvements, these generally come at a price – namely slow performance, tiny keys and small screens.

So is the mobility market where the iPad fits in and will ultimately prevail? Yes, but more important I think iPad will begin to reinvent the entire personal computer market and mark an end to computers as we currently know them. A relative few desktops and full-featured laptops will survive as specialized boxes for server rooms and software / media production environments. But for the typical person who just communicates, consumes and shares media, whether at home or on the road, we have just met the device of the future.

Here are my preliminary thoughts on key features that I think will drive the success of the iPad:

  • Apple has well-scaled infrastructure and partnerships that are ready to support mass adoption of this device. The new, huge server farm being built in North Carolina is certainly key to Apple’s strategy.
  • Apple clearly understands that a product residing between smartphones and laptops can succeed only if it improves on the other two in important areas. Netbooks will ultimately fail, because the only thing they offer is a plastic housing for a bigger (or smaller, depending on your point of view) screen at a lower price. Everything else about netbooks is “old metaphor”
  • Apple has achieved the right balance of three important product goals: technology, user interface and entry cost.
  • Apple’s gamble on closed systems will pay off. The iPad promises to be very easy for schools and businesses to deploy and support.
  • 140,00 iPhone apps are coming along for the ride. The iPad will be useful on the first day it’s available.
  • Apple has created the perfect platform for developers. Almost every current $3 iPhone app will likely become its own purchasing point for a new $10 version optimized for the iPad. Apple has set the bar by announcing three best-of-class iWork business productivity apps (for documents / spreadsheets / presentations) at $10 each.
  • Apple controls the internal silicon. Its proprietary A4 chip ensures no dependencies on other companies for availability or performance. Furthermore, it creates interesting opportunities for Apple to control piracy, hacking and viruses which have been the bane of previous computing devices.
  • People will quickly discover the advantages of touch-screen and speech-recognition technologies, at home and definitely when traveling. They’ll quickly understand the value of not having to constantly think about the battery, fragile moving parts or awkward portability like they currently have to do with laptops. And they’ll love the instant gratification of pressing the round button and being instantly on, online, anywhere.

Apple will certainly introduce larger iPad models as people become more comfortable with the new user interface, and these will gradually replace all laptops except for a few traditional workhorse models needed by production people.

As “the largest mobile devices company in the world”, Apple could ultimately get out of the fixed computing business (i.e. servers and desktops), but my guess and hope is that they will maintain a small presence in order to capture IT, development and production decision makers.

That’s my studied opinion. What do others think?

2 Responses to “What’s with the iPad?”

  1. Agreed. The IPAD is a neat toy. I would love to have one. However……

    It will be interesting to revisit in a year –or maybe two– and see if your prediction pans out. A couple of things to consider:

    The IPAD is self-contained, and has no ability to bring date in from “the outside.” While this does allow Apple to control what goes into the IPAD, this process stifles innovation, and doesn’t allow the user to do something as simple as to import pictures into the tool using a memory card.

    The price is also problem: $500 to start, and then $800-$900 for 3G. It puts it out of the realm of the common man and woman who still will want a full size computer to do work at home, have flexibility in the music they listen to, and use the full feature of the web (IPAD does not contain flash).

    As I mentioned earlier, it would be a fun toy. But at this point, it seems to be more than a toy than a tool.

  2. Ah, Flash. That’s a topic worthy of discussion. I’m hoping that HTML5 will make this less of an issue.

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