Monday, 1 February 2010

iPad - initial thoughts

So the iPad is announced. Watching the keynote, I felt that Steve Jobs lost his way a little bit when demoing the new device. The structure of the presentation seemed slightly hurried for a change and I think the was scope for more impact by describing the features that distinguish the iPad from the iPhone and iPod Touch (e.g. iBooks, iWork, Photo-frame) first and then adding that by the way those users will be familiar with how it works and it does photos, music etc too. Why do I think this was important? Well because focussing more on the features that overlap with the other devices, and simply stressing the bigger screen caused many in the media to mistakenly write it off as a large iPod Touch and the impact of the launch wasn't so great. Despite this, given the way certain other companies have reacted, the launch of the iPad at the price point they have chosen has touched a nerve in the industry and I think it will be a success. I suspect that if more deals had been able to be concluded with TV and newspaper companies in time for the launch, we might have seen the emphasis and story of the new iPad put from that perspective instead.

But there are a number of reasons why the early critics have got it wrong ... here's why...

First there were criticisms of the lack of a camera, and other aspects of the specification. These folk just don't get it about Apple. They don't put technology in the product to impress by the technical specification. They put technology in a product which is needed to fulfil the uses and purposes for which the device is intended. If a later version of the iPad is intended to provide a really good video chat experience, then it will have a camera and a multi-touch iChat app. This one isn't and so it doesn't.

Secondly, some critics are comparing iPad to the iPod Touch or to a Laptop PC. This is a mistake. The device is not intended to be one of either of these. People who need a Laptop PC will still use one and likewise for those who want a pocket music player and games handheld. Indeed Apple do not want to cannibalise their own existing product sales by introducing the iPad. But there will be people for whom the iPad fulfils needs, whether that be to consume published material like books and e-newspapers, and those who want to surf the web and do email but not have a full blown computer. I can see my parents in the latter category. They have a digital camera and want to be able to share photos they take, and they use the web and email but not much else. They really don't want to have a computer sitting there... the iPad would conveniently support what they do. They and many other non-technical users will be able to do stuff without that fiddly mouse and keyboard which makes a computer look like a computer.

Thirdly, the iPad cleverly takes the role of a multi-purpose device without being so general as a PC and the complexity that a PC presents to a non-tech user. So it wins as an e-book reader over the single purpose readers like Kindle, and offers extra for the price, but doesn't dilute its role so much that the non techie wonders what they can use it for. It is also different in the whole way it abstracts away from the file system complexity which a PC puts in your face. Apps like iWork and the Photo app will manipulate information as projects within the apps, while the iPad takes care of where the associated files live, either on the device, in the cloud or on another wirelessly networked device. The main thing is that the user need not bother about it.

So I believe although not presented in such a way, except to call it revolutionary, the iPad is a true innovation which leads the way for a new category of computing device, and which will appeal to a different set of people than traditional computers. The other thing we should remember is that this is version 1.0 of an innovation ... there is much much more to come. i think iPad sets a direction for computing innovation as much as being a new product innovation.

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