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Thoughts on the iPad

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Since yesterday I’ve found myself missing my days as a pretend analyst. So, since I’ve been meaning to write something here for awhile anyways, I figured I’d dump out my thoughts on the iPad, you know, since no one else is.

Before getting into the guts of this though, there’s an idea that I want to float that’s been bouncing around in my head for awhile and that plays into this. For its 30+ year history, the personal computer has been tied to work. It was originally designed as a tool to be used in the office and it is still mainly seen as a tool to be used to do work. Whether that work is job related, school related, or even hobby related, computers are still primarily seen as a tool to be used for work. The idea that we can use computers to play music, to watch movies/TV, or to play video games; has only existed for the past handful of years and even then, people tend to view the ability to do work as a crucial component of what a computer is about.

Several years ago Alan Kay made the observation that the real revolution in printing was not undertaken by Gutenberg and his peers, but by the generations that came afterwards. Generations who took the printing press for granted and were not tied to the old ideas of what it meant to create a document. We’re starting to see the birth of this new view of computers now, but we are still beholden to the old ideas of what a computer is and what it is supposed to do.

I mention all of this because it appears to me that Apple gets this. And commenting on Apple’s products with out this understanding is missing the point of what Apple appears to be doing. While they have made some allowances to the old mindset of what a computer should be, they seem to have focused their strategy on the computer as a tool for entertainment. The best example of this is in the central role that the iTunes Store has taken in their offerings. Even beyond that though, compare the central role that MS Office has in the Microsoft list of offerings to the role that iWork has in the Apple set of offerings. Wednesday aside, one could be forgiven if they had forgotten that Apple even had an office suite. And the thing is, considering most of Apple’s success has come since this shift in strategy was taken, an argument can be easily made that Apple has hit on an idea that resonates with consumers.

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The biggest issue I have with Wednesday’s announcement was that it confused the message. Apple has set themselves up as the company that builds computers that aren’t about work. It then tied one of the most anticipated product launches of its existence, with an announcement of a new version of iWork. This was a huge mistake. The key reason that tablets have never caught on is because they suck as work machines. By announcing a new version of iWork at the same time as the iPad, Apple has just reminded everyone that tablets suck at doing work. This was a huge blunder on Apple’s part. There should have been no mention at all of work during that announcement. They should have focused exclusively on content providers, 3rd party development, and overall experience. (the chair was a nice touch though)

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A lot of comparisons have been made between the iPad and the iPhone. From a technical point of view this makes sense, but outside of that technical view, I’m not so sure. I’d actually be more inclined to compare it to the iPod, then the iPhone.

If you think back to when the iPod first came out, the most surprising thing about it was that it wasn’t that special. In the beginning it had two things of note about it. It was made by Apple, who had no history in this kind of market. And it was one of the most expensive players on the market. That was it.

This isn’t a situation that is that much different then the iPad. On paper there is no reason to own an iPad. It doesn’t do anything, beyond some bells and whistles, that can’t already be accomplished with either a laptop or a mobile computer, both of which are products that Apple makes.

When you look at the success of the iPod there are two major factors that come up.

1) The iPod had an interface that is intuitive and easy to use, when many mp3 players could be somewhat kludgy and cumbersome to use. This was the companies initial selling point. You could pick up an iPod, and with a few clicks and twists of the dial, you were listening to what you wanted to listen to.

2) Then came the iTunes music store, and Apple changed the way the average person bought music. They weren’t the first to use this model, but they refined it and they had the clout to bring the major content owners to the table when they didn’t want to.

Now the iPad has something that the iPod didn’t. It has the hype that goes along with having that Apple logo. Early adopters won’t be an issue, but the prolonged growth that the iPad will need to escape the AppleTV gravity well will require Apple providing something unique in the product that helps to define it in the minds of consumers. As I said, currently there is no reason to buy an iPad. Apple needs to create that need.

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In someways I see the iPad as the current embodiment of Apple’s move from seeing computers as tools for work, to seeing them as tools for entertainment. As I see it, it is the ultimate casual computer. The computer you reach for when you want to surf the web, read casual emails, watch videos, or casually game. Where I tend to view laptops or desktops living in an office of sorts (whether that is a physical office, or a dinning room table/kitchen counter that doubles as an office when you want to pretend you’re not the kind of person who has an office). The iPad I see more as living on a coffee table or night stand or where ever the hell you left it the last time you used it. It’ll be interesting to see if it actually plays out that way or not.

Written by Matt

January 28th, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized