Well, the rumour mill has been churning for months now, and finally the new Apple iPad has officially broken cover, and what a device it is. I was smitten with the MacBook Air when it came out and I regularly see them at peak time in my local coffee shop. People bought them as much for as what they said about you as for what they did for you, and it will be exactly the same with the iPad.
Steve Jobs launched the iPad with a sideswipe at Netbooks – they are just cheap laptops, he said, and, he’s not wrong. Apple, according to Jobs, wanted to build a new class of device that sits between a laptop and a smart phone (such as the iPhone). From the demonstration, Apple has succeeded in meeting that brief. The iPad is able to browse the web, play video and display photos, play 3D games, read e-books, and all of the existing iPhone applications work on it right now, with iPad optimised or specific applications and games expected to be developed very quickly as developers can use the same tools as they already do with the iPhone but with more screen real-estate enabling increased user interaction.
Apple have certainly launched an assault on many parts of the digital market. Why buy a Sony PSP or a Nintendo DS when for a few dollars more you can get a capable and portable games machine which also enables you to browse the web and watch videos and send e-mail? The iPad is a game changer in the literal sense of the phrase. As for e-books. Why buy an Amazon Kindle which only reads e-books when the iPad does it bigger and better, and you get all the other functionality in the deal? Whilst Steve Jobs admits that Apple is “standing on the shoulders” of the Kindle, anybody who watched the iPad presentation that Jobs gave heard the death knell sounding not only for the dominance of Sony and Nintendo in the mobile gaming market place, but also for Kindle, or in fact any specialised e-book reader that is not dirt cheap.
As a big brother to the iPhone, iPad does fill a gap in the Apple hardware line up, if not in the market. Jobs tried to imply that Apple is a “mobile devices” company, stacking his brand up against the likes of Sony and Samsung, but whilst it isn’t a flat-out lie, it isn’t quite the whole truth. Sony doesn’t have an equivalent to iTunes for instance. Nor does it have industry leading software such as Logic or Final Cut, or its own web browser or Operating System. Jobs is comparing chalk with cheese and declaring Apple the tastiest fromage on the market, something that will have ruffled a few feathers amongst the competition no-doubt.
The iPad is fairly and squarely aimed at consumers. Some are even touting it as a family computer and I tend to agree. A laptop or even a netbook tends to be obtrusive around the house. You have to flip them open and become engaged, but the iPad would be more like a second TV in the home, but with extra functionality. Everyone could share it and those who don’t want to watch the usual stuff on the main TV could have a separate device for entertainment purposes. However, I think there is an overlooked market for this device.
Businesses tend to tool people up with laptops and send them out into the field. The iPad – with the potential for custom applications or mobile access to web-based applications or private networks – could be a very tempting alternative. It is thin, small, cool and can already take advantage of all existing iPhone applications natively. I fully expect some innovative business applications to arrive on an iPad near you soon. With the announcement of an iPad specific version of Apple software suite iWork (think Microsoft Office but less annoying) Apple is signalling the flexibility of the iPad. As a mobile business tool, it could really add value to an organisation brave enough and willing to fully exploit it.
Usually, I hate gadgets that try to do too much. For instance. I’m not bothered if my phone can take a picture, my camera is specialised to do that. I also have an iPod for playing music, though my phone can do that too. I use my laptop for e-mailing and I have a Wii for playing games at home, even though I have a Windows based computer which could play games on it. My mindset has always been to use a specialised tool for a specific job (see my post about Golden Hammers for more on that theory). But the iPad looks so good at so many different things – this is what we geeks call ‘convergence’ – and, of course, being an Apple product, looks so sexy, that it is hard to see why it would fail.
Expect fast iteration of the iPad as other companies enter the market. All of the things which people are now complaining about (too expensive, no camera, not enough memory, etc) will quickly be dealt with, just like they were with the iPod, and the iPhone, and look where they are today. Watch out for the halo effect as Apple begin to sell other stuff on the strength of the iPad. You like the iPad? Great. Download e-books and music through Apple services. You need a smaller device to use as a phone but which communicates with your iPad? Great, have an iPhone! You have a MacBook but you want a ‘netbook’ with great performance to boot and which looks like it came out of a Sci-Fi movie but actually works as a productive tool? ? Have an iPad!
The Apple business is so strong, so diversified and yet so integrated and well thought through, they are a hard act to follow. Speaking of which, for those nay-sayers who think somebody else is going to come in and steal this market from under the nose of Apple, I draw your attention to Microsoft’s iPod ‘killer’, Zune. And don’t forget that Apple just had a record quarter in terms of sales, so whoever is thinking about this market better have very deep pockets and fast working geeks chained up in a development lab coupled with an award winning device design department.
I’m not saying Apple is unassailable, just that it will take an enormous act of will to get one over on the Cupertino company.