Saturday, September 04, 2010

Understanding the iPad

Some people still struggle to understand the iPad. When it was first announced, there were shrieks of outrage from techies, complaining that it was not a free and open computer system and so nobody should buy one. Then it came out and was adopted by the millions. Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, expressed dismay that the iPad is easily outselling any tablet computer that Microsoft and ever had a hand in. More recently an executive from LG told the Wall Street Journal that they would bring out a Tablet that would be better than the iPad because it would be oriented towards content creation rather than content consumption.

Then there are many people who get it. For example, Jerry Kaplan, founder of Go Computing, an early slate computer in an interview with Chris O'Brian of the San Jose Mercury News understood that the iPad is oriented for media consumption as opposed to the more general purpose Go slate computer. My belief is that the iPad is a new category of device that addresses a new market.

Last year I wrote about Media Convergence, the idea that in the past, each type of media was different. Books were bound paper sold by booksellers, video was delivered as movies in movie theaters and broadcast as television, records were vinyl goods sold in record stores and heard over the radio, magazines were sold by booksellers or delivered by mail, newspapers had their own content delivery network to ensure that everybody got the previous days news by the following morning. With the digital revolution, all these different types of media are now the same. They are all just buckets of digital bits that are delivered through the Internet. Given this, the next thing we need are devices for consuming all this media. Audio just needs a device the size of your thumb and headphones, whereas video, books, magazines etc. need a screen that is big enough to see, and that is what the iPad is for.

When thinking about these things, I find it useful to draw up some requirements and use cases and then see how the offered devices match those requirements. Here is what I want from my Personal Information Appliance (PIA - remember that acronym).
  1. Light enough that I can lie in bed and read or view media with it.
  2. Instant on, long battery life, able to handle all media types.
  3. Get media without having to plug it into anything else.
  4. A screen large enough to read or view and small enough to make the device portable.
So how does the iPad match these requirements? At 1.5 pounds it is a little heavier than most "light" reading, but there are plenty of hardback books that weigh more. For the second requirement, Adobe Flash is the major missing media type, however there is probably an app to do that. As for screen size, we are going to have to resign ourselves to having multiple devices with different screen sizes until they work out the technology to project images directly onto the retina.

The funny thing is that even although the iPad is speced as a device for consuming media it turns out to be capable of much more. Computer games are the newest type of media and the iPad is a great games platform with a lot of future as Steve Jobs boasted in the recent iPod announcement event. There are many instances in the business world where it will be useful, for example in sales and marketing for giving a presentation or demonstration to an individual. The other day I was astonished to find my boss using his iPad for email while waiting for his laptop to be repaired.

1 comment:

omnivorist said...

At first I felt a little sheepish about buying a device that seemed so strongly oriented to 'content consumption' until I realised just how good it is as a text-input device (typewriter).