iPad a Stroke of Genius or Just a Stroke?

Unless you have been living under a rock recently, I’m sure you would have heard of the Apple iPad. Pretty much everyone has. So much so that there has been a lot said about this product, both good and bad. Do a search on Google and you get 23 Million plus hits. Crazily enough, some people even claimed that it was hotter than the tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.
As such I was not sure if I even wanted to write this post, or if what I am about to say has already been covered by someone else in one way or another. One thing, this post is not a rant, but I hope I can make a few educated guesses to provide some strategic clarity on Apple’s business motives.
Surprise, Surprise!
Firstly I was quite surprised that Apple went ahead with this product. I shared my thoughts in an earlier post: “Why there will be no Apple Mac tablet“. So when they did launch it, I did some further thinking on why Apple do such a thing?
I honestly don’t have a clear answer. However, I did conclude that I really should not have been surprised.
Apple is actually not a technology company in the true sense of the word. In fact I would rate them as technology followers, or someone that builds products with existing or matured technology. What Apple actually does is that they are in a habit of doing the hard job of turning technology into something people can use. They are in the business of making tech mainstream.
They did it with the iMacs, iPod, and the iPhone. So is there any difference with what they are doing with the iPad? I don’t think so. They sense that the ever-evolving digital medium is moving into books and as a result, are leveraging on their existing platform to make a ebook reader more mainstream and accessible than their competitors.
Will it be a success?
I honestly don’t know and I’ll bet that Apple is also not 100% sure. That is also why I believe the iPad has not evolved in terms of a design language, and has its user interface build around something many people are already familiar with, the iPhone’s UI. They are mitigating the risk of a new platform by using familiar elements to encourage a faster user adoption rate.
But, wait there’s more!
I think there is a lot more to the story. In Apple’s case its almost always true. In many ways the iPhone was more than a phone. Many people have even said that the iPhone was Apple’s answer to the Netbook. In other words Apple probably felt they never needed to create a Netbook because of the iPhone and iTouch. Besides the margins are razor thin, and Apple is not in the low margin game.
If I can extrapolate, I would say that the iPhone/iTouch was more than a phone. It is even more than a Netbook. The 2 devices has actually brought thin client computing into the mainstream. Thin client computing was made popular when IBM was big on server systems. The idea is that the majority of the software or data resides on the Server and then shared or pulled by wired LAN on to many thin clients or lightweight computers for use.
With the advancement of technology miniaturization, 3G Internet bandwidth, and cloud computing, thin client computing now sits comfortably in your pocket.
So then why the iPad proposition?
Here we have to again look back to look forward.

Image of the Audrey via Wikipedia.
We can now see that the iPhone is pretty much a perfect thin client computer, but there are inherent problems with the platform. Screen size and processing power are some examples. If we now look at examples of what we used thin clients for in the late 90’s (at the height of the dot com boom), Internet appliances, like the Audrey, were very logical applications of the technology. We dreamt of a world filled with nice little kitchen displays that allows us to jump on the Internet to download recipes for our next big cook out or perhaps even turn the TV and lights on. Sounds like something an iPad could do?
Moving forward
I think there is a lot of potential for the iPad, and Apple has a really good track record in launching radical products that everyone “poo pooed” in the beginning, and then ended up changing the entire industry. Once again Apple has taken a risk to launch a radical product people did not ask for, and is likely waiting to see how the market will respond before they take the next step.
Will it be an iPhone or an Apple TV? Only time will tell.
I like to close this post with a bonus thought. You know that thick bezel around the iPad’s screen that everyone hates? It is a perfectly acceptable and understandable design element when you consider where you would put your thumbs when you are holding the iPad’s super thin body.

  • DT

    April 14, 2010 at 1:12 am Reply

    @shane, the divide is actually the iphone OS vs the Mac OSX. If we move beyond the physical devices and look at the operation system, it becomes a lot clearer.
    I’ll hazard a guess, the next Mac Air could run the iPad OS.

  • Bruce

    February 15, 2010 at 12:27 am Reply

    As a multiple platform user who owns all the Apple and PC interfaces, I have been rather privately ecstatic about the potentials of the iPad. I see the initial release as just the beginning of an evolving gadget with enormous potentials in education, graphic design, content publishing and delivery, and even social networking deployment. With a few additions it could even find a place in healthcare delivery including surgery applications.
    Eventually, once Apple depletes its stock of the Air, I see it porting many of the elements such as the camera to the iPad (which is already prepared for that transition). Since none of the eBook readers out there at the moment even remotely compares, a combination of affordable data plans and unrestricted developer access makes the iPad available for just about any form of deployment, and I am quite happy to add it to the iPhone, Macbook, and iMac that I already own because it has the potential to replace all three but for the iPhone’s portability. I’m content to take both the iPhone and the iPad on the road, and once the iPad evolves to a second generation, with both, there’ll nothing else needed for an efficient on the road business or pleasure computing experience.
    I could be wrong, of course. Could I possibly be more visionary about the product than the folks at Apple? It happens.

  • shane

    February 13, 2010 at 9:43 pm Reply

    maybe apple are covering all their options with the ipad?
    i don’t think the macbook air was very successful a product. and i don’t see the logical or room for the ipod touch, macbook air, iphone AND ipad to all exist side by side. eventually i see morphing of all these ideas. i almost feel like apple is now refining a digital lifestyle concept in the marketplace through all these products. finding what works and what doesn’t?… and basing it all around their own closed system?.
    people who just wanted music (ipod customers), uses of normally standalone products are all being funneled into this system from what i can see. i can almost feel one super apple device to rule them all at the end of the tunnel 😛

  • Chris

    February 13, 2010 at 6:49 am Reply

    You’re exactly right when you say “They are in the business of making tech mainstream.” Thats all I’ve ever seen Apple as. I’m certainly no fan of the iPad, but with he number of Apple fan-boys out there along with the fact that the name “Apple” happens to be involved, (and the effect that seems to have on people these days) I see it selling pretty well.
    I still see it as just a larger version of the iPod touch. And personally I prefer the Dell Mini 5 in terms of aesthetic design. I dislike Dell greatly but thats just me. So I suppose time will tell. Great post.

  • awa64

    February 13, 2010 at 3:35 am Reply

    The iPad isn’t a revolutionary product like the iPhone. It’s not even an new product. It is to the iPhone what the 17″ MacBook Pro is to the 13″ MacBook Pro–more expensive and less portable, but a more luxurious experience for the person willing to make those sacrifices.
    I don’t think it will be a success in the eyes of the public. It isn’t the next ubiquitous Apple product like the iPod or iPhone, but I don’t think Apple ever expected it to be. It’ll still be profitable for Apple, though, and it serves two very important roles for them.
    1) Get their stock to stop plummeting every time they hold a press event and fail to announce the Apple Tablet. We’ll never know for sure, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the iPad is a response to the Apple Tablet rumors rather than their cause.
    2) Be a technology testbed for Apple’s next-generation iPhone and iPod Touch. Apple bought PA Semi in 2008, and the iPad is the first device to use a PA Semi-developed processor. The roomier interior of the iPad seems like it might be the first stop for Apple’s new mobile processors before they’re further refined toward iPhone-friendly sizes.
    The iPad looks like a great device–plenty of attention to detail, made with the right design choices (and the right design compromises, like the bezel), and using the right software platform to make sure it doesn’t flounder on launch. I’m just curious to see who, after the early adopters and Mac-addicts have had their turn, is actually going to buy the thing.

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