OK, I’ll confess up front that I am predisposed to like Apple products. We’re a Mac household (with a legacy PC holdover from Apple’s pre-OSX days in the wilderness). I’d have an iPhone, but my carrier is Verizon. I do have an iPod Touch that I love. However, I don’t think of myself so much as a fanboy but as one who appreciates the design, integration and operation of the Apple ecosystem.
I’ve reflected on the iPad and the more I think on it the more I believe that it has really hit a niche that it will very successfully exploit, though I think it’s going to be the Christmas season of 2010 before it really rockets. It will take a while for folks to realize what this is. Let’s talk about it, but first let’s talk about what it’s not.
1) it’s not a phone. It’s too big. You won’t carry it everywhere, but you will carry it with you wherever you’d carry a book, a newspaper, a magazine, etc., and at home, it will likely live on your coffee table or end table.
2) it’s not a laptop. Don’t try to make it one. You’ll access media, messages, and richly formated information. You won’t use for mondo spreadsheet modeling, for writing your thesis, or for doing your taxes.
It is, as Jobs said, the third device. You’ll carry a phone. However, with the iPad close by, you’ll need to use the tiny screen of the phone less often for serious email, browsing, etc. Demographics will help Apple here, so bear with me. No matter what you do, the size of the screen that you can put in your pocket is limited. Us “boomers” with eyes that don’t focus as quickly, as crisply, etc. as they used to will just not ever be as able to do a bunch of work on the screen real estate of a smartphone. I carry a Blackberry and use it for a number of things, but mostly for quick info fixes or quick notes. Anything extensive (like writing this post) and I want to have more space to see and input data. I love my iPod Touch, and think it’s really (with the 140,000 available apps) a true pocket computer. I think that these devices, and the new Android phones and others like them will be our constant companions. However, they have limitations, and you have to realize that. Heck, I had Newtons, Palm Pilots, etc., so I’ve been trying to figure out these pocket devices for a long time. Size is their strength. Size is their Achilles heel.
The next device you’ll have is your computer. It may be a desktop or laptop. That’s a matter of preference, but I’m tending to think that the iPad will continue to push me back to the desktop and away from my Macbook. I use an iMac as my “primary” home machine, with a Mini as a media center machine. The Macbook is a work computer but I am edging toward a desktop environment there as well. I spend a lot of time in meetings, and while I often take a laptop, I don’t do much more than updating google docs, quick web-based email, or adding to web-based task lists. Let me keep it in the cloud! All lightweight tasks for which I schlep 5 pounds of computer around, plus a power brick.
Here’s where the iPad comes in. One and a half pounds, the size of a notepad. Effective for taking notes to cloud-based services. Google docs, Evernote, etc., or to the iPad-native notes database (which can be synched with Mobile Me, I’m sure, as it can on the iPod/iPhone). Effective for web-based email. Effective for quickly browsing up a few facts during the meeting.
When you head home, it has your digital music for the drive (or podcasts of magazines in my case), or streaming via Pandora (or your favorite). When you get home, you put it by the sofa. After dinner, you’ll chill watching CSI 😉 and multitask by doing email or casual web surfing. Oh, you want to watch something else while your spouse is using the main TV? Do so right on the iPad with a nice sized screen (using only one of the ear phones so you can hear your spouse!). Want to read a book? It’ll be great on the iPad (and you can even read your Kindle books through the iPad Kindle app). This morning I looked at the 6″ of snow at the end of my driveway and the trackless cul-de-sac and my lack of a morning newspaper. Would have been nice to read it online on his and her iPads rather than the his and her Macbooks that we used. More room in the lap for the cat, too!
It’s the third device…not the phone, not the primary computer, but the cloud portal information appliance. Don’t try to make it your smartphone (but you can Skype). Don’t try to make your laptop (but you can use iWork and have VGA output). It’s a new category that neatly fills the gap. It will catch on. The key, and I think the reason that Apple configured it the way they did, is the existence of the 140,000 apps and a zillion developers extending functionality. Some apps are trivial but many are very useful; a whole ecosystem of apps. And, yeah, you give up configurability and it won’t run your laptop apps, but that’s missing the point. It’s not a Netbook, which is just a smaller underpowered laptop with all the complexity. The iPad is simple. Pull it out of the box and use it. Hard to mess up. A closed system so you don’t have to worry as much about malware. A new class of device. I can’t wait!