Apple iPad – Home Run or Strikeout? Part 2: Dawn of the Appliances

I’ve talked to many people over the years about my vision for the future of computing. In a nutshell, I feel that the computers of today are entirely too complex. Advancements in technology will allow computers to evolve into much simpler devices. I’ve used the term “appliance” to describe these simpler future computers. I believe appliance computers will be more like information portals than the general purpose personal computers we have today. Like the appliances we think of today, future appliance computers will be ubiquitous, they will serve more specific functions, and most importantly they will be extremely easy to use and much more reliable. Apple has certainly started down this road with the Apple TV, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Now, I believe the iPad will be the first device that will firmly begin to entrench the idea of appliance computing into the mainstream.

What makes the iPad more like an appliance than a PC? As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, the size, weight, and long battery life of the iPad make it already seem like an appliance from the future. Because iPads won’t be sitting on a desk like a desktop PC, or need to be attached to a charger for long periods of time like a laptop, the iPad will be a lot more accessible to their users – similar to appliances of today. Additionally, the streamlined Touch operating system of the iPad make means users will be using it in a more concise manner. I think users will pick up their iPads to perform fairly tasks at hand – again like an appliance. Finally, we expect reliability from our appliances and believe they will simply work when we need them. We don’t put up with “crashes” or odd behavior from appliances like we’ve become accustomed to with computers of today. The fact that the iPad does not have hard drives or fans will make it more reliable from a hardware standpoint and again the Touch OS ensures reliability from the software side. I don’t expect that the iPads will be “perfect” from a reliability standpoint, much as the iPhone and iPod Touch are not perfect, but compared to most computers of today, they are extraordinarily reliable.

By my criteria, appliance computers need to be ubiquitous. I believe the iPad will almost undoubtedly see widespread adoption. The low cost of the iPad and momentum that Apple has from the iPhone and iPod Touch will almost certainly assure that the iPad will gain a foothold in the market. I expect that early adopters will form lines at Apple retailers just like with the iPhone. From there, I believe the iPad will start eating into the low-end of the personal computing market – but not just in the netbook/laptop market. I think the iPad will also put dents into the low-end desktop market. Why would “grandma” spend $500 for a cheap desktop PC along with all the cables and complexity (not to mention low-quality) when she can spend $500 for an iPad? She’ll be able to do everything she wants and more in a simple device that doesn’t take up a lot of room and can be carried all around the house.

In addition, I can see that the iPad will grow the overall market of personal computing devices. The trend is already for multiple computer households. The demands of kids and family members to get access to the Internet have pushed the growth of multiple computer families. However, multiple computers means significantly higher complexity. The low cost and simplicity of the iPad will allow families to buy and make use of multiple iPads a lot easier than they can buy and setup multiple desktop or laptop computers. Many families who will not purchase multiple computers will purchase multiple iPads. This will allow the iPad to grow the computing market in a way the PC of today can not.

What I see for the future is the desktop and laptop computer as we know them shrinking into niche products. I can see that many homes will have probably just one main desktop or laptop computer (if needed) along with several iPad-like devices. As the iPad improves, it is entirely conceivable that the market for the general purpose computer of today will shrink down to only graphic artists, engineers, computer software developers, photographers, videographers and other highly technical users. This won’t likely happen overnight, but I feel the landscape of the computer market in the next five or ten years will be significantly slanted towards appliance computers like the iPad.

Of course, this transition won’t come without significant grumbling from those who are invested in the PC market of today. Not surprisingly, those are the people who are already downplaying or criticizing the iPad – just like they did the iPhone. I will respond to those criticisms in part 3 of this series, coming soon.

Apple iPad – Home Run or Strikeout? Part 1

Now that I’ve had time to study the iPad, read comments by others, and contemplate it all, I am ready to give my thoughts and opinions on this “magical device”. Because I have a lot to say, I will be breaking it down into at least three articles to make it a little easier for you to digest. I will begin with talking about the iPad from a hardware and software standpoint and how I think it will fare in the marketplace.

As usual, I will not go into a lot of detail on the features of the iPad. All the features and tech specs are available at Apple’s iPad website, which if you haven’t taken a look at, I recommend you do so right away. Instead, I will discuss some features which are the most important to this device. The iPad is in some ways a brand new type of device. In other ways, it is an improvement on previous tablet computers. There are a few main differences between the iPad and previous tablet computers which are critical to note.

The first is that the iPad’s main interface is a touchscreen that can be used without a stylus. While the iPad can be used with a keyboard attachment or a wireless keyboard, the majority of interfacing with the device will be by touching the screen with one’s fingers. Previously, most tablet computers required the use of a stylus, which was inconvenient as they could be easily lost. The iPad requires no such accessory for its use, keeping in line with Apple’s goal of creating products that are as simple to use as possible.

The second and most important distinction is that the iPad uses the same operating system as the iPhone and iPod Touch (which I will henceforth refer to as the Touch OS). Most previous tablet computers used the Windows operating system and some custom tablets used the Mac OS. Either way, these operating systems were designed for desktop computing. Desktop computers, and by extension, laptop computers have a keyboard and mouse as their primary interfaces. As evidenced by the lackluster sales of previous tablet computers, operating systems and software designed for desktops did not translate well to devices that used touch interfaces. Apple’s approach with the iPad was the to take an operating system that was designed for a small touchscreen and scale it up to a bigger screen. It appears that this approach will be a success from a usage standpoint. The ease of use that the iPhone and iPod Touch are known for seem to carry over to the larger iPad.

The final differences revolve around the size and battery life of the iPad. Previous tablets were the size and weight of laptops and often were laptop/tablet hybrids with keyboards and a pivoting screen. The iPad is only 1.5 pounds and is only half-an-inch thick. While the smaller size and weight may not seem like a big deal, the reduced size and weight of the iPad will make it very easy to carry around. As well, the 10 hour battery life means that the iPad will spend less time on a charger. All this will result in the iPad being more accessible to their owners which will result in much greater overall usage of the devices. The more they are used, the more their owners will become accustomed to and then attached to their devices. I’ll speak more to the “impulsive” appliance-like nature of the iPad in my next article.

So will the iPad be useful for most users? Realistically, most computer usage today revolves around the core functions of the iPad: web browsing, e-mail and digital media (photos, video, music). Throw in contacts, calendar, notes, and mapping capability and it is a well rounded device up to this point. The next big feature is the iBooks app and store, basically turning the iPad into an electronic book reader like an Amazon Kindle. This is a potentially “killer app” and one I will write at length about later. Finally, the iPad can run virtually all the apps from the Apple App Store.

Even before it hits the market, the fact that the iPad already has a very large pre-existing library of apps gives it a solid start. I think most users will find the iPad very useful and it will likely become a hit like the iPhone and iPod Touch have. But the iPad is a new type of device and it will not replace the personal computer – at least not yet. I will talk about this more in part 2 of this series so stay tuned.

It's All About the Touch

Now that the same operating system that is used on the iPhone and iPod Touch will be used on the iPad, I officially declare that Apple must name the operating system something besides “iPhone OS” – which itself was never an official name. Up to this point, to be completely correct, we have had to refer to the OS as the iPhone/iPod Touch OS, or something along those lines. This was quite awkward. And it will be quite a bit more awkward if we now need to say iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad OS.

Therefore, I suggest that Apple use “Touch OS” for all their touch devices. I think this makes sense because the defining feature of all these devices is the touchscreen interface. From this point on, I will refer to the OS as the Touch OS and I suggest that all authors do the same. If you think this is a good idea, spread the word and let’s see if we can make it stick! Be sure to leave a comment as well.

When I came up with the idea, I did a quick search to find out if anyone else had this idea or if the name was already taken by another operating system. I did not find that the name was already in use, nor did I find that anyone had the exact same idea. I did find that someone had a similar idea almost two years ago. They suggested “Touch OS X” at the time, because the operating system was derived from Mac OS X. So to be fair, I thought I’d give them props here.

State of the … iPad?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Apple today introduced their tablet computer, the iPad. I am researching everything about the iPad and will have a write up soon, so stay tuned.

Until then, ponder this. Today is also the State of the Union address. I wonder which media event will have generated more buzz by the end of the day: Steve Jobs and the iPad announcement or Barrack Obama and the State of the Union address. It will certainly be an interesting barometer on the state of technology (and Apple) in our society.

A Major New Product

Apple reported yet another record-setting quarter today, which you can read all about at this link on Apple’s web site. While impressive, one quote in particular should be noted. Says Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, “The new products we are planning to release this year are very strong, starting this week with a major new product that we’re really excited about.”

So whatever is released on Wednesday, we can be sure it is going to be a significant announcement. Add to this the findings by an analytics firm of an unknown hardware device that runs the as yet-unreleased iPhone OS 3.2 and it seems likely that the new product is a mobile device of some sort. The analytics firm reports that they believe the new device is a tablet, citing in part that the applications being tested on the device are falling in line with what is expected the rumored tablet to feature, showing a strong tendency towards news, books, and media consumption.

I would suggest that if you are considering a purchase of a laptop, netbook, or some sort of mobile device, wait at least until the dust settles at the end of this week. I’ll certainly be posting more after I’ve had time to analyze whatever is announced on Wednesday.

It Might be a Paintball Gun?

Apple has officially confirmed a January 27th event, 10 AM Pacific time. They have sent out invitations with a paint splattered theme, sparking speculation over exactly what that could mean. The invitation, pictured below, doesn’t exactly say “tablet computer” to me. But if Apple is releasing a tablet computer, maybe there’s going to be some sort of “finger painting” app that shows off pressure-sensitivity features or something. Or maybe they just wanted a visual representation of the “creative process”. Like I said before, tablet or not, all evidence points towards something really big, so pay attention on the 27th.


January 27th … Don't Miss It!

All evidence available leads to the conclusion that Apple will be hosting a “media event” on January 27th. What exactly they will be promoting at that event is still not clear, but all signs point to something very big. Internet rumor sites are buzzing loudly about an Apple “tablet” computer of some sort. Certainly, this could be the next big thing from Apple, so don’t stray too far from your computer, phone, or TV on that day. You may want to tell your kids or grandkids where you were when Apple made their announcement on January 27th … or not 🙂

Technology Growth fueled by "iPad"?

According to research group IDC, technology spending will increase in 2010 as part of a global economic recovery. A major factor in this increased spending will be the growth of mobile Internet devices such as the Apple iPhone … and the Apple “iPad”?

Basically IDC is predicting that Apple will release a tablet computer, as so many rumors are predicting as well. If true, this could be another huge hit for Apple and could disrupt the technology market. So stay tuned.

But equally important for all businesses to take note is that if technology spending is up, that means that your competitors are likely improving their infrastructure. If you don’t keep up your technology, you will fall behind in the marketplace.

These Aren't the Droids You're Looking For

The current Droid teaser ads assert a few points. I’d like to discuss each:

iDon’t have a real keyboard: This has been a common complaint about the iPhone since day one. Honestly, I had serious concerns about the iPhone not having a real keyboard myself when it was first released. And when I first used my iPod Touch (essentially the same thing as an iPhone for purposes of the keyboard) I had some difficulty with it. But the more I practiced, and with each update to the iPhone/iPod Touch software, I got much more efficient with the virtual keyboard. Now I feel completely comfortable with it. And I have observed users who are insanely fast typing on the iPhone – with one hand even! I believe that most people who complain about the iPhone virtual keyboard have never used it or have only given it cursory usage.

But it doesn’t really matter what technical people like myself think. As far as marketshare goes, what is important is what the mainstream user thinks. I believe most mainstream users don’t really understand the relative merits of a “real” keyboard as compared to a virtual keyboard. But if a commercial like this makes them wonder about it, they’d just ask their iPhone using friends (of which they have plenty because smartphone users tend to flock together). Those friends would mostly say that they don’t really have a problem with the iPhone’s keyboard. And that would be the end of this argument in their minds. Score: iPhone 1 – Droid 0

Another point often overlooked about the iPhone’s virtual keyboard is that it can be easily customized for each language. So the exact same iPhone hardware that is manufactured for the US market can be easily loaded, for example, with the Chinese language software. This allows Apple to take advantage of massive economies of scale and worldwide ubiquity. Android phones made by many different manufacturers will need to be custom built for each language they support. This will make it difficult for other phone manufacturers to make as much profit as Apple does from each of their iPhones.

iDon’t run simultaneous apps: There’s nobody who appreciates geeky technology better than me (my wife would say there’s no bigger geek). And I certainly appreciate the ability to run simultaneous apps. But really, in using the iPhone, I can’t honestly say that the lack of running apps simultaneously has bothered me much. While simultaneous app usage is great on a desktop, I don’t think it translates quite as well to a handheld device. Apple’s position is that simultaneous apps can drain battery life (more on that later). That argument is yet to be proven with the Palm Pre and Google Android devices, so we’ll see. But once again, what does the mainstream user think? I think that most users have little concept what “simultaneous apps” could do for them, so this argument just goes over their head – and probably turns them off in the process. iPhone 2 – Droid 0

iDon’t take night shots: This argument is pretty specific and could be pretty effective. But how many smartphone users care that their phone can take night shots? Certainly the geekier among us can appreciate this feature. But I believe most users will think, “that’s neat” and not much more. iPhone 3 – Droid 0

iDon’t do open development: Ummm … yeah. Who cares? What does this even mean? Once again, geeky types might get the warm and fuzzies over this, but the average user has no idea what open development means for them. iPhone 4.5 – Droid 0 (I give the iPhone 1.5 points on this one because this argument is just so weak).

iDon’t customize: Really? I think the iPhone is pretty customizable. But hey, I’m just an average user (well, not really, but close enough). I think the mainstream user would find this confusing. What exactly is customizable? “Oh well, I guess I’m just not smart enough to know what that means so I’ll just ignore the Droid”. iPhone 5.5 – Droid 0

iDon’t have widgets: Honestly, I had to look this up. I wasn’t quite sure what Android widgets were (they weren’t part of the first Android release). And yes, I’m a super-geek as my wife would attest. So if I wasn’t clear on the whole widget concept, how is the average user going to know? Basically, once again, this goes over users heads and possibly turns them off to the whole Droid concept. iPhone 6.5 – Droid 0. Ironically, one of the concerns about widgets is that they may drain battery life, which leads to the next point.

iDon’t have interchangeable batteries: Yet another argument that has been around since day one of the iPhone. So far it hasn’t seemed to hinder iPhone adoption. I theorize that this is because the iPhone’s battery life is more than adequate for most users. Other users can fairly easily charge their phones at least once during the day (the iPhone seems to charge quite quickly). And for those who really need more battery life, there are third party products that can augment the iPhone battery. I believe that most users who own phones that have interchangeable batteries never purchase another battery.

Apple has proven with their MacBook laptops that by designing a battery that isn’t user interchangeable, they can increase the runtime as well as the lifetime of the battery. This is often overlooked by those that argue against the iPhone battery. Sufficient runtime and lifetime of a battery can negate the need for interchangeability. On the counter, if the software is not efficient (simultaneous apps and widgets?), it can increase the likelihood of needing an extra battery.

So far I’ve been fairly harsh on this ad, but let me state what I do like about it. It is clear and concise and plays on the perceived strengths of the Android platform. It isn’t the “100% You” blather that T-Mobile is putting out there, and it isn’t the touchy-feely existentialism that the Palm Pre phone ads portray. Combined with the “pick your network” ad campaign, this looks good for Verizon. The question is just how good?

Overall, I think this ad suffers from the same problem as the Palm Pre ads – they seem to be written by geeks for geeks. Sure the iPhone has a lot of geek appeal, but Apple knows they don’t need to sell to that market. The iPhone has been successful precisely because it targets the mainstream in features, ease of use, and marketing. It seems the other guys haven’t yet figured this out. Until they do, I don’t believe they’ll have much success.

But Sir, Nobody Worries About Upsetting a Droid

A couple of weeks ago, Google and Verizon announced a partnership to co-develop a series of phones based on Google’s Android platform. Just this weekend, a marketing campaign attacking the Apple iPhone was launched promoting the Verizon “Droid”. Thus, many are prognosticating, the opening salvos been fired in the first serious competitive threat to the iPhone.

There are many, many articles on the web that talk about nearly every angle of this topic ad nauseum. So I won’t rehash any of those articles. For me, what this “battle” will come down to is which business model resonates with the market better. The iPhone model: where Apple has tight control over the entire platform from hardware to software. Or the Android model: in which Google develops the software platform and leaves it up to other vendors to implement the hardware.

Up to this point, the iPhone has succeeded exactly because Apple was able to develop a device they had total control over, resulting in a very easy to use product that brought smartphone features to the average user. It will be interesting to see if Google’s model of more open development will result in devices that are as slick or polished, are as easy to use, and that will create the type of affection among its users that the iPhone has. It will be this, not tech specs or marketing campaigns, that will determine which smartphone will be the dominant player for the next several years.

Pin It on Pinterest