Bye bye Book - Hello iPad
Author: Charles Parnot
In March 2009, a post on MacResearch attempted to prophesy Apple's response to netbooks. Quite incredibly, the 1-year old post now reads as a pretty accurate description of the iPad. There was no scientific method involved, just a handful of educated guesses and a few hints from the rumor mill. As it turns out, this was tasseography at its best (or its worst?).
There is no mystery today: iPad is Apple's answer to netbooks (though it goes way beyond that). It was announced two months ago, anybody can already take a guided tour and soon, anybody will be able to finally touch one.
To celebrate, let's revisit these predictions and see what was right, what was wrong, and why.
The right idea
You probably heard this before: the user interface of current operating systems has remained basically the same in the last 25 years and it needs to change. It's one of those things you read so often that it loses its meaning, and I had stopped paying attention. Until last year. Suddenly, I saw through the emperor's clothes, and it was not pretty. Modern operating systems like Mac OS X or Windows are really just giant usability hacks on top of antiquated concepts that are not relevant anymore. Computer users are at the mercy of a tortuous interface, trying to make sense of a capricious black box that only geeks have any interest in understanding.
A year ago, the success of the iPhone was still quite recent, but it was very clear that Apple had designed an incredibly easy-to-use interface that appealed to all users and just worked. Even more incredibly, the new device was actually doing pretty much everything a computer could do, even install and run third-party applications. Just like a "normal" computer... except on a very small screen.
Connecting the dots, it became obvious what Apple's rumored 'netbook' would be. More importantly, it became obvious why Apple would be interested in developing such a device. Apple is after the consumer market, and this would be a device that would appeal to that market. It would not just obsolete existing offerings. It would potentially grow even bigger that the current computer market.
With the iPad, Apple is following exactly that idea. The reasoning made a year ago is still valid today. The current generation of computers was initially designed for hobbyists and for "enterprise" users (whatever that means). It is time for a change. As explained in great details elsewhere by smart people, it is time for a computing device designed for normal people, who just want something that does not require magic incantations. The touch screen, the iPhone-like UI, the App store, the wireless connectivity, it was all obvious a year ago and it's all real now.
The stunning execution
But some details in last year's post were not quite right. Apple turned out to be faster, more aggressive and more effective than was predicted, both in terms of hardware and software. They delivered earlier than anticipated. The price is lower than predicted. Apple even came up with a new superfast chip. The battery life is amazing. They added a few slick accessories. Contrary to my expectations, the SDK was seeded early on, long before launch. The OS is even closer to the iPhone than I anticipated, allowing a tighter integration of the 2 platforms. And the App Store experience is similarly tightly integrated within the current iPhone App Store.
I was very impressed by the iPad annoucement, and positively surprised by the energy Apple has put into the new device. What they did is no small feat. They leveraged very efficiently their iPhone offerings, made bold decisions and procedeed at a furious pace to deliver not just the iPad, but an entire ecosystem with it. They even built the iBook store and might give Amazon quite a run for their money. This determination is very telling of Apple's intentions. The TV was started as a hobby. With the iPhone, Apple was confident but started with a small scope and was still in need of costumer's feedback. With the iPad, Apple has a clear, laser-focused strategy, has high expectations and has put all its weight in the battle. Apple wants to dominate the world of tomorrow's computing devices. They know the competition will react faster than with the iPhone, and they have no time to waste.
Maybe the iPad is not a geek's paradise (and to be clear: it bothers me and saddens me). But for everybody else, things will proceed like with my 3-year old daughter when presented with a new toy: "I like it ... (pause) ... I want it! ... (pause) ... I NEED IT!!!"
In other words, I believe the iPad will be very successful. Let's talk about it next year.