Apple's iPad will be a Monstrous Success!

February 17, 2010      by Jim Davis
Apple's new iPad computer is going to change the computer industry forever. This combination of hardware, software, the new multi-touch interface, and internet connectivity will resegment the computer market into media consumers and media producers. Until now the driving force for computer improvements has been the needs of the media producers. For the most part our current machines satisfy these needs. However, the needs of media consumers have been largely ignored to date.

Today we have powerful machines that make it possible to produce pretty much any type of digital media we want. The new iPad, while not in the same league, is plenty powerful for the needs of media consumers. This is a far greater market than any that has yet been targeted by any computer company. To understand this we need to review the three main factors which have driven and will drive this segmentation. First the creation of a body of digital media which can be accessed by the consumer. Second the simplification of the user interface. Third the emergence of a new market: media consumers.

Creating Digital Media

After the creation of the microcomputer, the first advance was the addition of the graphical user interface (GUI). Developed by Xerox from 1969 to 1981, it was then licensed to Apple who in 1984 createded the Macintosh computer bringing the GUI to the public at an affordable price. The first Mac did little to impress the industry, however, the new interface did impress indeed! While the command line is still great for many uses, the GUI has meant that media production professionals were able to interact more directly with their media than was possible with the command line. It was a major step forward for media producers.

With this new interface, media producers started to digitize our media. First came text via Desktop Publishing. Although DTP became possible in 1985 it took ten years for the equipment to catch up to the idea, to make is easy and fast to produce books and magazines. Online publishing was born when Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in 1989. Further developments have created today’s omnipresent web.

Next came sound. By 1991 all new computers came equipped with stereo sound. Before the decade ended it was possible to download music from the web in just a few minutes, much to the chagrin of music publishers. More importantly, virtually all music production migrated to the computer. Digital was in where music was concerned. It took most of the 90’s for computing power to grow sufficiently to handle CD quality sound.

Then came the digitization of the graphic arts with photoshop, and the mushrooming of digital photography. Early digital cameras were scorned by the professionals as inadequate. It was remarkable how fast they became good enough. With the improved quality, even professionals now routinely use digital cameras. Consumers take most of their own photographs and digital photography has freed them from the expense of film while producing their images instantly. Once more Apple entered the picture with the development of iPhoto, which made it easy for the average person to manage their digital photos. Again, we needed more computing power, more memory and bigger storage devices to handle this new digital media.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) was the first move to be filmed with digital movie cameras. The critics weren’t impressed: “and it shows too,” said one. That didn’t stop the change. In 2009 Slumdog Millionaire became the first digitally filmed movie to win the academy award for best cinematography. Improvements to the internet make it possible, to download a movie in less time that it takes to watch it. Again the producers are not impressed although this is just a new delivery method for their products if only they would learn to use it. Computers are not totally ready to handle the volume of digital signals required by movies, but we are starting to get there.

These developments have created an ever increasing wealth of digital media. The public seems eager to consume it but so far the steps to get this media into the hands of the public have been baby steps. There are two requirements for this to happen. First: the producers have to make their media available to the public at what the public believes to be reasonable prices. Second: the public needs an easy way to obtain and consume digital media. So far neither of these requirements have been met.

Complexity

Computers are still too complex. People from all walks of life complain they can’t remember how to do things on their computer. This complaint establishes the fact of complexity beyond a reasonable doubt. Anyone who is paying attention knows this, but it is easy to overlook in the press of day to day affairs. People only remember what they use frequently. So for programs we use day in and day out, we remember how to use them. Of course we still have to look up the other things which we don’t use frequently.

The GUI helped simplify things tremendously. We changed from using recall memory to recognition memory by using the GUI. Platform standards also helped tremendously. When common commands are the same in all programs the amount we have to remember is greatly reduced. Ironically toolbars, so popular today, do not necessarily make things less complex. just more visible. However, these improvements are not enough. Where is the rest of the simplification to come from?

The recent introduction to the market place of multi-touch technology represents a possible breakthrough in reducing complexity. If we can use our fingers to control our programs, we don’t have to learn how to use a mouse. That means less complexity. For all that the mouse represented a step forward in computer interface, it is not always easier to do things with a mouse.

The iPad’s elimination of multi-tasking represents another reduction in complexity. Some industry observers have been critical of its omission from the iPad. As an instructor in computer science for over twenty years I can attest first hand that nothing confuses a new computer user as much as multi-tasking. Eliminating multi-tasking reduces complexity!

We do need the ability to switch tasks from time to time. When we want to print something, we don’t want to wait until the printing is done before we can again use our computer. We need to be able to switch from one task to another without losing what we have done. There are a few other such needs, all of which can be accomplished using a limited form of multi-tasking without making things more complex.

I believe one of Apple’s main design criteria was to reduce complexity. Many of the other features missing from the iPad also create unnecessary complexity.

  • No Camera - Come on, who’s kidding whom. No one wants a camera with those dimensions!
  • No USB - why do we need it with built in WiFi and Bluetooth. Removing it reduces complexity.
  • No SD Card Reader - same as USB.
  • No Flash - Nobody likes problems. Flash just isn’t reliable enough to be included in a consumer device such as the iPad. Do we need something similar - yes.
Uses iPhone OS not OS X - thank goodness it doesn’t use OS X. Any modern operating systems is, by necessity, complex. Any simplification we can get by using a simpler version of the OS is well worth the trade off!

While the iPad will undoubtably evolve over time and add some feature, the exclusion of those mentioned makes the iPad a far better device for the media consumer market because omitting them reduces the complexity of using the device.

A New Market

The package of hardware, software, interface and communications make this tablet quite different from any other tablet on the market. It will answer the needs of the media consumer market. It will get used in other market niches, but there is no other product on the market which has its unique combination of hardware,, software and user interface features.

A generic PC tablet cannot offer what the iPad offers. Until one of the PC makers redesigns the hardware, software and interface to imitate the iPad's simplicity, no other tablet will be effective in competing against it. Quite simply the iPad is creating a new market by segmenting the media market into producers and consumers.

For this reason the numbers quoted by industry insiders indicating the expected market is five million tablets this year, are wrong. That is the market for existing PC tablet devices. Nobody knows what the market for a media consumer product will be. The only limit as to how this device can be deployed is the imagination of its users.

Conclusion

This marks the first time a computer will be marketed to media consumers rather than media producers. While the two groups are not totally separate, the needs of these two groups are very different. Up to now computers have been targeted at media producers. So computer companies have focussed on making computers faster, smaller and cheaper. Media consumers simply had to make do with what was being offered. Now they are being offered something which is more closely tailored to their needs.

The iPad will be purchased primarily for media consumption. For this market it is very attractively priced and should sell well. I expect sales of iPads by the end of 2011 to be closer to 20 million than 10 million. My extended family has bought about 15 Mac's over the last 5 years. I fully expect that that same group may purchase as many as 10 iPads this year alone. This is an ideal device for my parents who are now well into retirement. They can afford one for each of them and still spend less than they would for an iMac. And the bonus? iPads will require less support from me.

Steve Jobs once referred to the Mac as: “the computer for the rest of us.” Personally, I think he was wrong. The iPad, is the computer for the rest of us!

 

General
    Welcome

Desktop Publishing
    Start of Desktop Publishing

iPad
    iPad Opinion
    iPad Update

Organizational Behaviour
    The Short and Glorious History
    Management Essentials
    Motivation - A New Look
    Problem-Solving - Getting Things Done

Programming
    Radio Buttons & Check Boxes
    Variables

Theory of Constraints
    Necessary and Sufficient