Advice, a Colleague, and the iPad

Filed under: General — russell @ 9:53 am

A colleague asked me for my thoughts and some advice on the iPad. He wanted to use it for basic photo sorting, e-book reading, and presentation activities (e.g. when teaching). I largely told him that it would likely be Ok for those purposes but suggested that it would not likely be the slam dunk the iPhone was. He replied suggesting we might collaborate on a paper, so I wrote back with my thoughts. Realizing that my assertions might make a good prediction, I decided to post my reply here for the record.

I guess I could summarize my concern as proximity to my "ideal" device; I think they (manufacturers) are quite close to achieving or at least resolving some of the key challenges for me. Further I agree, many things are converging for the iPad to be a hit and it likely will be. However I suspect its not the "game changer" the iPhone was. The paper idea is interesting; particularly your suggestion of a debate. Here's some content to consider in that regard.

I think we are both early adopters or pragmatists (generally to left of center on the adoption curve). Regarding our different perspectives: the lens through which we are viewing the device I think is not only colored by our needs and expectations therein, but also our anticipated use and subsequent value definition grounded in that use (read: expectation-to-value ratio). The applications for the device and the extent of utility within these application areas I think are where we diverge.

When the application area is narrow, I believe manufacturers have a greater chance of success, in terms of hitting the target. When the target is hit and the technology exceeds its intended utility, as was the case with the iPhone it becomes easy to perceive the success as groundbreaking. This success becomes even more distinct when competitors have to take time to catch up. The iPad does not have this narrow focus nor broad utility; perhaps "yet" on the utility, as that may be enabled by others. Nor does it have the technological distinction to maintain what is likely to be an initial success.

The iPad is playing in a finicky, relatively new market (ebook and mobile video) where considerations like form factor, ruggedness, battery life, and content availability are the dominant success determinants (no Flash = huge limitation in available and I might add, free, content -- in case you wanted to argue HTML 5, it will take some time for that content to build). While I expect the iPad to be moderately successful, initially by riding the "wave" created by the iPhone, I believe users will quickly sober up from the marketing hype (with which Apple has done a phenomenal job).

I think the price point, form factor (between laptop and cell phone), and utility of the device (which depends heavily on network availability/performance etc.) will ultimately decide broad acceptance with the masses. Nonetheless, I think the iPad will further enable a sea change in portable computing; one which netbooks and early e-readers have already started. For me the iPad is an entertainment device first, because it will not replace my laptop right away: my expectation-to-value ratio places it soundly in the "toy" or "extra" category.

With the iPad, I feel like the wave is coming but like a surfer I am waiting for the swell to build.

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