Having watched a bit of Steve Jobs’s presentation of the iPad this evening, and having thought about the concept of what is essentially a large iPhone on which you can’t make calls or view Flash, I naturally got to thinking. Will the iPad be a success like the the iPhone and the iPod before it?
To get a fix on the trajectory of the iPad, I think we need to look at the market it’s entering in comparison to the market that the iPod and iPhone entered. Before the advent of the iPod, if you asked the man in the street what a portable MP3 player was for, he would have given you a straight answer. It was for listening to music. Furthermore, listening to music on your own was OK, but nothing to write home about. Sales of MP3 players clearly bore this out.
So, you would have then concluded that Apple was pretty much insane to launch an MP3 player. But they did, and they changed the game. The same was true for the iPhone: everyone know what a (smart) phone was about. Making calls, bloated and confusing user experience along the way. Then bang! (as Jobs likes to say), Apple changed all that.
However, both the iPod and iPhone had a game to change. If you ask anyone in the street what a “tablet” is, they won’t have any coherent answer. Are tablets netbooks? Are they spiffy laptops? What are they for? Work? Play? Music? Films? Something else? The iPad has no game to change.
An Apple project that had a very similar initial market condition to this was Apple TV. The “game” of downloadable movies on devices plugged into your broadband connection and then displayed on your TV was only just starting to be played. And even then it was played only by geeks. Apple TV was released to similar if not quite such ludicrous hype as the iPad. Microsoft Media Centre was out there of course, and things like Joost were starting up. But Apple TV never got the traction it needed. This may have been because Apple didn’t do the content deals, got stuck with limited video formats and the dreaded DRM. It certainly floundered while the likes of XBMC, then Boxee and Hulu swiftly ate their lunch in their target market. But fundamentally, there was no real game to change. The Apple genie couldn’t come out of the bottle.
And so it will be with the iPad. Read this post in 18 months time and we’ll see!