Today marked an historic announcement. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about Obama’s first State of the Union, but rather Steve Jobs’ unveiling of the new iPad. So, how has Uncle Steve changed the game? Let’s take a look.
A perfect machine for Baby Boomers
I’m convinced the iPad is the perfect unit for a selling into a large market that hasn’t been catered to yet, has plenty of disposable income, and is would benefit the most immediately from what we will all come to recognize as a new type of computer: Baby Boomers.
At the time of the 2000 census, there were more than 79-million Baby Boomers in the US whom are now starting to slow down the pace of their daily lives as they transition towards retirement. Their personal computing needs (outside the office) aren’t very intensive — they communicate via email, read the news, share photos, maybe use video chat and do light research.
So, it would seem that current laptop or desktop computers do far more than is necessary for this audience. And since added complexity often causes frustration, there may be a better solution. What would the perfect “home computer” for a boomer look like?
That machine would be:
- Simple to understand and use
- Quickly capable of completing tasks (see below)
- Be available whenever and wherever a need to interact with the digital world arose.
Here’s what that computer should be able to accomplish:
- Booking movie tickets or reservations online
- Looking up references (online recipes, fact checking, manuals, etc.)
- Video chating with their family
- Storing pictures of family trips or events
- Occasionally doing light amounts of work
- Online Banking
(note: this is not intended to be exhaustive list,)
When you think about a machine that handles those common tasks well, and does so in a very responsive and always accessible way, the iPad is really the first good answer (more will follow if the iPad is successful).
Apple creates Ambient Computing
This type of machine represents a new concept — Ambient Computing. Ambient Computing is robust enough to handle most computing tasks but requires much less effort to access than a traditional computer.
The most impressive innovation, and the one that truly makes Ambient Computing possible, was the A4 chip. That chip is at the hart of the new devices speed and responsiveness. While, I hope this new chip design extends to the iPhone in the future, it currently, makes the iPad capable of near-instant boot and it empowers applications to be incredibly responsive. It removes all of the experience associated with computing other than getting into your desired program and completing your goal.
If Apple has built a machine that almost entirely removes the starting cost of completing an action on a traditional computer (which, even in good scenarios, often takes 20-30 seconds on non apple machines), then it has created a machine that’s much more capable of capturing cognitive inspiration from it’s owner – making you, as the user, more likely to act on your ideas. Apple is already good at this (going from sleep/closed to working on a new macbook is generally a sub-10 second proposition), but carrying a laptop with you everywhere is a nuisance, and pulling a computer out of your bag for a 1 minute task in most situations is awkward (and often rude). Smartphones already handle these issues well, but they are generally sluggish and unreliable for anything but the simplest tasks.
Bridging the accessibility of a mobile device with the robustness and trustworthiness of a full computer, will appeal to the large audience generally — which will grow over time. But, Apple’s best bet for establishing this device category is to put up impressive sales numbers for the first model. There’s also a huge immediate ability to replace the standard machine for lightweight home PC users – like baby boomers, as outlined above — or families, as outlined by Kottke. If I was Scott Forstall, I’d be focused on empowering applications that resonate heavily with this crowd: cookbooks come to mind, board games also, news/photos/communication will be killer (and already are on the machine), what else?
Sure, there are fairly unacceptable limitations like no camera, no easy solution for printing/scanning periphery, and questionable support of other screens (TV) for media content, which will have to be ironed out in V2. There are also broader reaching issues that might cause trouble for Apple: like the lack of flash support and the inability to show and track most web advertisements in mobile Safari. But with the hardware improvements announced today, the content and consumer-billing relationships Apple has built, and the knowledge that they can improve over several generations (do you remember the first iPod?), I think we are looking at a large market that Apple has a good chance of succeeding in.
That’s why I’m bullish on the iPad. With the keyboard dock, this could be a full-on replacement PC for some non-power consumers (Think of WebTV — and trust me, WebTV users didn’t need multi-tasking). For heavier users, this still provides a great “ambient computing” experience that can allow someone to act on their immediate thoughts with far lower effort (creating more personal value), while still having a more robust machine capable of handling more demanding tasks.
I’m concerned about the movement away from open systems, but, that doesn’t change the writing on the wall for this type of device need — kudos to Apple for seeing and defining a great first step at an ambient computing device that I expect to become a category definer.
Great job Apple.Ancillary thoughts that might be interesting to you: - Who called this first? Carl Howe back in 2005? - I think the computing setup of the future looks like cheapish, durable long-term machines at home and work (think mac mini), smartphone for always there, and a “slate” for heavier-duty work that can travel with you. Phones and slates will change every 1-2 years, the stable machines will go 4-6. Heavy duty tasks (ex: quickbooks), will migrate towards the slate over time. At some point, you’ll see home/work machines becoming just docks/enhancements to the “brain” of your slate. Slates will have to allow for more open computing for this future to occur (i.e. the iPad technology will have to run/support full OSX. - Many of my friends hate the lack of multi-tasking. Let me make a bold statement: multi-tasking is not important in ambient computing, which, by it’s nature, will be most useful for single tasking. Multi-tasking is a nice to have, but one that threatens Apple’s music sales (streaming pandora vs. using itunes) and encourages pundits to classify the machine as a replacement computer (hmm, kinda like I’m doing above), which Apple doesn’t want as it would set consumer expectations for the device too high and possibly cannibalize laptop sales (which are much higher margin right now).