Five Years Too Late

February 3, 2010

iPad One Week Later

Filed under: Uncategorized — fiveyearstoolate @ 10:36 am

Eric Wiesen

I was really busy the day the iPad came out, so I didn’t watch in real time or obsessively read the early reviews and feedback. The amount of discussion both running up to Apple’s announcement and in the aftermath of its announcement was of  a scale that only Apple can generate. I caught up that night and came away with the following zeitgeist from the circle of people I normally read and follow:

  • It’s a big iPod Touch
  • It doesn’t have a camera
  • It’s on AT&T
  • It’s bad for open computing
  • I wanted it to change the world and it didn’t.
  • It’s for reading books.
  • The form factor is awkward.

Asked the following day what I thought, I agreed I was somewhat underwhelmed, but hadn’t made up my mind yet. The one really negative thing I reacted to was the book-reader use case. I’m a happy Kindle owner, not because I have some partisanship interest with Amazon over Apple (quite the opposite, as we’re iPhone and Mac standardized at home), but because the Kindle is easy to read and the battery lasts forever. The iPad is backlit and the battery will last … who knows, but it’ll definitely be shorter than the Kindle. So the one thing I was sure of was that the iPad isn’t a “Kindle-killer”.

But honestly … that’s kind of a narrow-minded way to look at this device. It’s a giant iPod Touch. Yes … and that’s kind of awesome. Think about the interactivity improvements developers have already managed to create using the iPhone/iTouch form factor. Now imagine what developers can do with capacitative multi-touch interfaces at 1024×768 and a 9.7″ screen. My guess is that what we’re thinking of now is a pale shadow of what will be available on the iPad six months from now.

The other point I’d make is that people (as always) have short memories. The first-generation iPhone itself was missing a lot of really important stuff. It didn’t have 3G for crying out loud. Trying to get it to talk to Microsoft Exchange was a disaster (as trivial as some people think that is, it’s hugely important to many). The battery lasted about an hour. There were no third-party apps – “Stocks” was what you got and you liked it. And yet … the device was utterly revolutionary and people loved it. Why? Because it did a few things REALLY well. It browsed the web better than any other phone. It had visual voicemail (seems commodity now, but those who don’t have it remember how crappy old-style VM is). The interface was dramatically better for manipulation of content than anything we’d seen before. And so it bought Apple a growth curve that enabled them to eventually solve most of these problems by the third generation (which, of course, is what I bought).

Chances are a lot of people are going to buy this thing. Some will use it as an e-reader. Some will use it as a “couch commander” that sits on the coffee table. A bunch will use it for games. And while those groups are buying it, developers will be working on ways to dramatically improve the experiences available on today’s much smaller form-factors. Simultaneously Apple will be working on the next-generation product. So someone will figure out the best way to type on this, whether that’s an external keyboard, a stand, or just a novel way to hold it. A future version probably has a camera for video chat and better I/O options. But ultimately I think the product as is will appeal to a lot of people.

The question of whether it’s good or bad for “open computing” – well, I don’t know. But the reality is Apple is a consumer products company. Most consumers don’t really care about that question. Most techies, developers and VCs do care about it, and so it’s probably worthy of its own post, but it’s a totally separate question. My instinct is that the iPad represents a final nail in the mainstreaming of computing generally. Most regular people actually hate all the things missing from the iPad – lots of ports, apps getting in each other’s way and crashing, etc… That doesn’t mean that there aren’t important questions to be asked about the way this industry is moving, but I don’t think Apple is (or should be) spending a lot of time on them.

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  1. Highly agree, Eric. I’m a bit surprised that the gaming aspect has been so underplayed so far. Given how huge the games market on the iPhone has been (e.g. recent Gameloft revenue etc.) it was a bit surprising. Thinking through almost any iPhone game, it feels like they could be 2x to 10x better on a larger screen with more capabilities, a screen big enough to share with multiple players etc.
    That is just one facet, definitely think this is a new platform and a year from now (probably sooner) we’ll see a lot of very creative applications.

    Comment by Roy Rodenstein — February 3, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    • Roy – multiplayer gaming is interesting. The iPad might actually be big enough to do two players facing each other. But yes – I have to think that 2x-10x is about the range of improvement over games that are, today, played on a damn cell phone.

      Comment by fiveyearstoolate — February 3, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

  2. Hey Eric – First, i want to say your previous post on long-term tech value return to investors was outstanding. We’ve been talking about that internally at Tracked for a couple days now.

    Re; the iPad, here’s my mental churn on it: My initial thought was that it would get squeezed b/w the iphone/touch and the netbook. But I happened to go to acupuncture that night and my acupuncturist had spent the afternoon researching the iPad coverage and had decided she was going to buy one – because her office software is all web-based, she does not need to type a lot, and it would be much lighter to lug from her apt to her office on a daily basis. Separately, my nanny looked into getting her son a netbook for Christmas but ultimately went with a full laptop because the price points were pretty close and the differentiators weren’t there. This led me to think – what is the penetration of netbooks? If netbooks end up being a transition technology, maybe it’s the iPad that will mainstream not just that light computing concept but ALSO the elusive ‘convergence’ of tv/internet/gaming/home electronics brain/console – and all of that mashed w portability. I think Apple, as you point out, is really good at understanding the key differentiators. I’m excited to see how they iterate the iPad. The one negative I’ll say is that I’m superstitious about names, and I think iPad is a bad name. Anyway – back to work 😉

    Comment by Emily Hickey — February 3, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    • Thanks, Emily. Those are some great anecdotes and highlight why the idea of a $500 touchscreen tablet is potentially so powerful in contexts that, today, are poor fits for really ANY current computing form factor.

      I have to spend some time thinking about your notion of netbooks as transition technology. It’s a fascinating question and one I hadn’t considered to date.

      Comment by fiveyearstoolate — February 3, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

  3. couldnt have said it better myself eric. I aint gunna replace my kindle with this thing. It is a tweener.

    Comment by martin tobias — February 3, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

  4. Software development on the iPad is a joke. This bunch is worse than the Nintendo of the 80’s-90’s and I hope they get taken to the cleaners on the iPad because of it. Their DRM (Digital Rights Management) can go pound sand, and as long as they keep it up I will be the biggest anti-Apple person out there.

    Anyone not personally insulted by Apple’s DRM stance is a fool. It’s not even really YOUR iPad… Not when the manufacturer decides whether what YOU put on YOUR iPad is appropriate or not.

    Comment by Whiskey Sanchez — May 8, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

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