Friday, 12 February 2010

Thoughts on the iPad

On January 27, Apple announced the iPad, their first tablet device. It is a very interesting product in many respects IMO, so I have gathered my thoughts below. Enjoy!

Form Factor

The iPad is a tablet and not a clam shell device, users will most likely use it either on a stand or be holding it with one or two hands. This makes it ideally suited for use while standing and in confined spaces. It also feels more "intimate".

Size wise, the iPad is a bit bigger diagonally than a regular hard back book, about the thickness of 2 pencils stacked up, and weighs 1.5 pounds. It is very mobile. I can see users carrying it around the house more than they do a laptop.

Casual Computing

15 years ago, when you want to check your email, you would walk up to your Pentium I PC, turn it on, wait forever for the start up, dial a phone number to connect to the internet, turn on your email client, and click "Send and Receive", and wait some more for your messages to download. Today, we have our Blackberries/iPhones that notify us when a mail comes in. Within seconds we are reading and replying to it, and many managers today can't imagine their life without mobile email, and nothing is stopping email from being the basic feature of every phone in the future.

This concept of a technology being completely woven into and adapted to a user's lifestyle (it disappears) is what I think of as "Casual Computing". (I am not sure if Steve Jobs agree though. :) ) Using the email example above, the instant on, always connected, and mobile characteristics of a cell phone makes email disappear and we start to use it very casually - anytime, anywhere. Compared to 15 years ago, emails these days are quite "casual".

Of the many interesting features about the iPad, this is the most important thing for me - it has the potential to make many applications more casual than before, and introduce a new set of behaviours in using computers. Purchasing decisions are often based on impulses. How many times have you thought about buying something at one moment and not long after decided you weren't going through with it? What if the ability to execute the purchase was readily available then? Many people would probably have gone through with it.

The iPad, with its current screen real estate, makes browsing and selecting products pretty pleasant. Combined with its mobility, connectedness, and instant-on feature, I suspect consumers would perceive and use the iPad as a large iPhone in app usage. If the iPhone user behaviour is any indication, then we can expect huge amounts of micro-transactions of many kinds and the user data gathered to be more real-time than before. The two areas that I'm most excited about on the iPad are in books and gaming.

Book Reading

I love to read, and I love paper. I've been checking out various e-readers and the iPad seems the most attractive to me thus far, though it's more than an e-reader. It has a colour display large enough to feel "intimate" with the book, allows web browsing, and refreshes pages quickly when page turning and can play videos.

iPad's desktop like display in my opinion opens up a lot of possibilities in book reading. Videos and other interactive features not possible with the Amazon Kindle can now be embedded in books. Think about a music history textbook that has video/audio of the music pieces being taught, or any book with interviews with the author, or instruction manuals that have videos to teach you how to assemble a piece of furniture. Videos will greatly enhance reading in these areas.

I think the iPad may also make book reading more social - allowing more interaction with the author and other readers in the community. Readers may participate more in the making of future books with the author, too.


I am not a big fan of gaming, however, I can see the iPad bringing new audiences like what Wii did. Social games on Facebook like FarmVille have become very successful recently, and it appealed to many people who previously did not consider playing games on a PC. iPad is very suited for games (like FarmVille) that require frequent status checking, some degree of interaction between other players and the player’s properties. Imho the iPad addresses the needs of this market and the audiences in it, particularly middle age women.

If the iPad is coupled with a very frictionless way to buy/sell virtual goods I think there is a tremendous commercial opportunity.

Concluding thoughts

I think the iPad is a device with a lot of potential. The challenge is to convince the consumers that it’s a device way more intimate than a PC, and with a much better visual experience than a phone. I expect the user adoption would be slow at first, starting with frequent travelers and e-reader buyers. Interesting times indeed!

I welcome your comments. :)


umeshunni said...

Eek - your dates in the first paragraph are off by a bit, Justin.

15 years ago (i.e. in 1995):
1. Most PCs were Pentiums, not 386s. 386s were common in '92-'93.
2. Outlook Express wasn't released yet. OE 1.0 shipped in 1996.

I'll forgive you for being too young to remember :-)

Justin Lin said...

What would I do without you, Umesh. :)

Thanks for pointing that out. I've fixed that in the post.