iPad: To Understand The Future, Look To The Past
I could have written something on the day of the iPad launch but I couldn’t really be arsed.
I was busy, everyone was talking about it anyway, and most of the talk was either pro or anti hysteria.
My thoughts at the time haven’t really changed though, and reflecting on how things are gradually moving ahead with the iPad, I thought I should get round to writing them down…
The hype – there was a lot. Seriously. Rolling news channels, all kinds of online sites, newspapers and magazines. And offline. Someone was going to be disappointed. Lots of people actually. Mainly those who were either daft enough to expect something impossibly miraculous, or those who were cynical enough to want the launch to be an anti-climax.
Was there too much hype? Yep – certainly in terms of justifying the actual specific product as it stood on the day. HOWEVER, and it’s a very big however – I can’t help but think that in a few short years that hype *will* be felt to be justified. And everybody will have forgotten about the exact iPad on the launch day. The hype won’t be justified by what the iPad was on that day but by what it became over the following months and years.
And there’s a very good parallel / precedent.
Two in fact…
Say hello to the iPod and the iPhone…
It may be lost in the mists of time now, but these devices – and the impact they’ve made on the world sociologically and technologically (which is immense, let’s be honest) were both launched with a certain degree of hype (particularly the iPhone); and hype which was also criticised as being over the top.
The iPod didn’t have a huge amount of coverage when the very first model was launched – and not many people went moist over it (me aside, of course) and there was a definite vibe of “people only get excited cos it’s Apple – it just another MP3 player”.
And in a sense they were right. And in a sense that’s exactly what’s so important. The development of the iPod, its interface and specifications and capabilities – and most crucially iTunes *did* change everything. Okay so there’s still music piracy; only an idiot would expect that to magically cease – but there’s also shedloads of commerce, and movies and TV shows and games. And iTunes has probably done untold good (and damage limitation) to the record labels and the music industry.
The first iPhone was launched to far greater hype than the first iPod. And again there were naysayers and cynics – and a new line of “people only get excited cos it’s Apple – it just another smartphone”. And again – on day one, it wasn’t all that it could be. There was room for improvement. And there still is. But only an imbecile would still label it as “just another smartphone” or genuinely not understand the impact it’s had on the mobile industry.
Again, through hardware and software revisions, and through the associated iTunes ecosystem (now stretching to applications) the way they have changed the mobile industry, and have changed the world’s expectations of what happens next in the way of a convergence of different types of device, interface and functionality.
And that’s where I think the iPad will prove to be a third incarnation of the same kind of pattern. I reckon that in time – 2 or years? 2 or 3 generations of device on? – the hype *will* seem worth it. And it’ll be because not only will the device and its OS have been refined and developed, but there will be a vast ecosystem of content either available to or specifically for the iPad. I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for the device to end up revolutionising the position and potential of the publishing industry in the same way that the iPod (through iTunes) did for the music industry. There’s almost endless content out there, from books through magazines to newspapers that can be redefined for experiencing in a new way through such a new device; and much of publishing – particularly in news – is desperate to make money in a way that they have so far singularly failed to do online.
The iPad explicitly isn’t just another Kindle, and it explicitly isn’t just another tablet – the idea of bringing what they’ve learnt from the user interface of the iPhone rather than the desktop metaphor of OSX is exactly the place to start (note *START*). Much as I love OSX I don’t simply want it on another shaped device – I want Apple (and trust Apple) to deliver the right user experience for the right hardware. And they will.
I’m guessing that in a few years’ time the iPad will – like the iPod and iPhone before it – become a paradigm for a particular mode of content consumption. And creation – let’s not forget the tasty looking version of iWork already prepped.
So while some may have decried the hype as overdone, or suggested that the iPad “isn’t all that”, it’s not that they’re entirely wrong. They’re just missing the point. The launch is just the beginning and those who have an eye on the past of Apple’s previous ‘i’ devices know how the future is likely to pan out.