My prediction – take some tablets

29Jan10

With the launch of the iPad now a few days behind us, and the dust beginning to settle I thought it was time to reflect on what this is going to mean to the marketplace.

Firstly this is a device for ‘normals‘ (though I do like the term ‘muggles‘). It is intended for the consumption of media, not its creation. It was not really made for the geeks that have spent months drooling over what it might be. Many of those geeks will buy it anyway, but I suspect that there will be a hefty side order of remorse with many of those purchases.

Firstly this is the end of the beginning. Tablets have been around for a while now (and I really liked my X60T) but Apple has shown the world how to do this stuff properly. Prediction 1 – by the end of 2010 the market will be flooded with copycat devices, most of which will run Android.

Secondly, the convergence of netbooks and tablets is starting to happen. One of the CES launches that I missed at the time was the Lenovo s10-3t. It lacks the HD screen and built in 3G that I’ve been hoping for, but I may just have to get one anyway (particularly as fan noise from my S10e is starting to drive me mad). Prediction 2 – the needs of ‘creative’ users will be served by similar form factor devices that run ‘desktop’ type operating systems like Windows 7 and Chrome.

It’s worth taking a look at the media that underpins the consumption experience on these devices (and think about their relationship with sales portals like iTunes):

  • Music – I’ve had an iPod since before iTunes came to the PC, which was well before the store came along. I’ve never much liked the iTunes model, which is why the only thing I’ve ever bought there was RATM last Christmas (and I didn’t actually listen to that track). There is now plenty of choice around where to get legal mp3s from, and services like TuneChecker that will find you the cheapest source for what you want. Those that find a close coupling between the iTunes store and music on iPods/Phones/Pads really put the mug into muggle.
  • Video – I use my iPod touch a fair bit for video (and used it a lot more before getting a netbook, though these days it’s been relegated to the backup device when the netbook battery can’t hold up). I don’t use iTunes for video either – there are plenty of tools out there that will create me a suitable mp4 file from whatever the source happens to be. Clearly there can be copyright issues going down that track, and I’ve moaned before that the market isn’t really satisfying it users, but I won’t hold my breath for a pragmatic solution.
  • Books – this seems to be where all the action is right now, with a fierce battle brewing between Apple and Amazon. I’ve yet to see any meaningful detail about the iBook application, its relationship to the iTunes store, and just how horrible the DRM will be; but I’d be amazed if it’s not horrible. Of course Amazon already have a Kindle app for the iPod/Phone, so surely users can choose between two different types of abusive DRM (provided that Apple don’t use the AppStore approvals process to edge Amazon out). Of course when the various flavours of AndroidPad come along they too will probably get a Kindle App. Part of me wonders whether Kindle (the service rather than the device) will become sufficiently ubiquitous that people will ignore its limitations, but I think that the more open tablets that will follow the iPad into the market will create a demand vacuum for open eBooks. Predicition 3 – if Amazon or Apple can find a way to do DRM free eBooks, where they preserve the rights of the buyer more strongly than the rights of the ‘content owner’ (aka content distributor) then they will clean up, otherwise they’ll be leaving a gap in the market for a new player (and let’s not forget Google here).
    • Something else worth dwelling on here is that the iPad isn’t a direct competitor for an eBook reader like the Kindle. There are compromises each way in terms of display quality, battery life and flexibility. I’m still not entirely sure whether I’d like (and be willing to sacrifice the space an weight to) another device just for eBooks, but it’s a largely academic question until somebody starts selling eBooks that I’m willing to buy
  • Games – people will want to run games on these things. Popular stuff will be ported across platforms. Gaming won’t be a major factor in product or service choice.
  • Web – the iPhone revolutionised browsing on the move, and web access will remain an important piece of the tablet experience. All devices will end up with a good enough browser, and people are going to have to think a bit harder about the bits where we do text input (URLs, search boxes, forms) to better suit those with no keyboard.

Commercially I think the iPad will be a success, following the usual Apple formula – by being a premium price high margin product for people that care a lot about design and an integrated end to end user experience. I don’t think that this will be a slam dunk for Apple though (in the same way that the iPhone has been). The iPad will succeed in the same way as something like the MacBookPro rather than the iPhone.



6 Responses to “My prediction – take some tablets”

  1. 1 Nicholas Hargreaves

    This is my baby (it’s having a difficult birth of course)…

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/07/myford-touch-yields-three-screens-and-a-ford-from-microsoft-auto/

    Nick

  2. 2 Chris Swan

    Nick,

    I’m not surprised by the difficult birth. Most of the car manufacturers seem to be stuck in the past.

    I think for most people all they want is a way to plumb their mp3 player into the car’s speakers (and controls). I love it that the Sony head unit in my car can play stuff off my BlackBerry (or iPod) via BlueTooth, and that when I hit the <> button it skips to the last/next track.

    GPS is also an area of concern. I’ve yet to see a built in system that works any where near as well as my little Tom Tom (and try getting a downloadable Homer Simpson voice for your OEM system).

    The longer term issue is that we recycle these devices (phones, mp3 players, PNDs) much quicker than the life of a car – another factor that I feel leans towards enabling integration via open interfaces rather than building stuff in.

    Perhaps there is a place for building a display in (particularly when HUD becomes commonplace), but the intelligence should be supplied by the owner rather than the manufacturer.

  3. 3 Killian Murphy

    Chris,

    Interesting piece. I wonder, in particular, about the display technology. Are the eInk displays better enough for you to carry an extra device? ‘Better’ can be measured on at least two axes – visual quality and battery life.

    My own feeling is that the LCD panels are likely good enough, and the ability to carry a single device that lets me read purchased books, PDFs or Office documents, as well as surfing the web, watching video and playing games is preferable to carrying a dedicated eBook device.

    The implication is that a convergence device is the end-point, as eInk isn’t going to work for video or games any time soon. If this is true, the eInk guys are toast.

    As for whether iPad will be successful, I think it’ll likely be a great media consumption device. But, a big issue with it is the (mobile) authoring of email, which is, I assume, a significant function of netbooks. If they can get the keyboard thing sorted out, they have a netbook equivalent-ish with better media consumption.

    Something to consider – the Windows CE-based laptops & tablets from the late 1990s. I built one of these – the Compaq Aero 8000. They were far from successful, as you know. Is the iPad a rerun – a cut down OS in a non-pocketable format? Hmm.

    Killian.

    • 4 Chris Swan

      and let’s not forget Apple’s last foray into this territory – the Newton

  4. 5 Killian Murphy

    Forgot to say:

    +1 for ‘muggles’

  5. Apple’s a company I’ve enjoyed for some time, they produce technology that is aesthetically gorgeous while working like a each and every time. I can’t say that about alot of companies, it’s usually one or the other. Businesses don’t usually take aesthetics seriously like Apple. With that being said I’ve got to say that I’m anxious about the new Tablet. One thing I question though, is it too soon? I think that this may be ahead of its time. What do you think?


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