How Apple’s iPad Succeeded Where Microsoft Failed
Last weekend’s iPad launch was a success by most accounts. Here’s what it may mean for the future of Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Linux.
Despite numerous obvious shortcomings, the iPad is sold out. The device will likely continue to do well for the rest of the year, as people embrace it because is not a traditional tablet computer, but rather a utilitarian device that does all sorts of new things. This stems from the fact that tablet computers have traditionally been laptops without a keyboard. And the most successful tablets of the past—convertibles—eventually added the keyboard back on.
The iPad is something different. The device eschews the old paradigm completely by not being a sketchpad/handwriting recognition device. The lesson, I suppose, was learned from the Newton, the company’s first attempt at such a machine. It was mocked for its miserable handwriting recognition function. Apple didn’t even try that this time.
Instead the company made the weird, but logical, step toward the small, easy-to-use app-oriented, touchy-feely UI. The iPad enlarged this new paradigm, which completely eliminates the desktop metaphor with its endless file folders. Now we have buttons everywhere. Instead of mousing around on the desktop, opening and closing folder after folder or plowing through endless lists, you go from one self-contained app to the next.
So, what market segment does such a device impact? And what do competitors need to understand when they roll out their “iPad killers?” First of all, the only company I’ve see that seems to understand the paradigm shift away from the messy desktop is Google with its Nexus One phone. But the company doesn’t seem to be as actively involved in the tablet space as it should be. That leaves everyone else meandering—including Microsoft, whose OS will be employed on a number of pads.
The biggest potential surrounds Google’s Android OS—or some other version of Linux that doesn’t use the messy desktop metaphor. You can expect to see dozens of these in the coming months. Many will likely be expedited since Apple essentially ran out of its first run sooner than expected.
A number of interesting gold rushes will keep us very busy in the months ahead. The first is the rush to make apps optimized for the iPad, rather than the iPhone/iPod touch. The second is the rush toward making an iPad killer. Since these devices will all be derivative, the likelihood of an iPad killer is nil, but we’ve probably never witnessed an attack like the one we are about to see.
When Microsoft was pushing its relatively lame portable initiative, almost every desktop and laptop manufacturer instantly developed a pad device. The best ones were incredibly expensive and poorly marketed. The massive excitement was driven by zero reality, wishful thinking, and a lot of hot air from Microsoft. As wild and interesting as it all was, the current moment will likely make us forget that all previous iterations of pad-based computing ever happened. Goodbye WinPad.
What is completely overlooked at the moment, is the potential to sink Microsoft, once and for all—or at least relegate the company to commodity computing (formerly known as desktop computing). The irony, of course, is that Microsoft predicted the trend toward pad computing. It just didn’t predict that it, as a company, wouldn’t be playing in the big game. There is a very real possibility now that Linux will finally be able to make inroads on the desktop, since the Android OS is the one true competitor to the Apple iPad OS.
People have asked me if I’m going to get one of these devices. I can see its usefulness for all sorts of minor chores like casual Web browsing while watching TV. It would make a great turn-by-turn GPS device, too. But I’m going to wait. I’d like to see a real camera, some sort of I/O like a USB port, and an OLED screen like the kind on the Nexus One.
In the meantime, Apple has ignited a rocket with an unknown payload. One thing is for sure: in the coming months and years, we’re sure to see a lot of ripples from this device. Hang on!
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