Article: A Revolution

by on April 12, 2012

A few years back, Apple ran a series of ads featuring Peter Coyote narrating things that describe the iPad, backed by “Gold Lion” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. While Matt and I mocked the ad on a regular basis, it was quite good, and even foreshadowed where we are today.

What is iPad? iPad is thin. iPad is beautiful. iPad goes anywhere and lasts all day. There’s no right way or wrong way. It’s crazy powerful. It’s magical. You already know how to use it. It’s 200,000 apps and counting. All the world’s websites in your hand. It’s video, photos, more books than you can read in a lifetime. It’s already a revolution and its only just begun.

In the two short years since we saw the launch of the first iPad and this particular ad, the key strengths have become enhanced. It has become thinner (and just a bit thicker from that), has even more apps, can actually add to its own video and photo libraries, and has become even more powerful. What was once a toy for Apple fans who needed something else to show off besides the newest iPhone (as many anti-Apple tech pundits will argue), is now a legitimate production platform.

Already a Revolution

The last line was a bit cheesy at the time, especially for a lot of us who didn’t know what the iPad would be good for. As it turns out, it’s great for most basic computing needs that require a screen bigger than the iPhone’s and many things that you can do on a desktop computer.

Actually, just looking at the last week, I’ve used my iPad probably double the amount of hours I’ve used my Macs (my personal machine and mine at work), and that’s excluding reading things. The thing about the iPad is that you end up picking it up all the time and often is starts taking over roles traditionally reserved for traditional computers. My original iPad got a lot of use, but with my current iPad, a third-generation model, I find myself using it more simply because the screen is so sharp.

The Screen!

One feature that sets the iPad apart from any Mac is how sharp the display is and you don’t mind staring at it for long periods at a time. Although I do think the displays on Apple’s current iMacs are gorgeous, the Retina Display is Apple’s biggest and most subtle weapon for killing the traditional computer. Some may argue that we’ll eventually see it across the Mac lineup, and, while I do see that happening eventually, it will not have the same effect—you cannot hold a Mac in your hands and relax on the couch. The ability to lose yourself in content, either that you’re viewing or creating, is completely different than seeing the rest of the computer attached to the display.

Go Anywhere

The smartphone data plans offered by most carriers aren’t spectacular, but they’re fair and offer more than enough for many ”average” users. Although the Wi-Fi-only iPad sells extremely well, there is something that becomes abundantly clear when you use a 3G- or 4G-equipped iPad: it is extremely ”futuristic” to use a full-blown computer anywhere and you’re tied directly to your ISP (well, cellular data provider). For years, people have been able to get USB 3G data dongles for laptops or battery-powered Wi-Fi hotspots, but this is so much simpler and makes the iPad feel completely more connected and free than any computer could.

The only downside is the data plans. The 250MB base one gets burned through way too quickly, while the 1GB-5GB plans are mostly good as an addition to another sort of Internet connection—a backup.

Maybe someday someone can get an iPad, pay for an LTE connection, and it will be sufficient for more than just very light data users. Of course, the carriers and Apple would love it if that person has an iPhone in tow, too.

What’s Next?

A lot of tech pundits see the new iPad as a fantastic evolution of the prior two iPads. Others see it as an iPad 2 with a better screen and 4G LTE capabilities, but a bit of a disappointment. The new worry is that the next iPad, whatever that may be, will also be only a “minor” update, and I don’t see the point of worrying. The third-generation iPad is selling quite well, just like the iPhone 4S, another supposed ”disappointment”.

I think we’ll see Apple working to improve the battery life, possibly going back to a smaller battery (faster charging) if they can keep the same run time. We’ll get a more efficient system-on-a-chip (the A6?), and the iPad will do even more to try to replace your desktop computer. Still, the biggest changes will probably be software-related, as that matters even more in the grand scheme of things

Back in the early 1980s, the original goal price for the Mac was $500, set by Jeff Raskin, even though it ended up costing about five times as much. Mix in that original goal (in 1980s prices, no less) and what Steve Jobs said about focus in 1997, and the goal of the iPad seems even more clear, paraphrasing my SchwarzTech Radio co-host Matt Bloomingdale:

In 1997, Apple was struggling with their current direction: in order for apple to be successful, they had to be the best at doing everything. When Jobs came back to Apple, he changed direction. Instead of trying to do everything, Apple needed to focus on what they did well (publishing and education). In fact, in the next couple of years, Apple sold fewer computers, but was far more profitable and made much better products. In 15 years, Apple went from being three months away from bankruptcy to being, well Apple.

Applying this strategy to the iPad, we realize, it won’t be a good computer for everyone, but it will be the best computer for quite a few people, especially if they are looking for entertainment, simplicity & basic computing tasks, and a portable, convenient form-factor. Peter Coyote couldn’t have narrated it better himself.

Still, I find it funny that Apple knew what they were doing all along, long before we knew what the iPad would be good for. If anything, just as the iPhone was the only device that could kill the iPod, the iPad may be the device to eventually kill the Mac. We’re still a ways off from that, though.

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