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Keep taking the tablets

January 28, 2010

Vista busy cursor I had a bit of a “Doh!” moment when I finally discovered what the iPad was all about.  It should have been obvious long before Steve Jobs’s announcement yesterday.  My only excuse is the constant reference to the term “tablet” which I associate with devices that look superficially like conventional laptops but have swivelling screens.  I have one of those but they are in general regarded as a failed concept.

The iPad is not in that space at all.  It is not Apple’s answer to the tablet PC but Apple’s answer to the netbook and Amazon’s Kindle combined.

As ever, Apple pick up after a need for something new has already emerged and others have already created inadequate products in response. Usually those early attempts by others fail because they are trying to adapt something that already exists but the paradigm does not translate properly.  The tablet PC is a prime example.  Another would be every smartphone prior to the iPhone which was some unhappy marriage of PDA type device and conventional mobile phone, often involving use of a (ugh!) stylus.

Apple won in the smartphone stakes, improving on the earlier failed attempts by starting from a different direction.  They realised that they needed a device that was all touch screen but with an interface that did not need a stylus.  And not to try to do too much. Most users want to be able to get their media on there, browse the web and access their email, but not necessarily care about getting into the gubbings or hacking the device.  If they wanted to play games or expand the usefulness of the phone they would just download applications.

Similar story with the iPad. Netbooks have arisen because many people just want to browse the web at home or do their email but don’t want to wait ages for a PC to boot up.  They don’t need to do serious gaming or video encoding so something smaller, lighter, cheaper is fine.  To date the answer has been a smaller, lighter, cheaper laptop – ie the netbook.  Another need has been the eBook reader.  The Kindle has been successful but eInk is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Low contrast, slow page turning.  The only real benefit is a long battery life.

The iPad takes the paradigm that worked for the iPhone and reapplies it to the need to date met by the netbook and Kindle.  It brings the benefits of ease of use, touch interface without stylus and quick/convenient access to the lightweight tasks (web, email, reading a book, watching a movie) that most people actually want.  It will stretch to work type things but that is not its main market.

Do I want one?  Hell no, but I do think it will be successful.

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