What if Apple Travels a Different Path with iPad?

| Hidden Dimensions

"You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself"

-- Buddha

Rumors take hold and persist for reasons. Tidbits from Asian suppliers, leaks from "sources familiar with the matter," and intelligent surmise about the competitive state in the industry have all combined to create a lasting drum beat for the Apple iPad -- or iPod super touch -- or iTablet -- or MacBook touch -- or Media Pad -- you name it. However, what if Apple's vision, driven my the marketplace, turns out to be something entirely different than what we expected?

Based on what we know, Apple is reluctant to get into the Netbook market. These are cheap systems that use last generation parts to keep the price down. Much has been written about how Apple just doesn't want to undercut the craftsmanship and power of its Aluminum MacBooks.

MacBook

Apple MacBook (unibody, late 2008)

On the low end, Apple has consistently argued that an iPhone and iPod touch can do everything that's required in terms of communicating, e-mail, Web surfing, and, well, 40,000 other activities and apps that round out those products. And it's fairly clear that Apple has big plans for the multi-touch interface combined with new hardware technologies down the road. However, we also know that when Apple suggests that the iPhone or iPod touch is the proper substitute for the netbook, the company is just buying time to develop its own vision.

iPod touch

Apple iPod touch 2G (Sep 2008)

That explains to me the delay in introducing the rumored iPad. Apple is preparing a product that will be unexpected and hard to interpret at first. That implies risk, so the trick will be to get it right the first time.

The Considerations

Apple's iPod shuffle 3G, with its minimalist and confusing controls has been condemned by many. What was wrong with the explicit controls of the 2G model? Others have argued that customers simply accept what ever Apple provides. That's a clue abut how Apple is thinking.

Millions of kids love being connected, chatting, texting, tweeting, but they can't afford a 24 month plan at US$79/month.

Apple and a few partners have laid the groundwork for a new kind of behavior on the Internet. Snack videos, newsbits and the Borg mind created by millions of people connected on Twitter makes it less and less essential to be working with Microsoft Word and Excel. To be sure, many technical professionals will be sitting at their desks, immersed in spreadsheets, and that's what the PC market, with its 90 percent market share, is designed to do. But Apple isn't interested in competing there, so the next generation devices won't need the same kind of OS infrastructure.

A good example is the Apple TV. It has Mac OS X, a hard disk, a video subsystem and HDMI out. But who would want to run PowerPoint on it?

The Next Generation

Ponder this:

The current Apple products, desktops and notebooks, have the Apple II as their progenitors, and the iPhone is descended from the first cell phones. They are essentially Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs, designed by the baby boomers.

On the other hand, Wi-Fi is so dominant that some have wondered why it isn't a public utility like water and electricity. It's a natural medium for young people, and while adults are accustomed to having a phone number, younger people are accustomed to having an address on the Internet, whether its Facebook or Twitter, Friendster or MySpace.

And while many would consider it reasonable to pay nearly US$500 for a Kindle DX that does nothing but display books, Apple's ambitions and vision are far higher.

As a result, in my opinion, the next generation device that's been in the rumor mills for a long time will be a hard animal to assess. It will be off-putting to many observers. It won't be the ideal toy for the baby boomer; rather, it it will fulfill a specific need for an emerging market that Apple has come to recognize. It will be unexpected and brilliant. It will change the way we work and think. It could well be the first Apple product current analysts can't understand and can't use well at first.

Media Pad

Media Pad Concept. Credit: MacFormat

Some Guesses

So far, I've presented what we all know about Apple's current products, its philosophy, modern technology and the competition: the netbooks and the Kindle. Defining a new product category with breakthrough appeal is a lot tougher. Perhaps one can back into it. Note: the following list is devised as food for thought to get to the next level of product definition. It's not the definition of the complete product. 

  • It won't compete with the iPhone and AT&T 3G services.
  • It won't diminish the brand of the MacBook, just as the original Mac took years to supplant the Apple II.
  • It will be a Wi-Fi  and Bluetooth device only.
  • It will use multi-touch.
  • It will have a modest SSD.
  • It won't be a device to look at a Mac's desktop from afar because messing with a desktop Mac is irrelevant for the target user.
  • It will be very good at playing video.
  • Its purpose will be to bring multiple channels of communication, via Wi-Fi, to a common point, not to create content, find a lost car, or maintain travel receipts.
  • However, it will run iPhone/iPod touch apps.
  • The screen size will be dictated by the intended audience, gamers, new doctors, students, teachers, sports enthusiasts, and researchers. Perhaps a 6 to 7 inch screen. Too big to take to lunch or on a business trip. Something that tends to lay on the table, be moved around here and there, but doesn't tend to hang on the body or replace a MacBook Air for travel. It'll tend to wind up on the coffee table or lab desk or in a student's backpack.
  • It will be strong at collecting and displaying news, magazine content, e-mail, tweets, Hulu, iChat with video.
  • It won't have a still camera facing outbound, but will have a movie-grade camera facing the user for video chats. Moms will love it.
  • Like the iPhone, it will have a virtual keyboard but can connect via Bluetooth to an Apple keyboard.
  • The display technology won't be optimized for books, like the Kindle, but it will be a capable book reader, especially text books. The display will be good enough for many users.
  • It will have one or more new, unexpected features that the extra interior room affords. Say, an air quality analyzer or something that gives it a green or unique appeal. 
  • It will have a secure locator beacon on Wi-Fi so that it can be found if lost or stolen.
  • It won't be cheap and won't diminish the value proposition of an iPod touch.
  • Special Agents Timothy McGee, Abby Sciuto ("NCIS") and Olivia Dunham ("Fringe") won't go anywhere without it.

Over and above this list, there will still be unexpected features. Despite the proposed feature set presented by MacFormat at the concept link above, which suggests that it will be a conventional device, I suspect it won't be conventional at all. So the list is just a starting point for deeper pondering.

Expecting the Unexpected

All the above is just an guess, and it's also intended to get a discussion going. So I have a proposal for you. Formulate, in the comments below, not the expected or desired features I've covered, but the unusual, surprising, delightful, perplexing features such a device might have. Assume that it will be misunderstood at first, but will be something that takes the world by surprise and takes Apple down a different path.

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19 Comments Leave Your Own

Michael

“The display technology won’t be optimized for books, like the Kindle, but it will be a capable book reader, especially text books. The display will be good enough for many users.”

I think you are underestimating this part of the equation.  The portable book, newspaper, textbook and magazine market is the one that will make this a desired alternative for everyone.  Especially the youth.

zewazir

I see a significant additional market for this concept: education. Schools at all levels are moving into the realm of podcasting lectures and other curricula information. A device that can handle virtual textbooks, podcasts, twittering with fellow students, etc. with a total cost significantly below the full function laptop would be an ideal platform to push our schools into the next level of education technology.

The only trick will be keeping certain students on task instead of playing the latest craze in iphone app games.

FlipFriddle

Apple could have impeccable timing with this device as traditional news media implodes; people obviously want their news now to be online, but the desktop or laptop is an old way of veiwing it. BTW, kids aren’t the only ones who can’t afford a $79/month data-plan. It’s ludicrous. The Kindle is too expensive and too limited to ever be a success (I have only ever seen ONE of them in the wild, and yet have seen thousands and thousands of iPods).

zen monkey

My guess is that Apple is bridging the gap between online content and domotica. It is possible that this iPad will be a device that acts as a domotica remote control. In the sofa, reading the news via rss, you dim the lights, put on some music, close the curtains, let the tub fill with warm water and choose some music as you go to your bath.
Then you go out for dinner, that obviously you made reservation for all kinds of things you do outside, but while you’re watching some Indian dancers doing all kinds off bizar movements, you check the alarm of your house, you double check that you did not leave your garage open, you check the contents of the fridge, because you have to know if you can offer your date some champagne.
A remote for life. That will be the next ipad. All the features of the ipod/iphone, but with a complete tweakable remote control system that communicates with every bluetooth, wifi element in your house.
Domotica is not in every home yet, but it will be in 10 years time.
How about that.

iphonzie

The device will need to be 3G network capable, but there could be a variety of service plan options - none, on demand/per GB, unlimited. The iPod touch feels crippled by not having anywhere access to the net. Having 3G access opens the device to commuter services - reading the news on the train, finding a restaurant at the next freeway exit, surfing the web at the dentist’s office, downloading apps and content any time, etc.

azarkon

I find it interesting that people who pay 25-50 dollars for internet at home think that a 30 dollar premium for internet anywhere you want it is too expensive.  As 4G and WiMax technologies become available, it would not surprise me if people start to ditch their DSL/cable in the same way people are ditching landlines—and the current model for internet will instead change to a single fee to a single company which will then be offer many conduits to the web to connect all your devices as cost-efficiently as possible.  The current illusion is that WiFi connectivity is either free because you already have it or someone else is providing it as a means to entice customers.  In a short amount of time the WiFi/free vs. 3G+contract will be a non-issue.

azarkon

BTW, am I the only one who finds the two following descriptions to be paradoxical:

Too big to take to lunch or on a business trip. Something that tends to lay on the table, be moved around here and there, but doesn’t tend to hang on the body or replace a MacBook Air for travel.

Special Agents Timothy McGee, Abby Sciuto (“NCIS”) and Olivia Dunham (“Fringe”) won’t go anywhere without it.

John Martellaro

I thought of it as real world usage vs. TV fiction and marketing (for effect).
- JM

ipaqrat

If Mr. Martellaro’s guesses are accurate, they describe a product that will fail, because it will basically suck. If this were what Apple built, would Mr. Martellaro even be interested in such a self-contradictory, fisher-price like ZUNE. I think not.

“It won’t compete with the iPhone and AT&T 3G services. It will be a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth device only.”
—Compete, not necessarily, but it damn well better be 3G or 4G; that’s an expectation, a starting point. For God’s sake, even a KINDLE has a cell link.

“It won’t be a device to look at a Mac’s desktop from afar because messing with a desktop Mac is irrelevant for the target user.”
—How do you know what the target audience is? If Agents McGee and Sciuto are involved, remote desktops are the LEAST it better be able to do.

“It will be very good at playing video. Its purpose will be to bring multiple channels of communication, via Wi-Fi, to a common point, not to create content, find a lost car, or maintain travel receipts.”
—NOT to create content? that’s just wrong-headed. It BETTER be able to create content. Most bitches about the iPhone are about inability to CREATE CONTENT! That’s a huge clue - people WANT to create content.

“However, it will run iPhone/iPod touch apps.”
—so what? if it’s not 3G or 4G, what’s the point? So much of the best stuff is the connected stuff.

“The screen size will be dictated by the intended audience, gamers, new doctors, students, teachers, sports enthusiasts, and researchers. Perhaps a 6 to 7 inch screen. “
—Really, Einstein? And what is it Students, Teachers and Researchers need to do? CREATE CONTENT! 
—Why only new doctors? You know who I see using Kindles most? Freakin’ old people. I haven’t seen a kid with one yet. Kind of like the Honda Element; Honda thought it was for Gen-Me neo libertine surfers - but all the OLD farts like me bought ‘em. I park it next to my Porsche who’s insurance I can finally afford.

“Too big to take to lunch or on a business trip. Something that tends to lay on the table, be moved around here and there, but doesn’t tend to hang on the body or replace a MacBook Air for travel. It’ll tend to wind up on the coffee table or lab desk or in a student’s backpack.”
—and if it’s in said backpack, why wouldn’t it be in a purse or backpack on the way to lunch?

Special Agents Timothy McGee, Abby Sciuto (“NCIS”) and Olivia Dunham (“Fringe”) won’t go anywhere without it.
— These two NCIS characters would only acknowledge it if fisher-price feature set describe could be reversed and real computing features enabled.

John Martellaro

As I said in the article, the “guesses” were intended to get a discussion going, to provoke thought, and to back into some good ideas—by elimination.  The list by no means defines the product.

- JM

jecrawford

John

One rumour you omitted from your preamble was the one about 10” touch screens being shipped to “Apple”. This is quite a bit bigger than 6” to 7”.

Another John

zewazir

Several of the comments limiting the scope of a future “iPad” type device do not make real sense when talking about a device of this type.

1) “Too big to take to lunch”  Then why bother, since people will want something to take to lunch, travel, etc. that is more capable than a PDA/smart phone, but less bulky than a laptop, or even netbook.  If you’re gonna leave it on a desk, buy a full function desk top with blue tooth keyboard and be done with it. IMO a 6-7, or even 10” “iPad” would be an ideal size for the increased capability over the iPhone/iPod Touch, but still nicely portable.  Not pocket sized, but not large enough to need it’s own specialized carrying case either.

2) Not able to create content? - Again, then why bother? Of all the limitations, this one simply makes the concept into an oversize smart phone without the phone.  Now trying to have full content capabilities they may as well simply make a smaller MacBook.  But add in a basic word processor and smart access virtual keyboard (maybe even a dictation app?) with connectivity to upload the text files to the user’s computer (even from 1200 miles away using G3-4?) would certainly add to the draw of such a device.  It would also make it an ideal classroom learning device, pulling in podcasts and the like, while giving the user the ability to take notes.

John Martellaro

Re: 10-inch screen.  Could be a different product.
-JM

buzzwriter

Thanks, John, for getting the conversation going - but I agree with the members who think content, portability, and 3G/4G are baseline. Without those, I certainly will take myself out of the category “intended audience”. And why wouldn’t it have a resolution mode that would give readers a color screen reader for magazines and books (hint: not all books are text-only).

In fact, it’s fun to consider the intended audience: sedentary, TV-watching, page flippers who don’t create anything, don’t add value, don’t need to work/communicate on the go, and only communicate within reach of a landline (or WIFI). And, of course, they won’t need a device that offers mobile reading since they can crack open a book, which can be conveniently reached with one of the extension grabbers needed by stroke victims and the elderly.

But, hey, the population is aging. Maybe that’s going to be the new growth area for people wanting to drop extra cash from their fixed incomes.

None of that describes me. But, since this is unlikely to be a $50 no brainer, I’m at a loss to figure out just who this vast audience might be for a game-changing device such as you describe.

Well, you wanted to get a conversation going, and just look at the response. You’re good!

I just hope, selfishly, that Apple is even better.

Paul

The assumption that business people need the MS office all the time is just plain wrong. I travel to China every few months and I’m looking to replace my 6 pound powerbook because I don’t need a full computer. But my ipod touch is just too small to really do real work on. An ipod touch the size of an old paper planner (8 x 5) would be perfect.

zewazir

I do not see anyone here advocating the idea that business people will always need a fully functional office suite.  However, there is a lot of room between having a fully functional office suite, and having zero ability to create content.

le corbusier

i always admire the technology we’re in today. its very different from what we used to have. in a short time, we have moved to a very modern world.

buzzwriter

Great buzz generator, John. IMHO (ever notice how the people who use that phrase are seldom humble; but I digress), to be a game changer, the product should take over figuring out the best connections (because it has to be always connected) so users will, well, “use” the device.

And why rule out reading? It would be simple to have the device switch the screen to one optimized for reading - at least as good as the one-trick-pony Kindle.

Predictions that it will be “passive” rather than a content generator may make it fine for happy Moms, but don’t expect the emerging market to embrace it.

One of the reasons behind the iPhone success has been, in addition to brilliant marketing, the iPhone’s flexibility.

You want a game changer? Look for ultimate flexibility that goes beyond what is now available. The device will always know where it is (GPS), will always be in touch (best connection whether it’s cellular, WiFi or Bluetooth), presents information (in a variety of formats ranging from pure text to game-quality graphics), and allows for both the creation and transmission of content.

A risk for current products? Sure. If it doesn’t do more, why bother? Apple, while protective of revenue streams, has never been afraid of innovation.

The iPhone is only a recent manifestation.

Let’s expect something really innovative, not just a replay of what’s already out there.

But, as I said, that’s only one humble opinion.

Condominiums Mississauga

I agree with the members who think content,portability and 3G/4G are baseline.I certainly will take myself out of the category intended audience.

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