Understanding the iPad Starts with Understanding Apple

| The Back Page

As John Martellaro predicted, there are a lot of folks who don't understand that the iPad is not for them, and those people are, predictably, dismissing it. No one needs it, it doesn't have this or that, and there's just no need for it, "they" say.

I don't have to reach too far into my Nostradamus Bag to predict that those people will largely be drowned out by the chorus of cash registers ringing up sales of the device, and it's not even a real stretch to predict that many of those kvetching will end up owning and loving an iPad, probably before the year is out.

Be that as it may, and as much fun as it is to laugh at the reactionary minority, I thought it would be useful to try and take a closer look at why Apple is releasing this device.

And I think I want to start by referencing a column I wrote in April of 2009 called "Apple's Tim Cook All But Screams 'iPod Super Touch!'" In that piece I said that Apple COO Tim Cook was dismissing the netbook products on the market without dismissing the market itself, and that the company was working on some kind of iPhone OS device to compete in that space.

More specifically, I wrote: "Let's get back to the iPod Super Touch -- I don't think that's what it will really be called, but it works to instantly convey what I mean, which is a device with a touchscreen that runs iPhone Software that is larger than current iPods, probably in the 7-10" range."

I furthermore added that it would run apps from the App Store. In a follow up column arguing that Apple would not release a Mac OS X-based netbook, I wrote that, "Folks seem to want to be able to do e-mail, tweet, browse the Interwebs, maybe do some blogging or light writing. Perhaps others like to watch movies or other video, or maybe listen to some tunes while their flipping through photos with a friend. These are, of course, things people can and do on their iPhones and iPod touches."

For my victory dance today, I'll add: "Nanny nanny boo boo - I was right."

My awesomeness aside, the things I identified back then as the heart of Apple's approach to the netbook market were laid out much more clearly by Steve Jobs in the introduction of his iPad presentation. If you don't understand the iPad or think there's no use for this device, a close examination of what he said might well help you understand why Apple is releasing it, and more importantly, why it will find success in the marketplace.

So, let's look at what Mr. Jobs said. He started by asking, "Is there room for a third category of device in the middle, something that's between a laptop and a smartphone?"

This question is at the heart of the netbook/iPad issue, and I have zero doubt that Apple's execs and engineers literally asked asked it of themselves and debated the issue with each other for some time. After all, netbooks exploded starting in late 2008, and sales of the devices propelled little known (in the West) companies like Acer and Asus into being among the top PC makers on the planet as measured in unit sales.

The answer that Apple's people appear to have come up with was yes, there is room for a third category of products. What separates Apple from the PC vendors, however, was how the company pushed beyond that basic answer and established a sort of test for how they might go about addressing this emerging market.

Said Mr. Jobs in his media event: "In order to really create a new category of devices, those devices are going to have to be far better at doing some key tasks. They're going to have to be far better at doing some really important things. Better than the laptop, better than the smartphone."

Steve Jobs QuoteThat's a pretty high bar, and if you ask me, the PC vendors asked themselves only one question, "Can we make it cheaper than a laptop?"

And it was this approach to the market that Apple had been so vigorous in dismissing and criticizing, but the company picked some categories it thought it could make better than on a laptop and smartphone, namely: Web browsing, e-mail, photo-viewing, video-watching, music listening, games, and reading eBooks.

"If there's going to be a third category of device," Mr. Jobs said, "it's going to have to be better at these kinds of tasks than a laptop or a smartphone. Otherwise it has no reason for being." [Emphasis added]

"Otherwise it has no reason for being." That's some powerful stuff, and I'll stress that this is is emblematic of what separates Apple from its competition.

Oh sure, Mr. Jobs presented these categories as the categories that must meet that standard in order to justify the product, but in reality the list itself has been tailored for those categories that Apple thought it could meet with the iPad.

The real question is not whether or not the iPad has to have a camera (I would like it to have one), or should be able to multitask (I want it to), or whether or not Apple is fudging when it says the device supports 720p High Definition video when it doesn't have the pixels to do so.

No, the question is can it do some things better than a laptop and better than a smartphone. If it can, the market will embrace it (especially at the $499 price point!), and the device will be a hit. What you and I as individuals want for it will not get in the way of other people finding ways to use it for those things it can do better than the devices on either side of it.

To look at it any other way is myopic and reactionary, or so I rule from my Throne of Judgement™.

And, based on what I've seen so far, I think Apple has achieved its goal in most of those categories, at the very least.

Popular TMO Stories



Perhaps the iPad is simply evolutionary, and not revolutionary. Apple’s really only had one “revolution,” and that was the graphic interface way back when. The rest of Apple’s products, the iPod and iPhone included, have primarily been natural next steps and improvements on already-existing products.

That being said, I’ll be in line on day one to get an iPad. It’s no Apple TV folks; you’re looking at the future of computing. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a true touch tablet computer from Apple in the next 2 years. And how long will it be before desktop machines are touch-based?

Remember the “revolution” of the mouse? Well, touch technology is going to do to the mouse what the mouse did to the command-line. Remember how crude and unsophisticated the original Apple mouse was? Take it to the bank - in twenty years we’ll be looking back at the iPad as being just as crude and unsophisticated.

So, yes, I’ll be an early adopter on the iPad. It’s not just a product; it’s history taking place before our eyes.


Exactly. This is a glimpse of the future of computing. Most people seem to be missing that point.


The iPad is exactly the product I was hoping apple would come up with. I have an iPhone and an iMac as staples. My wife uses our aging iBook G3 for email and web. I have been looking at perhaps getting a refurb. MacBook to replace the iBook, but I really didn’t want to spend $900 for just email and web. The price for the netbooks was attractive, but I really don’t want to buy a Windows PC that is slow and buggy. The iPad fits what I’m looking for perfectly.


Oddly enough yesterday all I saw was what it didn’t do. No camera, no flash, no this no that. Today I’m starting to see more of what it CAN do. It’s growing on me. I can see getting one, especially as a v.2 version. I see how the iPhone and iPod grew over time. I’m expecting to see big things in a couple of years.


Interesting jbruni.  One of my neighbors is in a similar position. During a discussion on future possibilities last night he realised that an iPad needs a partner to sync with. His faced dropped at the thought of having to share his iMac with his wife!

Meanwhile I’m trying to figure out how I can get all my iTunes content onto a new iPad that has less storage capacity than my iPod classic.  Maybe I’ll wait for the 2nd gen that has all the features Bryan wants plus a 16:9 screen and a 128GB disk. - assuming it’s under $1000.  Or on second thoughts, maybe I’ll just buy one - same as always. Sucker for cool Apple stuff.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Color me myopic. I hate what this and the iPhone have done to some longtime Apple fans. Funny thing is that over on Engadget, I’m like a voice of reason in the angered masses. Them Apple fans are wicked pissed.

The three things that bug me about Windows are: (1) flicker, (2) OK/Cancel/Apply and (3) Vista style settings that force you to dig through and click on paragraphs of text to set something. But these things make me giggle. Apple telling us what we like and what we’re going to do now is more crushing than anything since the demise of OpenDoc. Oh well.

@jbruni… My Dad, long time Mac user and PC hater, just picked up one of these for his birthday. Says he actually enjoys using it more than his 2008 MBP, totally surprised that Windows 7 doesn’t suck that bad. I bet it runs Flash too.

Bryan Chaffin

I should probably add that I want multitasking for one reason only (so far): I want to play poker on this device (and here I come closer to Bosco’s outrage over Apple’s control, though I remain cognizant of the benefits of Apple’s control).

To play poker, I need to run the client, as well as a HUD, like the fantastic Mac client, Poker Copilot (look for a review Soon?).

I think the iPad would make a great 1-3 table poker playing device, but only if we can run a HUD, too.

That’s my own self-centered want for the iPad.

That said, FlipFriddle’s mention yesterday of table-top RPG gaming is another example of application multitasking being handy.

All that said, I think we’ll see this sooner, rather than later.  The need for a camera will, no doubt, quickly be addressed by third parties.

Laurie Fleming

What it might be able to do is allow my mother-out-law to read again. With very poor eyesight, she *can* read a book but it takes her a long time. If the iBook thing is available in New Zealand straight away (it took a *very* long time for iTunes Store to work here), or early on, this could change her life. That would be reason enough to get one.

PS Bryan, you get an ‘O’ for awesome for your prediction! <grin>


I wonder if there is a screen reader App for the iPad? Seems like with the ADA issues that Kindle has run into it would also be obvious.

Unless of course that too would require multitasking.


I am going to need a version of Aperture before this can replace my MBP on the road.


Bryan, I think we we all need a bit of help.  I don’t think the iPad is a MPB replacement ... Aperture or not. Your piece clearly lists the things that you (and Steve) think the iPad can do better than a laptop or smartphone - and photo editing isn’t one of them!

It seems to me some people are expecting too much from this device.

Is it realistic to expect to see Aperture on the iPad?  I don’t think so. Do you?

This is beginning to remind me of the old joke - “Give a kid a hammer and everything looks like a nail”  The iPad is not the total answer to everyone’s computing requirements. Or, maybe, yet again, I’ve got this all wrong.


That’s pretty much my view of it. Apple is trying to redefine the Ultraportable market.

In the past, ultraportables have been one of three things:

-Single function gadgets that do one thing well, with additional features kludged on, like smartphones, E-readers, and Gameboys.

-Desktop systems like the that have been scaled down like the netbook, or kludged together like the Tablet PC.

-Dedicated portable systems designed from scratch to be ultraportable (the Newton and Palm)

It’s not a bad idea; Apple made a fortune from turning a single gadget (the iPod) into something powerful enough to be a dedicated portable system with a user interface tyhat makes sense for the form-factor. The problem is that you still can’t run desktop applications or peripherals on the iPad, like you could with a TabletPC or Netbook, and you lose the portability that makes the iPhone so ubiquitous.

The last is my problem: my phone replaces almost all my gadgets, and 80% of my laptop’s features, and I use it everywhere because I can carry it everywhere. The iPad dosen’t give me back enough of that missing functionality (Like Adobe creative apps) to make the bigger size worthwhile.

It might one day grow into that like the desktop PC grew into the workstations we have now, but I’ll have to wait until then.


Well…  I am on the fence on this one.  I have had both a laptop and a PDA or an iPhone since 1998.  Last week I eBayed my (1st-generation) iPhone in favor of an iPod touch (plus my wife’s new iPhone 3GS for Internet access when we’re out of the house, and a “dumbphone” for me), and I’m going to use the iPod touch almost entirely as a “Newton X” rather than as an iPod, same as I used the iPhone.  I have become completely symbiotic with a pocketable “electronic brain,” so that is something I will always need—emphasis on “pocketable,” i.e., the only things I wear more consistently than my “PDA” are my glasses and wedding ring.

As for the laptop, I wasn’t traveling much early last year, so I sold my Dad my MacBook and bought an HP Mini 1000 to run Ubuntu Netbook Remix; I figured that would let me do everything I really needed to do on the road for a few days at a time, and would free up a few hundred bucks.  However, I very quickly came to miss several specific Mac OS X applications, especially when I found myself doing some heavy on-the-spot analysis during one business trip (my company had issued me a very nice Mac Pro, but no laptop); thus I turned around and bought another (refurb) MacBook a few months ago.

However, I haven’t yet eBayed the HP netbook; I have even gone on trips with both it and the MacBook (freak!).  It is light enough and compact enough (2.2 lb, 10” screen) that I find myself carrying it around the house (or in a restaurant, or coach-class airline seat…) like a book, to use during brief intervals of downtime instead of the iPod touch.  Maybe I’m a wimp for finding the 4.9 lb MacBook too chunky to keep immediately at hand for such use; but there it is.  So far I have figured that I’d rather have the netbook than the $200 or so I could sell it for on eBay; but would I rather add that to another few hundred bucks and get an iPad, for essentially the same purpose (plus synchronization with my Macs, “whole widget” style, of course)?  Or would I be better served by ditching the MacBook and the lightweight netbook/iPad in favor of the 3 lb MacBook Air (more expensive than the combo, and larger and heavier than the netbook/iPad)?  Gonna have to think about that hard as March comes to a close.


Isn’t there a rumor about iPhone 4.0 and multitasking? So, maybe it’ll multitask when 4.0 releases.

Wolf Lahti

No Flash support?

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account