Beyond the iPad

I was just interviewed for a BBC television feature that will run around the same time the iPad is launched. I’ll be a talking head, basically. For what it’s worth, here’s what I provided as background for where I’d be coming from in the interview:

  1. The iPad will arrive in the market with an advantage no other completely new computing device for the mass market has ever enjoyed: the ability to run a 100,000-app portfolio that’s already developed, in this case for the iPhone. Unless the iPad is an outright lemon, this alone should assure its success.
  2. The iPad will launch a category within which it will be far from the only player. Apple’s feudal market-control methods (all developers and customers are trapped within its walled garden) will encourage competitors that lack the same limitations. We should expect other hardware companies to launch pads running on open source operating systems, especially Android and Symbian. (Disclosure: I consult Symbian.) These can support much larger markets than Apple’s closed and private platforms alone will allow.
  3. The first versions of unique hardware designs tend to be imperfect and get old fast. Such was the case with the first iPods and iPhones, and will surely be the case with the first iPads as well. The ones being introduced next week will seem antique one year from now.
  4. Warning to competitors: copying Apple is always a bad idea. The company is an example only of itself. There is only one Steve Jobs, and nobody else can do what he does. Fortunately, he only does what he can control. The rest of the market will be out of his control, and it will be a lot bigger than what fits inside Apple’s beautiful garden.

I covered some of that, and added a few things, which I’ll enlarge with a quick brain dump:

  1. The iPad brings to market a whole new form factor that has a number of major use advantages over smartphones, laptops and netbooks, the largest of which is this: it fits in a purse or any small bag — where it doesn’t act just like any of those other devices. (Aside from running all those iPhone apps.) It’s easy and welcoming to use — and its uses are not subordinated, by form, to computing or telephony. It’s an accessory to your own intentions. This is an advantage that gets lost amidst all the talk about how it’s little more than a new display system for “content.”
  2. My own fantasy for tablets is interactivity with the everyday world. Take retailing for example. Let’s say you syndicate your shopping list, but only to trusted retailers, perhaps through a fourth party (one that works to carry out your intentions, rather than sellers’ — though it can help you engage with them). You go into Target and it gives you a map of the store, where the goods you want are, and what’s in stock, what’s not, and how to get what’s mising, if they’re in a position to help you with that. You can turn their promotions on or off, and you can choose, using your own personal terms of service, what data to share with them, what data not to, and conditions of that data’s use. Then you can go to Costco, the tire store, and the university library and do the same. I know it’s hard to imagine a world in which customers don’t have to belong to loyalty programs and submit to coercive and opaque terms of data use, but it will happen, and it has a much better chance of happening faster if customers are independent and have their own tools for engagement. Which are being built. Check out what Phil Windley says here about one approach.
  3. Apple works vertically. Android, Symbian, Linux and other open OSes, with the open hardware they support, work horizonally. There is a limit to how high Apple can build its walled garden, nice as it will surely be. There is no limit to how wide everybody else can make the rest of the marketplace. For help imagining this, see Dave Winer’s iPad as a Coral Reef.
  4. Content is not king, wrote Andrew Oldyzko in 2001. And he’s right. Naturally big publishers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, Condé Nast, the Book People) think so. Their fantasy is the iPad as a hand-held newsstand (where, as with real-world newsstands, you have to pay for the goods). Same goes for the TV and movie people, who see the iPad as a replacement for their old distribution systems (also for pay). No doubt these are Very Big Deals. But how the rest of us use iPads (and other tablets) is a much bigger deal. Have you thought about how you’ll blog, or whatever comes next, on an iPad? Or on any tablet? Does it only have to be in a browser? What about using a tablet as a production device, and not just an instrument of consumption? I don’t think Apple has put much thought into this, but others will, outside Apple’s walled garden. You should too. That’s because we’re at a juncture here. A fork in the road. Do we want the Internet to be broadcasting 2.0 — run by a few content companies and their allied distributors? Or do we want it to be the wide open marketplace it was meant to be in the first place, and is good for everybody? (This is where you should pause and read what Cory Doctorow and Dave Winer say about it.)
  5. We’re going to see a huge strain on the mobile data system as iPads and other tablets flood the world. Here too it will matter whether the mobile phone companies want to be a rising tide that lifts all boats, or just conduits for their broadcasting and content production partners. (Or worse, old fashioned phone companies, treating and billing data in the same awful ways they bill voice.) There’s more money in the former than the latter, but the latter are their easy pickings. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

I also deal with all this in a longer post that will go up elsewhere. I’ll point to it here when it comes up. Meanwhile, dig this post by Dave Winer and this one by Jeff Jarvis.

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40 comments

  1. Andrew Leyden’s avatar

    So, are you going to buy one yourself?

  2. PXLated’s avatar

    I think you’ve overplay the open and walled garden aspects Doc – Must have been hangin with Dave Winer and Dan Gillmor a little too much ;-)

    For this paradigm shift (less computer, more CE) it takes both left and right brained types (liberal arts & tech) to create what Jobs/Apple have and there just aren’t many of those out there. From my point of view, open is very good at copycatting but very bad at creating when it comes to getting a whole platform coordinated and useful. Individual parts-yes, the whole enchilada-no. And, my guess is, other than geeks, nobody cares about open/closed. Just make it easy, and make it work.

    So, it will be interesting to see what transpires over the next few years. Will the geeks create their length feature lists and loose? Time will tell.

  3. Reid Parkinson’s avatar

    I’m a little skeptical about people automatically concluding that vertical will inevitably be overcome by horizontal, because theoretically, more exciting stuff can happen with (unconstrained) horizontal. Just look at the present PC market…little innovation, usually playing catchup, etc. Typically, manufacturers in the horizontal PC market compete to become least-cost producers of primarily generic products, with a few decorative or feature twists to differentiate themselves. When it comes to innovation and excitement (stuff to copy), they look to Apple’s vertical market. Innovation drives today’s technology, and the so-called open horizontal markets are merely efficient parts bundlers.

  4. Mike Parsons’s avatar

    Amazing post Doc. I’ve been looking for an actual expert on the iPad. Permission to syndicate, summarize and/or promote?

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Andrew, the answer for now is no. But we’ll see how it goes.

    PXLated, did SMTP, IMAP and POP3 copy MCIMail? Seems an open email system, which we have now, and nobody owns, is a whole enchilada.

    How about graphical browsers? Who invented those, and for what reasons? Did Mozilla copy Microsoft when it put tabs, plug-ins and dozens of other original features in Firefox? Do you find IE a superior experience today?

    Yes, lots of open source work is derivative. So what? Lots more of it is original and inventive. Open and closed are not always at odds. The construction business is filled with open and closed building materials and methods, and they get along just fine, because construction is inherently modular.

    There have been tablets before and they’ve been too hard and strange to use. The iPad will be a breakthrough here, just like the iPhone was. And its appeal will go beyond geeks, just as the iPhone did. A year from now, when you walk down the aisle of an airplane, a third of the rectangles glowing at you will be iPads. They’re handy, pretty, have great battery life, and store well for not too much money. But they won’t do everything. And everything is a bigger market space than what Apple alone can control.

    And don’t dismiss the rest of the world. Most of the world’s smartphones are not made by Apple. Open operating systems are catching up. There are lots of creative apps for Android that do what can’t be done on an iPhone. (Hence Verizon’s “Droid Does” ads.) Symbian-based hardware has some catching up to do; but when it does it will also still have the largest market share.

    My own little project is currently working on iPhone, but can’t wait to do on other platforms what Apple won’t let us do. And that’s not just geeks talking, either.

    What we have here is a new form factor in the world that has lots of potential uses, and lots of ways of creating those uses. Launching that will be one very inventive and pioneering company that can’t and won’t do it all. Nature will take its courses.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Reid, I responded to PXLated before I saw your comment (which was in the mod queue…sorry… first-time thing).

    FWIW, I didn’t say that the horizontal would overcome the vertical. I said its territory is bigger.

    I also don’t think the tablet market will be like the PC market, or like the phone market, though there will be plenty of overlaps. I think the iPad and its competitors will occupy a new niche — one that will have fewer users than phones but more mobile users (and many more mobile uses) than laptops.

    Where do you see laptops outdoors today? At coffee shops, mostly. A tablet you can whip out and use in many more places, with fewer worries about batteries crapping out. I see a huge new greenfield for development here. The early stuff will happen on the iPad. But plenty of interesting stuff will be done on other devices, again for the simple reason that Apple’s is closed and restrictive.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Mike, permission granted. I believe there’s a CC license to that effect around here somewhere in any case. But please don’t present me as an expert on the iPad. I’ve never seen one, and my remarks here are more about the marketplace and its opportunities than about the device.

  8. Frank Paynter’s avatar

    Cory Doctorow speaks clearly about iPad here.

    Cory links to Danny O’Brien whose opinion I also value. Sadly that link is broken right now.

    I remember the IBM guys schlepping tablets into major accounts ten years ago and more. Their pitches were doomed then because the mobile culture didn’t exist and the tablets were hugely more expensive than laptops. They had some of the convenience functionality that the new tablets have (portrait or landscape display and touch screens, for example), but they were clunky and chunky… weighed too much and were hard to hold onto.

    Thanks to Moore’s law all that has changed. I think the tablet is a form factor that trumps the smartFone. Miniaturization can only go so far before it loses its utility. Apple, as usual, is innovating with their tablet and they have a built in market of cool kids with the disposable income to give the iPad a great run. Mark Frauenfelder points to an early entrant in the iPad accessory market. I won’t buy an iPad, but I gotta have one of these DIY tablet lap stands!

    There will always be a market for Apple’s bright and shiny new stuff, and a lot of people will think it’s a pain-in-the-patoot because of its proprietary nature. The open tablets will dominate sales soon, but Apple will continue to make a sweet little retail device. If you can stomach a locked-in relationship with AT&T why not buy Apple?

  9. Rob Goodspeed’s avatar

    Doc, I think you have some great observations here. I also began to think about the iPad as both a data creation and mobile navigation device for my field — urban studies and planning. In addition to getting what we want from supermarkets, mobile devices let us interact with our cities in new ways.

  10. Mark Dulcey’s avatar

    Apple will sell a lot of iPads but ultimately I think the future will be in more open devices. Many people have been willing to accept a locked-down experience in phones (some of us won’t, and aren’t considering an iPhone for that very reason), and the Kindle has been successful despite its lack of openness, but I think there will be less acceptance of it in the larger form factor (not to mention the higher rice tag) where people will expect more usage flexibility.

    It will be interesting to see if Google’s attempt to get Chrome on the iPhone, and by extension the iPad, will succeed, as it violates one of the basic rules of iPhone development — no apps that compete with Apple’s built-in apps. Google is trying to use a PR campaign to get Apple to approve Chrome, but if Apple relents they will also have to allow other apps that compete with their own, and thus make the iPhone a more open platform than it is now.

  11. PXLated’s avatar

    Nice response Doc…

    Ya got me on the email. Not very sexy but very useful and enduring. Somewhat infrastructure , protocolish but I think open source is very good at that. Not sure exactly what you’re referring to by graphical browser.

    I think where we differ is that I’m not convinced that open and horizontal can take out the complexity required for where computing is going for most users now – Consumer Electronics. Not just in Mobile but beyond at some point.

    I may be proven wrong but only time will tell whether open takes the route of Linux on the desktop or it can master the CE space and the consumer market.

  12. Doc Searls’s avatar

    By a graphical browser I mean what all browsers are today. The first was Mosaic. While not free or open software as it is understood today (the open source movement did not officially begin until 1998), it was essentially noncommercial and its source code was available. Before the graphical browser there were text ones. Best-known among those was Lynx. My point is that it was created by an open source process, and is best improved by the same. The leading edge in browsers is now with Firefox and Chrome, not with IE.

    As for your points about consumer electronics, we’ll see. CE at its healthiest has always had a mix of proprietary (Trinitron) and non-proprietary (TV and radio standards and base circuitry) components and company orientations.

    It’s still early. The Web is a sophomore in high school — not even old enough to drink, drive or go to the junior prom.

    And Job is about control, not about keeping everything closed. The Web was developed on NeXT machines. Apple has pushed and improved standards and code bases from floppies to Firewire to Webkit. If the tablet market spreads beyond the iPad, Apple will open up at least a bit.

    The question for now is whether the other big CE houses will zig where Apple zags, and make innovative new complementary products — or copy what can’t be copied without looking boring and derivative, which has been the problem with Linux on the desktop. We’ll see.

  13. Mike Warot’s avatar

    While I value the discussion about open vs closed platforms, the real driver of acceptance here is the app store, which is a big factor in ease of use, like an appliance.

    The iPad and its associated store present to the consumer a way to do general purpose computing in a very friendly way. If you want to do something, there is an app for that.

    Now… let’s deconstruct it a bit and figure out what’s really going on.

    Because we haven’t yet gotten the idea of cabsec (capability based security) into the hands of consumers. General purpose computing requires you trust the applications you run. This makes Windows a minefield every time you want to do something, including just opening a web page these days. (Chrome and SandboxIE help, btw) This is acknowledged by everone because we pay real money for anti-virus applications that someone “protect” our Windows boxes.

    Because even surfing the web on a PC is now dangerous, we tell users to be careful, and the geek culture has bought into the assumption that the users are at fault when their machines inevitably get compromised.

    So…. general purpose computing has been effectively killed for the masses.

    We in the geek community have linux, and apt-get, and near instant access to our favorite applications. Apt-get is the linux version of the app store. This is why we love it. It brings us back to the fun days of computing, when you could freely run code because the malware just wasn’t there.

    So… the iPad represents a new paradigm in general purpose computing to the masses. One where you can find out about new apps from your friends, and run them without too much fear.

    Of course, the security model isn’t really fixed. (No cabsec)
    And you have to pay for each new app. (But it’s only 99 cents, and if you picked a new app every week, still cheaper than paying for antivirus on windows with NO apps)

    We can’t beat this on its merits, because for the person who just wants to do general purpose computing without ever seeing the command line…. it’s a winning proposition. Safe general purpose computing.

    It will stay that way, unless people start getting their iPads wiped out by malware, and Apple isn’t helpful in getting their stuff back.

    The app store is the wave of the future, get used to it.

  14. Lou Josephs’s avatar

    As my s/o is an apple shareholder make her money go buy they thing.
    But the realist in me says no wait til Steve comes out with ver 2 which you know will cost less and have more stuff and be better if the I phone’s history has anything to say for it.

    And the end of an era, Passport to World Band radio is sold out of the last edition (2009) and will close it’s website http://www.passband.com at the end of the month.

    Time to write the book the “golden era of shortwave”..

    Radio Sweden’s going to end sw transmission at the end of October.
    And good old Voice of Russia done to just one transmitter to NA..which sometimes is on most of the time it’s carrying PNR radio from the local republic the site is based in..(remember as Radio Moscow 15-20 freqs)

    Ah the good old days.

  15. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hey, Lou. Good to see you here.

    I think folks should wait until Version 2, Lou. Apple’s stock will do well regardless. And, if you can hold off, wait until more open competitors come along.

    Sorry to hear about Passport to World Band radio, but who’s surprised? Short wave listening remains strong in places where it makes sense. Ask the BBC. Here and Europe, though? Long gone.

    I see the WRTH is still a happening thing, for whatever that’s worth.

  16. Mike Parsons’s avatar

    Thanks for the permission, Doc, CC or not. You’ve been quoted in the article which is more from the consumer/family perspective.

    You’re “not an expert” on the iPad. I’ll be looking for that “longer post”!

    Thanks again.

  17. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Mike (Parsons), where’s the article?

  18. Wilhelm Reuch’s avatar

    Interesting article but it is based on the terms “closed” and “walled garden” which are used liberally without any explanation. I guess they refer to the app-store.

    But what is limiting to Doc Sears and Dave Winer is freedom to users. The app-store means every user has access to software they can buy, download, run and remove without any side-effects. They dont need a techie – they can control their computing experience themselves. Of course this freedom comes with a cost – and that is the freedom the techies used to have to dick around with the system. And the techies position as gate-keepers has of course now been replaced by the app-store.

    From the end-users pov there isnt any difference – in both cases you have gate-keepers but the difference is that the app-store gate-keeping is visible and reasonably clearly defined (with a few notable exceptions).

    What are the alternatives? Google is more like Wal-Mart and crushes any startups that look like they may go anywhere. Microsoft seems totally lost at the moment. Android has forked itself out of Linux into Google and Google treats it like their private toy – no cooperation, Google just makes a source dump public whenever they feel like it.

    Linux and open-source are diminishing, currently losing out. While using SMTP and POP3 as an example may sound good those protocols didnt come out of anything like the open-source movement/industry we see today. And while I *do* think open standards are important – todays web has most of the audio/video locked-in behind a proprietary non-open commerical technology (Flash) that is controlled only by Adobe Inc.

    So maybe we could even say that the web is a “closed walled garden” controlled by Adobe Inc. From the end-users perspective it is. For anyone trying to build a web-renderer it is.

    Symbian/Qt is a very nice garden. But just a nicer implementation of the old. And Nokia has a long uphill battle to get developers to trust their intentions with Qt. Android and Windows 7 says we canot run natively on the processor (at the same speed and effiency as the system software) – we can only run software that runs on top if their limited virtual machines (you could argue that the virtual machines act as gates-keepers and a walled garden).

    I am not saying everyone should give-in to Apple. But this whole closed/walled-garden argument is badly flawed. But you may make it stick for a while – provided most users dont get the taste of freedom by controlling their own computing experience.

  19. Chad Raney’s avatar

    As an ebook reader, the iPad works, but Amazon will continue to lead the pack in ebook sales. As a former Kindle owner, all of my former and future ebooks are readable through the iPad app but also available on my iphone, pc, mac, and/or blackberry. And synced to the last page read…

    As a video/music device, apple has won that battle…

    As a functional tool, the App Store has won that battle…

    As a browser, the iPad’s display is amazing…

    As far as design goes, Apple’s intuitiveness wins again…

    I understand there will be other competitors coming to market but much like the iPhone and iPad, there will be alot of catching up to do….

    I was skeptical with the whole “Magical & Revolutionary” hype but after 48 hours of using the device I am a believer.

  20. Mike Warot’s avatar

    I agree… it’s all about side-effects.

    In the app store, you are promised a side-effect free experience.

    I thought the purpose of developing operating systems was to allow for side-effect free operation of programs?

    I guess we have an epic fail on our hands.

  21. Doc Searls’s avatar

    It’s still early, folks. That was my main point with this piece. (With pretty much everything I write, actually.)

    The iPad will be (probably already is) a hit. So was, and still is, the iPhone.

    But, as I said, there is a limit to how high and wide one can make a closed space. That’s what Apple has with the iPad. The wide open spaces are still there.

  22. Rodrigo Plantagenet’s avatar

    Hmmm. “It’s an accessory to your own intentions.” I have no idea what that means.

    My concern is that (a) it is not pocketable so it is an at home device (at least for men), (b) it has no keyboard, so it is not good for creating anything, including long emails. So I just don’t understand the core use case where instead of pulling my iPhone out of my pocket I wish I had…a bigger iPhone? If I want to see what’s playing at the movies, I have my iPhone. If I want to use OpenTable or Epicurious or whatever I have my iPhone already. Is it worth $500 plus a data subscription for a bigger one?

    Look at at this way — if everyone had an iPad and there was no iPhone and then someone came out with the iPhone, iPhone would be regarded as an “iPad killer” — 98% same functionality but portable and a phone too. So reversing the chronology why does iPad win big? Who is the core customer? And why? That Target example is pretty pie in the sky. I’m afraid I didn’t understand “its uses are not subordinated, by form, to computing or telephony.” Assume all users have a laptop at home and an iPhone in their pocket (almost certainly true for this product). What exactly does the iPad do better?

    I would project adoption of this product to be much, much closer to Apple TV than to iPhone.

  23. John Furrier’s avatar

    great post Doc and even better conversations in the comments. Your point #5 is the key comment. Edge bandwidth driven by rich media demand will put a strain on the wireless networks for rich media – yes video.

    What’s great about Apple and Android (not getting into the specifics of the vertical and horizontal differentiation) is the pressure it puts on service providers to innovate. We need more connectivity at the edge.

    cheers
    John

  24. Kenni Smith’s avatar

    Doc–

    Thanks for your very incisive thinking on this topic. I’m looking forward to the expanded version.

    Are you, or do you plan to be, on twitter?

    Kenni Smith
    Developmental Studies Center
    http://devstu.org

  25. Mike Parsons’s avatar

    Sorry, Doc, thought you’d catch it in the Ping-backs and I didn’t want to seem “spammy”

    The post is here:
    http://michaelparsonsproject.com/family-life/does-the-ipad-change-everything

    Thanks again.

  26. Operation Scar Review’s avatar

    Great Post Doc..
    I think iPad it’s not that good. It has no camera, no multitasking (this is big problem), the deal with AT&T.. and we don’t need one, what do we gonna do with that thing? At first, I thought that iPad would replaces laptop, but surprisingly it didn’t. I really hope that the next iPad replaces laptop.

    Nick

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