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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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In response to Dave‘s Reading tea leaves in advance of Apple’s announcements, I added this comment:

Steve loves to uncork constipated categories with the world’s slickest laxative. So I’m guessing this new box will expand Apple’s retail shelf space to include newspapers, journals and books as well as sound recordings, movies and TV shows. It will be the best showcase “content” ever had, and will be a wholly owned proprietary channel. A year from now, half the people on planes will be watching these things.

It would be cool if it also helped any of us to become movie producers, and to share and mash up our own HD creations. But I think Steve is more interested in hacking Hollywood (entertainment) and New York (publishing).

I’ve thought for years that Apple’s real enemy is Sony. Or vice versa. But Sony got lame, becoming a Hollywood company with an equipment maker on the side. So think instead of the old Sony — the inventive one that owned the high-gloss/high-margin end of the entertainment gear business, the Sony of Walkmen and Trinitrons. That’s the vacuum Apple’s filling. Only, unlike Sony, Apple won’t have 50,000 SKUs to throw like spaghetti at the market’s wall. They’ll have the fewest number of SKUs possible. And will continue to invent or expand whole new categories with each.

And there will be something missing to piss people off too. Maybe it’ll be absent ports (like you said). Maybe it’s no multi-tasking, or skimpy memory, or bad battery life, or an unholy deal with some “partner.”

Whatever it is, the verities persist. Meaning items 1 through 6 from this 1997 document still apply:


At that last link I wrote,

These things I can guarantee about whatever Apple makes from this point forward:

  1. It will be original.
  2. It will be innovative.
  3. It will be exclusive.
  4. It will be expensive.
  5. It’s aesthetics will be impeccable.
  6. The influence of developers, even influential developers like you, will be minimal. The influence of customers and users will be held in even higher contempt.

So now the iPad has been announced, Steve has left the building, and the commentariat is weighing in.

The absence of multi-tasking might be the biggest bummer. (Makes me wonder if mono-tasking is a Jobsian “feature”, kinda like the one-button mouse.) Adam Frucci of Gizmodo lists mono-tasking among eight things that suck” about the iPad, including no cameras, no HDMI out, no Flash, 3×4 (rather than wide) screen and a “Big, Ugly Bezel”. (That last one is off base, methinks. You need the wide bezel so you can hold the device without your hot fingertips doing wrong things with the touchscreen.)

Elswehere at Gizmodo, Joel Johnson says “PCs will be around as expert devices for the long haul, but it’s clear that Apple, coasting on the deserved success of the iPhone, sees simple, closed internet devices as the future of computing. (Or at the very least, portable computing.) And for the average consumer, it could be.”

The Engadgeteers mostly panned it. Unimaginative… underwhelming… one of Apple’s biggest misses.

MG Sigler at Techcrunch says, “The thing is beautiful and fast. Really fast. If you’ll excuse my hyperbole, it felt like I was holding the future. But is it a must-have?” Then answers,

Most people won’t yet, but as long as Apple has its base that will buy and use the iPad, they have plenty of time for either themselves or third-party developers to create the killer uses that make the iPad a must-have product for a broader range of people. We already saw that happen with the App Store and the iPhone/iPod touch. And at $499 (for the low-end version), there will be no shortage of people willing to splurge on the device just to see what all the fuss is about. They’ll get hooked too.

That’s getting close, but it’s not quite there.

First, the base Apple wants is consumers. Literally. We’re talking newspaper and magazine readers, buyers and users of cameras and camcorders, and (especially) TV and movie watchers. To some degree these people produce (mostly home video and photos), but to a greater degree they are still potatoes that metablolize “content”. This thing is priced like a television, with many improvements on the original. Call it Apple’s Trinitron. They are, like I said, after Sony’s abandoned position here, without the burden of a zillion SKUs.

Second, there will be a mountain of apps for this thing, and more than a few killer ones.

What depressed me, though I expected it, was the big pile of what are clearly verticalized Apple apps, which I am sure enjoy privileged positions in the iPad’s app portfolio, no matter how big that gets. It’s full of customer lock-in. I’m a photographer, and the only use for iPhoto I have is getting shots off the iPhone. Apple’s calendar on the iPhone and computer (iCal) is, while useful, still lame. Maybe it’ll be better on the iPad, but I doubt it. And the hugely sphinctered iTunes/Store system also remains irritating, though I understand why Apple does it.

What you have to appreciate, even admire, is how well Apple plays the vertical game. It’s really amazing.

What you also have to appreciate is how much we also need the horizontal one. The iPad needs an open alternative, soon. There should be for the iPad what Google’s Nexus One is for the iPhone.

I got a ride home tonight from Bob Frankston, who was guided by a Nexus One, serving as a better GPS than my dashboard’s Garmin. Earlier in the evening Bob used the Nexus One to do a bunch of other stuff the iPhone doesn’t do as well, if at all. More importantly, he didn’t need to get his apps only from Google’s (or anybody’s) “store”. And if somebody else wants to make a better Android phone than this one, they can. And Google, I’m sure, hopes they do. That’s because Google is playing a horizontal game here, broadening the new market that Apple pioneered with its highly vertical iPhone.

So a big lesson here is that the market’s ecosystem includes both the vertical silos and the horizontal landscapes on which those silos stand, and where all kinds of other things can grow. Joel may be right that “the average consumer” will have no trouble being locked inside Apple’s silo of “simple, closed Internet devices”. But there are plenty of other people who are neither average nor content with that prospect. There are also plenty of developers who prefer independence to dependence, and a free market to a captive one.

Captivity has its charms, and an argument can be made that tech categories are best pioneered by companies like Apple and Sony, which succeed both by inventing new stuff that primes the pump of demand, and by locking both developers and customers inside their silos. But truly free markets are not restricted to choices among silos, no matter how cushy the accomodations may be. Nor are they restricted to the non-choice of just one silo, as is currently the case with the iPad. Free markets are wide open spaces where anybody can make — and buy — anything.

There’s more to fear from heights than widths.

Bonus link: Dave weighs in. This is just a jumbo Oreo cookie.

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