The iPad Experiment

The iPad experiment is going to be an enlightening one. Not only is this device a new breed of portals to the Internet ecosystem, but it is in the hands of a company that is anticipating the creativity of the humans who interact with their tools. In the Time article on today’s launch and the futility – yet irresistible fun – in making predictions when it comes to Apple products, the author writes:

Nobody — not even Jobs, by his own admission — is sure what consumers will use the iPad for, but I’m guessing it will be the first true home computer. Conventional PCs live in studies; laptops make brief, furtive forays into the living room. The iPad will become the first whole-house computer, shared among an entire family, passed from hand to hand, roaming freely from living room to kitchen to bedroom to — look, it’s going to happen — bathroom, at ease everywhere, tethered to nothing. It’s not a revolution, but it’s a real change, the kind of change you notice.

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This goes back to what I wrote several months ago about the Apps revolution, the nature of which I think has driven Apple to take a wait-and-see stance when it comes to the iPad.
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But technology doesn’t change society, people change society… Apple tapped into that user-driven model of innovation with the iPhone and App Store, in which companies and individuals can write their own app software and make it available to the public at the price they determine. The impressive results, which apparently surprised even Apple, have been well documented and analysts project the success will continue to accelerate.
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The Time writer qualifies the hype surrounding the iPad with a caution not to jump to conclusions when even Apple is waiting for the spark of man and machine to tell whether the new device will do truly great things.
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But to say the iPad is revolutionary isn’t quite right. There’s nothing like it out there, so there’s no regime to change. One of the things that makes Apple unique is that it never holds focus groups. It doesn’t ask people what they want; it tells them what they’re going to want next. Where Microsoft likes to enter established markets and take them over by brute force, Apple works by creating new niches and dominating them from the get-go.
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Concluding that Apple is telling people what they want next isn’t quite right either. It is indeed curious that the company doesn’t hold focus groups, but the designers are clearly taking temperatures and checking pulses somehow. They’ve been too wildly successful too many times. They’re on to something, and the trail seems to be leading towards giving people the power to be creative. All too often, companies will interpret the word ‘creative’ to mean users want to customize or personalize their devices, but that’s not creating anything. The experience that will have families passing a piece of technology from hand to hand is their being able to create their world going forward. There is no other way to discover how we’ll do this than to experiment and find out.
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