iPad: Will truly upset the Apple-cart…
It’s been a while since I posted a blog here. I’ve been pretty busy with other projects – but that wasn’t the reason. At least two blogs I had in draft form for months were based on the rumors filling the Internet and the business press that Apple was about to launch a Tablet device. Like everyone else, I had lots of information that could end up being either true or false – like the story that Apple had taken delivery of a quantity of 9.7-inch displays, which ended up being true. I decided against publishing, because I felt another dose of speculation added nothing.
Here are a few of my pre-launch speculations, though – copied and pasted from draft blogs:
- “Apple could easily create a really elegant Tablet which looked just like a larger iPhone. With the iPhone, it already has a keyboardless UI which millions of users have found easy and convenient to use.“
- “With a Tablet device, Apple could enter both the NetBook and eBook markets at the same time.”
- “Apple has shown with each of its devices – PC, phone and music player – that there are millions of people who’d happily pay a premium price for a great user experience.”
- “If Apple can get reasonable battery life from an iPhone-like Tablet, it’s going to make the Amazon Kindle screen unacceptable.“
Well, as the whole world now knows, Apple did indeed launch a Tablet. It does look like a giant iPhone – even runs the iPhone operating system. It’s set its sights on the growing eBook market. And it has succeeded in getting a reported 10-hour battery life from a color screen which also supports video.
Apple’s PR department must still have sore hands since the launch, from high-fiving each other. When was the last time the launch of a new computer made the front page of all the major newspapers – with a huge color photograph? (Answer: Never!)
I predict it will be a huge success. It will cause the same kind of mayhem among TabletPC and eBook manufacturers that the iPod and iPhone did in their respective market categories.
It’s a great-looking device. It’s sleek and elegant – exactly what you’d expect from Apple. But that isn’t why it will dominate the Tablet category. It’s because Apple understands that computers have made a transition from “computing devices” to “consumer devices”. Apple has built its huge success in recent years by becoming a company which creates great end-to-end consumer experiences.
The arrival of the iPad is bad news for the Kindle. Even though I’ve owned Kindles since the first one shipped, I’ve always described it as a “transitional device”. It was simply the first device with a screen good enough to enable reading text for long periods, with long battery life – and an acceptable book-buying experience built in.
The trouble with the Kindle is that for all its vaunted modernity, it’s really a backward-looking device. So is the eInk technology at its heart. Both are aimed at creating an experience close to paper. But that’s not the Future of Reading. The future will be created by first equalling, then going beyond, paper. It is books with full color, books with video, books which update through the Web. Kindle was good enough to jump-start the digital book market. But it’s not good enough to keep it. eInk was acceptable only until the appearance of a color screen with acceptable battery life. And the iPad’s 10 hours is more than enough to knock it off its pedestal…
iPad is also bad news for Microsoft, which has been pushing TabletPCs for years. It pioneered the genre, and my good friend Bert Keely has been at the heart of its efforts.
The trouble is trying to innovate at Microsoft, which is a company of geeks, run by geeks, and dominated by Windows.
When TabletPC began at Microsoft, it was a research effort – outside of the regular Windows organization. Once it was re-organized into Windows, that was the kiss of death. I never really thought much about this while I worked there, but it’s my belief that despite all the lip-service paid to end-users, the only Windows customers with any real power are the Windows Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).
They’re the customers Windows really has to care about – because most people get their OS upgrades when they change machines. And the Windows OEMs never seemed to get what TabletPCs should really be about. Most of them shipped machines which were basically conventional laptop PCs with Tablet functionality implemented like an add-on. They all had keyboards, and converted to tablets by swiveling a standard screen.
There were some true keyboard-free tablets in the early days – NEC shipped two models (version 2 shipped in Japan only, though!) They died the death by being ahead of their time, and suffered from poor battery life. So we ended up with TabletPCs like Toshiba’s M7, for instance, which were neither one thing nor the other, and wound up being terrible at both. I ran one for more than a year – using it as a conventional laptop because as a Tablet it was just too big, too heavy, too awkward and ran far too hot to be used more than occasionally. Even as a laptop, it suffered from the unreliability all-too-likely in any device whose hardware and software are designed by different companies.
My M7 was replaced by a MacBook Pro, which turned out to be the best Windows laptop I ever had (until I left Microsoft and bought a 133ppi MacBookPro to replace it…) As a result of that experience, my wife Tanya replaced her Windows laptop with an iMac desktop with a large screen and an internal 1Terabyte hard drive. It’s wonderful.
I run Mac OSX when I’m doing page layout or working on high-resolution scans using Adobe InDesign, PhotoShop and Lightroom. But I spend most of my time in Windows. So I run Vista using BootCamp. This MacBookPro is the most trouble-free Windows machine I’ve ever had. I could never get a Windows laptop to Sleep and Wake instantly. Even if it would sleep when brand-new, inevitably the Sleep capability would fail within a few weeks, and I’d be forced to use Hibernate instead. My MacBook Pro still Sleeps and Wakes reliably, months later.
Vista is a great OS – provided you are running it on a fast and powerful machine. I know it’s the fashion to dump on it – even inside Microsoft. Hey, it’s the old story – blame all of your mistakes on the guy who just left. There’s no question that it took waaay too long to build, and that when it first shipped it lacked so many drivers that most people had problems getting their existing equipment to run. I knew plenty of people who had problems running it on Macs using BootCamp back then. But once Apple had released all the drivers the problems went away. I like Vista, and so far I’ve seen no compelling reason to upgrade to Windows 7.
After a few months, I still find text on MacOSX too blurry for my taste, even on this 133ppi display. ClearType was one of the things we did get right at Microsoft – even if it took ten years to get it into the hands of most customers.
I’m not revealing any confidential information here. Anyone who saw Bill Gates’ keynote speech at Comdex in 1998 saw me on stage demonstrating ClearType. And they heard Bill say – in pretty emphatic terms – that it would ship in Windows.
Well, it shipped in Windows XP, right enough. But the Windows team buried it so deeply that most users never even found out it was there, or how to turn it on. It wasn’t until Vista that it was turned on by default for all users. And that shipped in 2008. Ten years after we first showed it before we truly got it into the hands of our customers!
Apple implemented its own version. However, they turned it on for everyone the instant they shipped it. It’s a pity they took a more simplistic approach, and that’s the only question-mark I still have against the iPad.
At Microsoft, we invented ClearType specifically to solve the problems of creating highly-readable text at normal reading sizes (between 9 and 13 point). There’s a lot more technology going on than simply utilizing the RGB sub-pixels on LCD displays. Apple’s clone creates text whose characters look more like the original print fonts at those sizes than ClearType does – but the price they pay is a lack of sharpness and clarity, and text that’s slightly blurred at the edges. That means I still prefer to do all my reading on Windows, with “genuine” ClearType – even on this great 133ppi display.
My only misgiving about the iPad is that its screen is 122ppi. If Apple implements its current ClearType clone on it, we might end up with text that’s slightly blurry, and could cause problems reading for sustained periods. That’s only speculation, though. I can’t say for sure until I’ve held one in my hands and tried to read on it for several hours.
When the merits of different operating systems are discussed, people – especially at Microsoft – have always trotted out a standard argument: “It’s much easier for Apple, they have control over both the hardware and the operating system, they don’t have the same number of different processors/screens/mice/devices to support”.
That argument was logical enough when comparing Macintoshes running MacOS with Windows PCs. But my BootCamp experiences led me to ask the question – publicly, in this blog: “How can Apple make a better Windows machine than any Windows PC maker?” (That turned out not to be such a good career move for me at Microsoft. Take my tip – never tell the Emperor he’s butt-naked, unless you’re sure he’s big enough to see it as an opportunity to buy new clothes).
If you install Vista on a Mac using BootCamp, and run the Windows Experience Index diagnostics which rate its capabilities, you end up with better scores than the vast majority of Windows machines. This machine rates a WEI of 5.3 – and I’ve never seen a score higher than that.
Apple’s had its failures in the handheld device area before, of course – anyone say Newton? But in my opinion they’re a long way past that, and haven’t put a foot wrong in years.
Newton’s “Achilles’ Heel” was that reliable Handwriting Recognition was critical to its functionality, and we all know what a Doonesbury Disaster that turned out to be! iPhone was built without that dependency, and thus dodges the “Doonesbury Bullet”.
Even in these tough economic times, Apple has proved there are plenty of people who’ll pay a premium for a great device. It has been creating winners for years now. There were plenty of cheaper MP3 music players available long before Apple’s iPod appeared. Yet the iPod owns the market – even though it was both later to market, and more expensive. Checking out eBay recently, there were only 3 used iPods for sale (and over 1000 Zunes…)
iPod, therefore I am…
There are plenty of mobile phones around. But Apple’s much more expensive iPhones (both the phone and the service) have been flying off the shelves. I’ve had a Windows Mobile phone for years. But compared to the iPhone it’s a complex, fussy, unfriendly brick. I had been meaning to get rid of it for a long time, but I don’t use a mobile phone that much, and I still read books on it using Microsoft Reader, so I’ve been hesitant about making the switch.
However, last week I dropped my Windows Mobile phone in the water. It was DOA when brought back to the surface. So now I need a new phone. No way am I buying a Windows Mobile replacement. I really grew to hate that phone. I’ve checked out the new Google phones, and I don’t like them much either. No, I want a great customer experience – so I’ll go with Apple.
iPhone: Now I have an excuse to buy one…
I’m not an Apple Fanboy. But you have to give credit where it’s due. From being browbeaten into a mere 2-3% PC market share several years ago, Apple has parlayed its expertise in “consumer computing” into astounding success. I expect the iPad to continue that success.