Where does the iPad fit?

February 1st, 2010 127 comments

A lot of people are talking about the “revolutionary new iPad” but even more people are talking about where this device fits in the world — why is it so revolutionary?  Is the iPad attacking the netbook market or the eBook market?  Where does this new device fit?

In my mind there are 4 major computer markets:

  1. Computers that fit in your pocket
  2. Computers that are held
  3. Portable computers designed for desk work
  4. Non-portable computers designed for desk work

The first category contains your iPhones, iPod Touches, Nexus One, Palm Pre, etc.  Apple innovated this category by introducing a platform, something that allowed applications — something that took advantage of third-party developers.

Skipping category 2 (because that is where I believe our iPad lives), we’ll go to category 3.  This is where we find laptops and netbooks.  Yes, I believe both of these belong in the same category because I believe the netbook is a sustaining innovation in the laptop market.  Both are designed to give you portability and both are designed for desk oriented workflows (physical keyboard, etc).  The Macbook Air is a response to the netbook in this category — the only metric it missed was cost.

Category 4 is where we find our desktop computers.  Traditional desktop computers have a separate tower and monitor.  The iMac is another example of sustaining innovation in this market.  By combining the tower and monitor into one device you are able to accomplish the same task more efficiently and effectively. In both devices, the target market does not change.

So what devices are in category 2 and why does the iPad innovate this category?  Right now, category 2 includes the Kindle, the Nook, and now the iPad.  Before the iPad, this category — computers designed to be held — was limited to manufacturer designed functionality.  These devices were not platforms.  The iPad, in addition to bringing touch and color capabilities, challenged this market by creating a platform.

Likely in anticipation of this “platform” innovation, a few weeks ago Amazon announced a public beta for an Amazon Kindle SDK.  This will give third-party developers a chance to build on the Kindle, improving the Kindle’s effectiveness in this changing market.

What does this mean?

So is the iPad a crippled netbook with a touch screen, or is it just an oversized iPod Touch? Is the iPad a revolutionary device?  I don’t think it is fair to compare the iPad to the iPhone/Nexus One market, and I don’t think it is fair to compare it to the netbook/laptop market.  In its market, I believe the iPad has changed the rules.  Compared to the Kindle and Nook, the iPad has emphasized the need for a platform in this market.

That being said, as a product the iPad has left us wanting more.  Now that we have a handheld “platform” we expect things like multitasking and external peripherals.  Because the iPad has changed the rules, our expectations of these devices have now changed.

The iPad is not the perfect product, but it is the foundation of disruptive innovation in the handheld computer market.

Categories: Project Rethink Tags: 127 comments

Your Dilemma

January 19th, 2010 88 comments

Every couple of years I try to make a point to read “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton M. Christensen.  Having just received a Kindle for Christmas, I thought what better way to break in an eBook device than with a book highlighting the problems with mismanagement of disruptive technology.  As someone who works in publishing, I can tell you eBooks are disruptive technologies.

I love my Kindle.  As a Boston commuter, it really is a remarkable device — but that is another post for another time.  One of the reasons I frequent Christensen’s “The Innovators Dilemma” is to be reminded that:

“Good management is often the cause of failure when managing disruptive technologies” Clayton Christensen, The Innovators Dilemma

The central thesis of the book outlines the idea that the decisions and behaviors of management for sustaining technologies — technologies that are simply advancements within the same value network — are often the reasons for failure in emerging markets.

Take the eBook for example, but specifically the textbook market.  Presently, the ease of use, convenience, and cost of these technologies do not meet customer standards.  Additionally, the profit margins for producing these eBooks do not meet management standards.  So, “Good Management” would say,

  1. EBooks don’t make enough money to be profitable
  2. Our customers don’t think eBooks are better than traditional books

These two conditions would lead traditional management to ignore eBook technologies. However, Christensen’s book suggests management should look outside of the traditional market for textbooks (educational institutions, learning centers, etc) and explore the need in emerging markets.  Historically, this is best achieved when a smaller company is branched off or acquired to handle the emerging market.  This prevents competition from resources with traditional product models with larger profits.  It also keeps managers and developers of these new products excited with small gains.  A $20 million market can hardly compete with a larger business’ $40 billion market.

The problem with emerging markets is that they are hard to find — they are emerging.  A company should not invest all of its resources into what they “think” the next emerging market is for a disruptive technology.  The initial goals surrounding the entrance into emerging markets should be to learn, not to succeed.  If you enter a market with the preconceived idea that you know what it should be, you will likely fail.  Emerging markets evolve as disruptive technologies mature.

So what are the emerging markets for eBooks?  I’m not entirely sure, but I can tell you that eBook technologies for textbooks are a hot ticket in new startups focusing on open access technology and “free” learning.  These startups are still developing, and their quality of education still falls behind that of traditional institutions.  However, as technology progresses, these open access environments could either become absorbed by traditional institutions (to help facilitate distance education) or become a direct competitor of these traditional institutions.  In either case, unless publishers continue to explore these technologies, they could eventually be replaced as the “primary” source for text and education.

Categories: Innovation Tags: 88 comments

The Circle of Google and User Experience

December 14th, 2009 127 comments

Google has evolved beyond a single web application. Google has capitalized on establishing a consistent user experience across the web. One of the key factors to Google’s success, besides their dedication to innovative solutions, is found in their application workflows.  Recently I clicked through the links in the top left corner of every major Google web app and was surprised to find “The Circle of Google”.

I don’t know if Google planned their application workflow this way, but the apps are cyclical. This circle is broken into two primary groups: Search and GTD. These two groups are the focus of the “Google Experience”.

The Circle of Google

The Circle of Google
[Getting Things Done]

This is a key element of design that is often missed; design a user experience.

Apple learned this early on with the first iPod. They created a user experience which they then applied to iLife, and finally to their entire OS X workflow. Apple realized that they could not focus on an individual application or a piece of hardware. It became increasingly important to address the user experience and how the applications work together.

Too much emphasis is placed on individual aspects of a program, not enough time is spent on the transitions between them. To often we forget that:

User experience design is just as important as user interface design.

These services are cleverly designed to work with each other, giving the user [you] a unified experience. Lets look at the “Circle of Google”:

The Circle of Google

Taking this diagram one step further, I think there is something we can learn from how the “Google Experience” is structured. Consider this second diagram illustrating how the circle is cross connected.

The Circle of Google Connections

Google Web Search and Gmail are the primary entry points for “The Circle of Google”. They are the bridge applications between Search and GTD.


First, the things Google did well. You’ll notice that Google Web Search is strongly connected to the other search applications. Google Web Search is smart enough to return results from web sites, images, maps, news, or shopping–depending on your search criteria. This is a great lesson in usability, and one of the primary reasons why these applications are used. Google does the work for you. Google doesn’t make you retype your query or prompt you to “Click Here to check for shopping results”. If you search for “sony tv” in Google Web Search it will return both web sites and shopping results. To the users, these apps feel as one; they contribute to the “Google Experience”.


Now the things Google did not do well, or rather the areas in which Google can improve. Gmail is a great web app, I use it every day, but its integration with the other GTD apps is not as strong as Google Web Search. For example, if someone emails me an event, Gmail is smart enough to give me links to put that event in my Calendar. The same thing is true for Google Docs. If someone emails me an attachment I can choose to download it or open it in Google Docs. However, there is not a connection to PicasaWeb (Google Photos) or Google Reader.

To improve this workflow Google should do two things. First, if someone emails me a photo Gmail should give me the option to open it in PicasaWeb. Second, If someone sends me an email with a link, and that web page contains an RSS feed, Gmail should show me a preview of that feed and “Add to Google Reader” buttons.

They are simple workflow changes, but these changes would solidify Gmail as an entry point to the GTD side of Google.

So you should ask yourself,

  • Are you giving your users an experience?
  • Is it the experience you intended?
  • Are your users going to talk about the experience?

I often hear the question asked, “How can I make my product go viral?”

The answer is frustrating but simple.  Social media works because people talk; it’s social.  If you want your product to work in a social marketing environment your product must be remarkable.  By remarkable I don’t mean the buzzword; I mean your product must be “worthy of being remarked or noticed”.

If your product is good, people will talk about it. Make it good by providing a user experience worthy of talking about.

Piece-of-Junk Innovation

December 3rd, 2009 124 comments

The trick with innovation is coming up with something “new”. We have a tendency to iterate what we know; iteration is not innovation.

There are a few companies who do this very well; Apple and Google typically come to mind. But I think there is an overlooked simplicity to the success of new products from these companies. Some people call it the “wow factor”, but it is a little more than that. These companies have a reputation of creating NEW categories of business.

When asked why, in these economic times, Apple has continued to focus on the “premium” computer market instead of creating the infamous netbook, they responded:

For us it’s about doing great products. When I’m looking at what’s sold in the Netbook market, I see cramped keyboards, junky hardware, very small screen, bad software. Not a consumer experience that we would put the Mac brand on. As it exists today, we’re not interested in nor would it be something customers would be interested in the long term. We are looking at the space. For those who want a small computer that does browsing/email, they might want an iPhone or iPod Touch. If we find a way to deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, we’ll do that. We have some interesting ideas.

So what does that mean?

Apple could easily iterate their product models to fit the market of netbooks. They could simply strip down their low-end laptops to make them cheaper and competitive in this market while still maintaining their profit margins. But they refuse to, as Steve Jobs said in a special appearance on an earnings report call back in October:

“We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.”

When Apple does enter the netbook market, you can bet they will redefine it. Instead of rushing into the market, Apple is spending a great deal of time and money researching a way to do the market right; figuring out how to avoid a piece of junk.

If history is any indication (iPod, iTunes, iPhone, App Store, etc) this investment of time and money in the beginning will greatly pay off the in the long run.

The Take-Away

There is a simple litmus-test you can use on new products and processes. I don’t mean to oversimplify the matter, but if you, your engineers, your competitors, or your customers utter these phrases during your product release chances are you are not “iterating” an old process:

  1. How did they do that?
  2. Why didn’t I think of that?

As innovators, we are in the business of “shock-and-awe”. We must never take for granted the consumer experience or return customers. Every product should be as amazing and inspiring as its predecessor.


Categories: Project Rethink Tags: 124 comments

Surround Yourself With Good People

November 21st, 2009 87 comments

Groups have interesting dynamics. I don’t claim to be an expert on the psyche of a group but I can tell you one thing; good people bring good results.

Surround yourself with good people. It’s humbling, but try to avoid situations where you feel that you’re the smartest person in the room because if you do chances are you’re either,

  • A) Full of yourself and your ego needs a check, or
  • B) You really are the smartest person in the room and it’s time to move on

Good people are humbling. When you surround yourself with good people you are making a conscious effort to be open-minded. This mindset is key to inspiration and motivation.

Categories: Project Rethink Tags: 87 comments