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:
- Computers that fit in your pocket
- Computers that are held
- Portable computers designed for desk work
- 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.