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Friday, 29 January 2010 15:37

iPad: a solution looking for a problem

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Like just about every other paradigm-breaking Apple product, the iPad appears to define a solution and then hopefully find a problem that fits.

Apple has had a long history of being innovative.  We go right back to the early 1980s when the original boxy little Macintosh was first released (and before it, the largely unsuccessful Lisa).

The little guy didn't do a lot, but it brought the concept of a graphical user interface (GUI) to the attention of the general public for the very first time.  People loved it; few found a show-stopping use for it.  Most became pretty word processing machines; particularly being portrayed as such in a variety of movies.

After some gradual product evolution and a very messy divorce in 1985, Steve Jobs came back to a near-dead Apple in 1997. 

The first clear fruit of Jobs' return was the iMac - the bubble-gum coloured transparent machines that sold 800,000 units in 20 weeks, yielding Apple an average profit of $385 per machine. 

To some extent, the coolness outweighed the usability, which is why large numbers ended up in schools and other low-impact usage environments.

Suddenly Apple took a huge left-turn and in 2001 the iPod was born.  Initially intended as an adjunct to Apple's range of computers, the iPod could only communicate with one of those to transfer songs.  A solution looking for a problem.

They found the problem when iTunes was ported to the Windows platform.  Suddenly the plan to build and extend a proprietary Apple computer-based media centre exploded into the real world.  People wanted the iPod just for itself.  This was the cool device that we ALL wanted to own; Apple was now completely mainstream. 

By 2009, the iPod held over 70% of the digital music player market.


The iPhone in 2007 trod some very similar territory to the iPod.  The potential consumers were a little confused at first.

As Steve Jobs said in announcing the iPhone, 'In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn't just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn't just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.

'Well, today, we're introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And, the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device'¦ These are not three separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it 'iPhone.' Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.'

That may-well be true, but without the AppStore, the runaway success of which took even Jobs by surprise, the iPhone was yet another solution looking for a problem.  And what a problem they managed to discover!

So, here we are with the iPad.  In many respects, it's simply a large-screen beefed-up iPod Touch, with the ability to make GSM data connections and to manage eBook-style information presentations.  A great solution, but yet again, we're all gathered together staring down the tunnel seeking the light of a real problem.

 

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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