Yes, The iPad is Revolutionary


Expect Shock n Awe

The Valley Wag is all a stir lately over Apple’s claim that the iPad is revolutionary and magical. This is has been only the latest skirmish of a battle that has been going on ever since Steve Jobs announced and introduced the iPad in January.  Immediately after the announcement, technologists and financial analysts began to pan and attack. The attacks continue to this day.

After having the iPad for little over month and experiencing it first hand, I have gone back to the reviews and pontificating concerning the iPad to see if they were right and provided any insight.  My conclusion is that most were not. The summary of what I found is the title above. Though most provided very little insight, some had profound and thoughtful contributions with startling implications beyond the gadget that is the iPad.  The supporting evidence with some surprising twists, I provide below the fold.

You may have heard of the brouhaha that kicked up when Ryan Tate of the Valley Wag, the gossip blog for Silicon Valley, decided to share his thoughts about the iPad in an email to the CEO of Apple – Steve Jobs. The gist of the email was that Ryan didn’t think the iPad was all that revolutionary or that magical. Steve happens to keep his iPad handy and a few hours latter responds back. Well, words were traded, and soon other valley technocrati arose to come to Ryan’s defense. Robert X Cringely of InfoWorld gives the blow-by-blow and summation for the valley geeks in Sorry Steve, the iPad is not ‘Revolutionary’ with the tag line:

The uber CEO is at it again, engaging in flame email wars with bloggers over the iPad, Flash, and Apple’s quest for total control.

The real story here is not that Apple is seeking total control but that they are practically in total control. How did that happen? Fifteen years ago when Steve Jobs took over Apple again, there was doubt that it would even survive. Now this week Apple has passed Microsoft in market cap and has eclipse the valley darling, Google, by almost double. So how did they get to where they are now?

First Impression – Work In Progress with Glimpses of Nirvana

Here are some of my initial impressions on having an iPad in my hands almost continuously for a month. Yes it is addictive — I must be autistic cause I cannot put it down. My wife claims to be an iWidow and has me on a curfew. I have spent too long in California. I have lost my mid western pragmatism or otherwise my critique would be similar to my tweet buddy from Ann Arbor – Farris Khan at BobbleHeadGuru – practical and well considered.

My practical assessment is that the iPad is like relocating a business to a new location. It has a really great game room and theater but not everything is up yet for returning to business. However the developers are working feverishly to get systems up and each day new capabilities are brought online so there is excitement that this is going to be much better than the cramped space where we were before.

I suppose you have to be through a couple of startups to really appreciate that feeling but it captures my experience with one month using the iPad 3G. I waited for the 3G version because I felt I needed the potential to roam free (as long as I pay the access fees of course). Like Farris I am trying to work out my budget (currently I am at 1 gig per month) and get habits integrated with the reality of budgets.

But this does not capture my obsession nor my amazement.

Technologist Going Berserk

Besides being addictive (and distracting, sorry Mr. President) it is also a wonderful puzzle and look into the future. I have been here before when I had an ugly Trash-80 and later an Apple II and had to continually answer “What can you do with that?” When I un-boxed my first Mac on a camping trip and all I could do was move icons around and scribble pictures with a mouse. My camping buddies asked “Why did you bring that?”.

Again I am asked “What can you do with it?” when I have my iPad in public. However the question has a more earnest tone with an unsettling feeling that everything has changed – just can’t figure out what exactly or how its going to change.

I am told that the natives could not “see” Columbus’ ships – only the row boats that brought the sailors to shore. A similar effect is happening now. The techies, the nerds I hang out with and consider myself to be one, can’t see the iPad but instead see an over-sized iPhone; less than an iPhone, a big iTouch, netbook without a keyboard and wrong operating system; a crippled laptop; media device that can’t take pictures or show HD or Flash, or it just plain sucks. One predicted no more than a couple of million units the first year.

This venom is puzzling and actually obnoxious until I came across this article by Fraser Spiers that shows that this has all the symptoms of Future Shock. Shock concerning the future! Withdraw from the future by those who should be the vanguard of that future! This alone, the fact that it has blindsided the vanguards of our technological culture should be sufficient proof that the iPad is truly revolutionary if not magical.

But it goes beyond bringing confusion to the intelligentsia of technology, the first task of any revolution. Right? There are a couple of voices in the wilderness that seem to comprehend and capture the moment we are experiencing and from working with the iPad I would concur. Basically their message is: change or be left behind. Actually the word used by one commenter was: change or collapse.

It’s the Experience, Stupid!

Can you believe that some have argued that Ugly is Beauty? It is actually a well establish innovative design principle. Revolutionary advances require technology that is ugly! Primarily this is because the metaphors for the new technology have not been established and rely on a meshing of old forms. Like a pendulum on a digital clock. Or initial cars looking like horse carriages without horses. Look at Sputnik, Soyuz, heck look at the first micro-computers, all ugly but all true game changers.

Revolutionary innovations, especially disruptive and radical ones, are by necessity ugly, because of the heavy constraints placed by the primitive first-generation engineering on the user experience. Apple doesn’t do ugly, which is why they don’t venture into the radical half.

— Venkatesh Rao, Why Apple’s design approach may not work with the iPad

I suppose we need to wait for the cheap ugly versions from Dell to truly have a revolution. So given Apple’s success with the iPod (incremental disruptive) and the iPhone (incremental sustaining) as categorized by their looks, why will the iPad fail?

In innovation theory, [Apple’s typical strategy is] called the fast-follower strategy. But it may not work for Apple this time, because there is nobody to follow. Nobody has gotten tablets – a radical-disruptive problem – even roughly right yet.

— Venkatesh Rao

This may have been true in some cases in the past. However in this case the revolution is about beauty. Actually it’s about experience and removing the technology from the experience so that the task at hand – reading, taking notes, drawing, connecting with friends and sharing stuff – is brought to the front. It takes a lot of computation and organizing to do this.

One of my delightful experiences was working with Idea Sketch (free) which at first I thought was an under featured mind map app. It even spent some time in my penalty screen of bad mistakes waiting to be deleted. My surprise after working through this first impression was that I quickly – without thinking much how to do things (after all I did not have many choices) – was laying out concepts and relations, moving boxes with lines attached around, forming connoddle diagrams until I captured the idea I was working on.

I did this without all the grappling I do with Omnigraffle ($49.95 on iPad), or the limitations placed by the methodology of “pure” mind map applications ($7 to $12). I had just the freedom and features I needed to layout the concepts the way I wanted. Then surprise surprise! I click a button (one hidden up in a corner) and the diagram flips to reveal the outline for the diagram with all my notes nicely organized. Something that is a future in the other “more complete” apps! The developer for Idea Sketch has taken considerable thought and planning to provide just the right features for working with the iPad.

So where are the ugly radical disruptive tablets that Apple is following. Well Microsoft did announce a variety of tablets that run Windows just before Apple – does that count as ugly. Does the Newton count? Most likely the ugly versions that attempted to mesh together available technologies were prototypes that Jobs refused to release until the “metaphor” had advanced first applied to the iPhone then the iPad.

It’s not that tablets are a foreign idea, but that the reason for tablets on a massive scale cannot be understood. They should be a big deal but until they get in peoples hands, its hard to tell what can happen. In the end, it’s not the hardware, but the experience that is unknown and unproven.

Usability Ain’t Everything

Jacob Nielsen has decried that the gesture interface violates all of the rules for good UI design and has published usability results that have the iPad failing. But more likely all of these guidelines will have to be thrown out and new ones considered. As pointed out by Fred Beecher, Useability Ain’t Everything. The UI guidelines have to take into consideration the concept of experience and how one meets new situations with experimentation. Not everything in the real world comes with pop up windows giving instructions or hides all options leaving but one OK button to press. We seem to have survived thousands of years without these assists, the iPad interface now permits exploration similar to the real world.

This not to say everything is perfect. Much is still being worked out. The gestures are not without ambiguity – am I trying to move a cursor or select a word? – or lack of consistency – when do I swipe and when do I tap? Sometimes I have become all Obi Won trying to find the right touch to accomplish a task. I am sure that I will either adapt or become an accomplished Jeti Master.

As this works itself out with better enforcement and expansion of gestures across applications, the power of swiping, tapping and pinching is much more natural than shoving a mouse around. It takes considerable technology and excellent support to allow exploration. Imagine thumping keys and clicking anywhere on a screen in the old days. Most likely you crashed the computer or worst wiped out all the work you did.

As far as the keyboard, one does have to adapt since the fingers cannot rest on the keyboard but hover above. This means keeping the fingers and keyboard in the periphery of the eye at all times while “speed” typing. It can be learned. If Data can do it and even Ferengi can enter commands on glass, then we should be able to do it. Otherwise our future is doomed if we are always tied to physical keys.

I imagine that in the future there will be better layouts for entering text and formulas. Smule’s Magic Piano is an example of an app experimenting with input layouts for music. The traditional piano keyboard is even more difficult to use (not as difficult as attempting to play music with qwerty keyboards) but difficult to get accuracy and musicality in playing music. Yet with the app, hundreds in the US and shortly in the world will be practicing their piano playing with different forms. This I know because I can within the app go hear people play all around the world and even join in duets with them. This brings me to the cloud.

Cloud Surfing

The iPad does not initiate a paradigm change, but is a device that perpetuates the latest paradigm shift – cloud surfing. Essentially Marc Benioff – CEO of Saleforce.com – got this one right in Hello, iPad, Hello, Cloud 2. The cloud represents the internet where all the resources are distributed and functions are performed somewhere in this cloud. In Cloud 1 – we used Google and Yahoo! to search and seek information on our computers and laptops using keyboards and mouse. In Cloud 2 – its Facebook and Twitter where we give information and collaborate using mobile phones.

With the iPad we can now move through this cloud with gestures and input devices that adapt to the task at hand. With a device that can morph and mutate to the contingencies of the cloud, the number of services and work that can be done in that cloud is set free and able to expand.

How is cloud surfing different from web surfing. With the web we went from static content to static content linked by hyperlinks in the text. The enjoining of all these links forms a web. With the cloud we have services that the apps can access and move computation off the device and link to services and resources instead of just content. The resources to perform these tasks expands and moves according to the contingencies and demand of the effort. Hence the resources – computers, operating systems, cables, hubs, etc. – disappear into the background as if in a cloud.

So I can tweet and face, of course, but also Digg and del.icio.us as well as ToodleDo and doodle too. I can play piano duets across the world while have photos auto tagged by Evernote. I can dictate text and recognize songs played on air. All this from the cloud and not my computer. This is just the play stuff, imagine what else could be enabled.

Personally this all starts to make sense, I have now activated and keep active on Tweeter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and my blog. I become irritated when an app does not allow me to share. So expect sharing to the max and not just social networks.

More and more the apps are beginning to work together. For example, I love Papers as my PDF organizer and reader with ability to sync with my lap top and iPhone and retrieve papers from the cloud. However on the iPad, iAnnotate has a great UI for notating and marking up PDF papers and actually modifying the document to include these markups. Now recently the two apps work together along with Good Reader – a more general document reader – to move documents among the apps.

This is something that will expand for any form of documents on the iPad. After all do I really need to have a “file system”? It is better to have an operating system that knows how to move documents among applications including into the cloud. So expect mash-ups of services in ways not imagined now.

Convergence with a Vengeance

Now it does not take a technology guru to connect the dots and see the trend line of Apple over the last ten years. It started with iLife with iPhotos, iMovies, iWeb and iTunes that turned PC’s from drudgery devices for work to fun machines at home. At the time I thought iTunes was just a web site, but Apple had figured out how to sell music on the internet when most could pirate it for free. So instead of a web site, iTunes becomes the basis of a new economy! I suppose that was the start of the revolution.

It has changed how music is sold and artist are compensated and with the iPod how movies and TV programs are valued and marketed. The record and movie industries have been hollowing ever since. When long-established business models such as music, film, TV, newspapers, and telephones converge with Internet, where everything is expected to be free and open, something has got to give. For there to be an economy there clearly has to be an exchange of something of value between parties, but not the types of exchanges that the old business models allowed.

No where is this more true than what Apple did to the telecomm industry. Before the iPhone, the Blackberry was able to get global email, but telecomms built gilded gardens with walls that kept phones off the Internet with broken browsers, slow connections, and company stores where nothing was free and everything had a price. Remember $4 for a 20 second ring tone snippet? As a result nothing worked with anything and any pictures you wanted to share cost 5 cents a pop for a message, little lone $1000 text message bills when Yahoo and AOL provided messaging for free. This all changed with the iPhone.

Though manufactures can attempt to duplicate the features of the iPhone, they appear to be clueless as to why these features are important and where things go from here. Oh you want a keyboard – we will put one on for you. You like a touch screen, we will add one that has the resolution of an Oscar Meyer Wiener. You want multi-tasking, no problem as long as you don’t mind recharging every hour. Clearly manufactures and Google know what to put into smart phones, but have no idea why the smart phone, otherwise these changes would have been implemented years ago.

That is not to say that Apple is working with a clear vision all this time. At first they thought that all applications could be implemented as browser applications. After all iTunes was mostly implemented in the cloud. But then it was also an application and had access to features not available from the browser. It was not until they opened up their API to the operating system that the next phase of the revolution was put into place and a new economy started – the AppStore. This set the stage for the tablet.

Now the iPad continues this path of convergence by taking on Book, Newspaper and Magazine Publishers and those pesky little things loved by techies – net computers. The newspapers and magazines have already felt the dislocation caused by the internet. With the iPad and its iBookstore, this maybe the only way that these sectors can have a chance of surviving in the new economy. But they are still in for a rude awakening. Unlike iTunes that had to set the price per song to get off the ground. The newspapers and magazines are free to set their price. But the online economy is growing participants at 250,000 a week and competition and capitalism will start to take over with a vengeance. There will be pressures to change the pricing model and in turn the back-end business model to something different.

Now this is convergence – the bringing together of separate economic sectors with their own proven and well honed business models into a new joined business model that is simpler, more direct, and infinitely distributable. It is convergence with a vengeance.

As it turns out: it is near impossible for a business that has developed a complex business model – meaning highly differentiated roles and integrated work flows – to simplify their processes in the face of new technology. This is well explained by Clay Shirky in his article – The Collapse of Complex Business Models. I strongly recommend reading it. If the premise is true, then there is going to be a lot more collapsing taking place and replacement by alternative business models that will be Cloud X enabled. This also means there will be a lot of denial and hollowing as well as epidemics of Future Shock.

So What’s It Good For?

Now that President Obama has lamented that these new gadgets have resulted in distractions and not enabling new capabilities, I have felt compelled to find ways that the iPad enables me rather than distract. It is not easy not to be mesmerized by the dazzling graphics and heart thumping games, and to focus on how to incorporate the iPad into my workflow. But then why can’t scanning my tweets, reading my feeds, searching the web, and researching my papers be pleasant, if not an uplifting experience.

Excellent Research Platform

The device is an excellent research platform that will only get better over time. I am still working out the workflow, but as I am pulling materials in I can move them quickly to Del.icio.us or Tweet and Facebook notes. The services that Evernote provides for storing and tagging notes and pictures is now becoming valuable for coordinating research notes.

Not everything works out smoothly. WordPress, which host my blog, has a decent initial offering for writing and editing blogs on the iPad, but is not complete and is turning me into a Jeti Knight in trying to cut and paste things together. Some have cautioned that WordPress should not put an app on the iPad because of its “limitations” but the limitations are the app’s. I have a couple of drawing apps that provide simple ways to get diagrams and illustrations together, and with some photo editing apps, can put together most of the content I need for posting.

Note Taking – A work in progress.

For taking notes and diagrams, it is an interesting and evolving sector in the app store. The primary problem is that thick fingers lead to big writing so it is one area that the device has not quite disappeared into the background. But for typing notes and drawing simple diagrams, is doable. I like that you can record while taking notes, a nice touch. But hand notes is one area where a stylus may be necessary.

As far as the “office” apps – documents, spreadsheets, and presentations – I have not needed them so far, but if I ever get back to an office, I have a whole set identified for down loading.

No Multi-Tasking – a legitimate complaint.

Will it ever do multi-tasking? Actually the iPad (and iPhone) have always had multi-tasking and very efficient. While an app is downloading from the app store, I can be browsing the app store for the next one to buy. Very efficient indeed.

With iPhone OS 4.0 there will be multitasking that is compatible with the energy constraints of a mobile device. The fact that I have the awesome power of the iPad even with GPS 3G enabled for more than 10 hours is important. It is like having an electric car that can run all day – it’s a game changer. So I agree with Steve Jobs that multi-tasking needs to be redesigned and implemented from the ground up.

However, having stated Apples position. The fact that multitasking has not been provided from day one and delayed beyond the iPhone 4OS introduction makes the tablet only a potential contender for Cloud Surfer.  Almost all workflows require moving among different apps and performing processes in the back ground.  Eventually there will need to be a workflow management layer added that allows scripting of these flows.

Sorry, No Flash, Ever.

I have not missed Flash (I have it disabled on my Macs) because the sites that use flash like YouTube have apps on the iPad that are orders of magnitude better experience than on the site. The movement to HTML 5 will allow more latitude for the device to mesh the content rather than depend upon a browser to render the content exactly as designed.

After all it is about the experience. I expect that there will be a whole lot more demanding customers wanting better experiences from their providers. I don’t believe that Flash will be able to meet that demand.

In this case, I am willing to support Jobs in the hope that he has the clout to kill the sucker.  Having been through the browser wars between Mosaic and Netscape and then Netscape and Microsoft, innovations eventually have to be standardized in HTML and the proprietary discarded.  With HTML 5, web sites have the ability to bring web apps to the iPad or any other mobile platform, just as browsers have been able to content to any computer.

No Camera

Does it need a camera? I have not missed it so far. There are several excellent apps that connect my iPhone via Blue Tooth so that I can take pictures from the iPad plus do all the editing.  However other than this, there are few options for bring live feeds to the tablet. The camera connection kit is for downloading pictures and video files and not video broadcasting.   In the future,  the camera will be one of the features added to allow skyping or webnars, but until then the lack of a live feed capability is an achilles heel that can be exploited by competition.

What need does it satisfy.

In the spectrum of mobility,  laptops are mobile with limited life off the grid.  Tablets and netbooks are more mobile but can not carried all the time.  Smart phones are the most mobile but can be limited by their size.   So where in this spectrum does the true need for a tablet / netbook lie?

Where will I use it, given I have a laptop and iPhone? (OK so I am a gadget geek.) Many of the apps on the iPhone that don’t directly relate to connectivity – email, calendar, messaging, quick searches – are moving to the iPad – reading documents, email compositions, blogs, tweets, as well as the notes and graphics. Though the iPhone is able to do these things, after working with the iPad, the iPhone feels like a pebble and I wonder how I used it to read.

The iPad will go were ever I would take a book or a note pad. The lap top primarily keeps my other devices backed up and at the moment completes post and manages my sites. Like Farris I could consider using a phone as a phone if I needed to cut cost, but the phone as the Best Camera, Video Cam, and debate closer are things I am not ready to give up just yet.

“Revolution is About Freedom”

The one point that is a prevalent theme in most of the articles concerns Steve Jobs insistence on control of the user experience. Of course, there is the control Apple has on the convergence at the moment that is likely the real angst, but that is what revolutions do, create angst in the old ruling party. But what has the technocrati in a twit is the fact that they are not in charge or that Apple does not allow them to do whatever they want to do on its platform. “Revolution is about freedom.”

Revolutions are also about bring in a new order with it own set of rules and specifications. In the exchange with Ryan Tate of the Valley Wag, Steve Jobs responded:

Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’, and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is.

— Steve Jobs

This is similar to Henry Ford’s response on freedom to choose colors. “Yep, you can choose any color you want as long as its black.” What Ryan and others have confused is the difference between political and technology revolutions. Just as Ford’s revolution was not about cars but assembly lines, Jobs’ revolution is not about computers or tablets but user experience.

Some would even challenge this – insisting that it is more about design and aesthetics.

Many would say that Apple’s core competency is usability. This is actually not true. If Apple’s core competency were usability, they’d do chunky and knobby when necessary. But no, when platonic classicism collides with usability, in the world of Apple, usability loses.

— Venkatesh Rao, Why Apple’s design approach may not work with the iPad

But except for the porn, all of Job’s decisions have been grounded technically in his vision of the user experience necessary to succeed. It is necessary because the liassez faire approach has not been able to make the leap across the evolutionary chasm. The old technologies such as Flash that are unwilling to adapt to what is necessary to elevate the user experience to the next level have to be exiled along with the old business models that are pushed aside by the revolution.

Of course, the detractors will have their day with Google Android – ironically taking on the role of Microsoft in this case – providing the “open” platform where anything can go – including the porn. Will they succeed? It is hard to say. Venkatesh believes they can since Google has taken an anti-Apple design approach and produced something that is ugly and hard-edged with Android. God knows there are enough phone manufactures out there that ready to do ugly. I am not as confident since the techies that have been harping the most on the iPad do not seem to be comprehending what the iPad really is.

Closing Arguments

Quick review why the iPad is revolutionary:

  1. The guardians of technology and the fools of finance have been clueless and blindsided to the extent they cannot comprehend what they should, above all others, be able to appreciate and show every symptom of Future Shock.
  2. Propels an already growing movement of computational services from our computers to the cloud which advances a paradigm that will threaten businesses such as Microsoft, Dell, HP that depend upon operating systems and local computing.
  3. It is the next stage of convergence that Apple has deftly and relentlessly put in place that has brought Music, Movie, TV, Newspaper, Magazine, and Book industries online with the internet and within a new business model and economy.
  4. It is at the forefront of a battle with Telecomms that since the 19th century have had a strangle hold on consumers but are now losing control and fighting against internet neutrality.
  5. It presents a new computational paradigm that uses the increased computational power available to submerge most of the aspects of computer operating system that gets in the way of doing things and focuses on the experience and facilitating application to daily tasks.

Now the technologists that brought you Linux, Google, and CVSDude and financial analysts that brought you subprime derivatives, credit default swaps, and AIG believe that the revolution will come from tiny screens attached to tiny keyboards running big antiquated operating systems with many teeny tiny windows from hundreds of apps running at the same time for under 200 bucks.  Now that is ugly.

Verdict

On a personal level: the iPad is a work in progress as an enabling device but dazzling as a distracting device. The experience is more intimate and natural than a laptop, especially for browsing and watching. As a first adopter there is the excitement of getting glimpses of a future potential and the frustrations when things don’t meet that potential. It may be awhile before I’ll be able to answer “What can you do with it?” with any compelling response that moves the delayed responders.

On a social level: the potential for benefit and harm should not be underestimated. Someone commented that “it’s just a gadget, dude”. Well the cotton gin was just a gadget that brought new impedes to slavery. As convergence device and an enabling device for the next stage of Internet evolution, the potential for social and economic upheaval is real.

Apple and Steve Jobs have also been in the news for the marked increase of suicides at Foxconn in Shenzhen China. It is clear that Apple is attempting to address the issue at the highest level and may establish is different “out-sourcing” model to reduce exploitation.

But what remains is that as the internet enables moving engineering, service, and manufacturing jobs to where they can be done at lowest cost.  Hence the gadgets – computers, tablets, phones – that enable the growth of the internet and movement of resources into the Cloud and to anywhere in the world are made in near poverty and enjoyed by the affluent. Those displaced by this movement are left ironically establishing small “cottage-like” businesses to build apps and services for the Cloud.  This dynamic will have to be understood and not concealed by shock and denial.

Most large enterprises that exist now will likely not be able to adjust and will collapse to be replaced by smaller and more agile business models with simplified work flows enabled by the Cloud. Though the technology has been moving relentlessly in this direction even before Apple’s 10 year march from computer company to convergence facilitator, it was Apple that figured out how to make the cloud an economy no offense to eBay or Amazon.  The iPad is the much-anticipated facilitator of that economy. Yes there will be competition, but the first shoot has been fired. That to me seems revolutionary and the fact that it is not ugly – magical!

It is a great time to be an entrepreneur!

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About Timothy Kraft

An accomplished and innovative Web Analytics Professional and Business Intelligence Strategist. Over 10 years experience in development and
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