Category Archives: Apple tablet

Apple escaped ‘lock-in.’ Can you?

Lost in all the buzz about the iPad saving publishing is the fact the tablet thing works as a real computer, too. Fast-forward the video above to 1:40 and you’ll see Apple SVP Phil Schiller demonstrate how to edit spreadsheets on a glass screen with finger motions. Our “ah-ha” came when we noticed that the iPad’s virtual keyboard changes based on user modality (3:04). If you’re working with formulas or numbers or dollars or text, the input fields adjust. The obvious question is whether Apple’s $500 iPad will cannibalize its $2,000 computer sales, or the sales of the broader PC industry whose Excel, PowerPoint and Word programs will run inside the iPad’s iWork suite.

Avoiding path dependence

But the deeper issue is whether Apple’s emergent design will break the lock-in endemic in laptops and PCs. Lock-in has several definitions: In technology, it’s the dynamic where one design is followed by so many subsequent designs dependent upon it that it becomes nearly impossible to change the original arrangement. Examples include U.S. automobiles with steering wheels placed on the left side, keyboards with a QWERTY layout, and Microsoft Word with “Toolbars” mysteriously nestled in the “View” drop-down menu instead of the “Tools” drop-down list where you’d expect it — all designed systems that are now nearly impossible to change because traffic patterns, hardware designs and millions of documents are locked in to the original concepts. But lock-in can also refer to mindsets, such as the escalating commitment of decision-makers to a bad course of action. Conservatives could point to a jumbled U.S. healthcare reform law; liberals could point to U.S. leaping into war in Iraq — all are outcomes of processes involving path dependence, where the options for decisions at any point grow more limited based on the commitments of the past.

You know. It’s too late to stop now.

Mitch Joel suggests that smartphones in the U.S. will grow to about 33% market share by the end of 2010, creating a plethora of new gadgets that could challenge the interfaces of the computers we’ve been stuck using for the past 25 years. Imagine that: the world of technology is going through a rare shift in which past lock-in is being broken, where radical new device usability could emerge, where “toolbars” might be located under “tools” where they belong. We all suffer from lock-in: The religious and political points of view our parents ingrained in us, the business committees pushing investments that follow other sunk costs, the temptation to follow a fad because our ecosystem of friends or colleagues have all jumped aboard and we can’t pan out to the worldview around it. The question is: should you evaluate your own life for paths you’ve gotten locked into that might need shifting?

The end of typing

IQ test: Can you connect these dots to predict the future of computing?

1. Apple has launched its iPad.
2. Google has responded with its own tablet design (shown above).
3. Apple’s iPad includes a hidden frame that has room for a future webcam, useful for video broadcasting.
4. Pew says teens and young adults are doing less writing online and more wireless with graphics and video.
5. The hottest communication trends are Twitter (140 character updates) and Facebook.
6. Mary Meeker, the Wall Street analyst who foresaw the impact of the Internet on business in the 1990s, says soon we’ll live in world of 10 times as many Internet devices — and most won’t be computers.

Pencils down.

Typing is dying. The QWERTY keyboard you pound emails at is really an anachronism, an interface designed to slow your keystrokes so the mechanical levers of a typewriter (which no longer exist) won’t jam. Typing has never been very popular; the vast majority of the world does not have college degrees, works outdoors and is more mobile than sedentary, and has no need to write missives back and forth because they know how to talk to each other. Yes, the Internet has created renewed interest in reading, but only a tiny fraction of the educated public creates such materials, and video is now emergent — YouTube video searches, for instance, now account for one-fourth of searches in Google. The history of humanity is tens of thousands of years of communicating via face time, with verbal grunts and waving hand gestures which explain why today plane tickets to meet far-flung business partners in person are still required.

So if Apple and Google are investing their billions in a future of computers that is sans keyboard — smaller, more mobile devices that are merely glass screens with user interfaces that morph based on how and what you look at — then the keyboard, even the shiny aluminum one on a beautiful Apple MacBook, may soon become irrelevant. Computers should be simple after all, because they are frames designed to get information quickly, and the newest models require only touching a picture to get what you want. When every appliance hooks into the Internet with a touch screen and we can pull or push data with an intuitive tap, control-alt-delete will be remembered fondly for what it was: an archaic system that allowed programmers and business bean counters to toy with devices too complex to be used by the real masses.

(Google demo via ad guru Angela Natividad. Inspired by Bob Knorpp, who taught us in the past year that voices can be more provoking than written words.)

Why Apple doesn’t listen

Web strategist Thierry de Baillon suggests Apple’s continued ability to surprise the world with simple products — often without the complex add-ons that tech enthusiasts hunger for — is because it focuses on what people do and not what they want. We responded with this:

In terms of strategy, Apple reminds me of Michael Treacy’s “Discipline of Market Leaders,” in which Treacy proposed there are three basic focal points for business: product innovation, customer service, or operations/low cost. Companies in the same industry can take different positions; IBM, for instance, in the 1970s was customer service-focused, trying to be all things to all people (Dell has taken the customer position since the 1990s with customizable computers and products aligned with consumer segmentation). Apple is all about product innovation — and to hell with focus groups. This is not right or wrong, smart or stupid; it’s merely a focused company strategy that helps Apple lead in a certain area.

Apple leads because it really is not a technology, software or computer company — it’s a design company. It makes tech products pure enough that people lust for them, and for that Apple can charge a premium. A lot of people whined that the tablet missed features (webcams etc.) and cost too much. Of course. Apple will gradually reduce the price while adding feature upgrades as it pushes that device into the broader market masses.

For Apple, innovative design wins. It’s not for everybody, but it certainly is a focused market position.

Why commuters will love Apple’s tiny videos

When we suggested in a BusinessWeek column that Apple’s emerging tablet device could encourage commuters to begin working from home, UK Guardian tech editor Charles Arthur pushed back. “No, I’m not really seeing how the iTablet makes telecommutes happen more than a laptop and a second monitor, but anyway…” he wrote. Perhaps. But it’s worth reviewing that idea, since what most people miss is we have just entered the uncharted waters of a new two-way video age.

It’s 2010. Can you guess what device you’re missing?

Quick, grab your gadget and make a video call. What? You can’t do that from the subway stop or corner deli? A bit curious, isn’t it, that in this modern age you don’t have a video transmission device (unless you like walking around with a laptop flipped open near a WiFi hot spot).

That will change this year. Video has been with us for more than a century in some form or another, but it’s only been two years since two-way video began appearing on most laptops — and just four months since Apple stuck a video camera on iPods as small as sticks of gum. Society still has no cheap, simple, small, portable device that you can carry easily that captures and shares video via wireless (well, at least in the U.S.; in parts of Europe they can video-dial Jesus). The iTablet may be that device, since analysts predict it will hold a webcam; if not, another gadget will be. As sure as you can say telephones-never-really-needed-cameras, you better believe the version creep of manufacturers trying to outsell each other will soon put tiny webcams and video screens in most handheld portable electronics.

It’s 2010. Do you still hate your commute?

As technology rushes to enable you to video-conference loved ones in Hawaii from any location, society also has a sore point that no market tool has adequately addressed: Your daily commute. In the United States, a land with 3.9 million miles of highways, 9 in 10 U.S. workers get to their employment via car, and they spend a collective 3.7 billion hours each year stuck in traffic. One of the fastest trends in the U.S. is workers leaving prior to 6 a.m. to beat the morning rush; in 2007 McDonald’s announced it would open 75% of its U.S. restaurants at 5 a.m. to help those bleary-eyed souls make it there with coffee.

The psychology of why people feel they must work together probably goes back to ancient clans instinctively huddling for shelter, or the fact most communication is nonverbal … but what if you could really see other people easily on screens, from anywhere, at any time? What if your visual community was anyone you can reach with a click?

Cheap, two-way portable video is finally coming. Travel is expensive, wastes time and stresses both individuals and the society that bears its energy, infrastructure and pollution costs. Hey. You connect the dots.

Image: Christian Spinelli

2010: Year of the oh-so-sexy tablet

We wrote recently that Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner has determined the Apple tablet is coming this spring. Magazine publishers are preparing to use the new platform as a savior for their ailing subscriptions and ad revenues — this time, by creating something radically new, editorial content and magazine glossiness plus swipes of video, web interactivity and social media.

Sports Illustrated has unveiled one swanky prototype. Here’s another, by Sara Öhrval of Bonnier, publisher of Saveur and Ski Magazine. Add a webcam to the device and you could even insert yourself, perhaps creating an ego-fueled magazine-publishing-newscast in which you, iReporters, become stars. Sounds far-fetched, but who knew typing in 140 characters would be a fad, too?

When video goes postal: Apple shifting society

One hundred years ago the automobile transformed the world. People could drive long distances; Bonnie and Clyde held up remote banks thanks to speedy getaways on city-connecting roads; homes spread into the suburbs, long-haul trucks replaced trains, and now we have 40-mile commutes.

Could pocket video do the same thing? This thought was sparked by USPS’s funny new microsite in which a letter carrier chats amiably about how to hit your Christmas or Hanukkah shipping deadlines. Not novel, but the fact a staid government agency is toying with online video shows how prolific it’s become.

The Apple tablet will tip the video tide

Portable video — the capture, sharing and watching of moving images — is relatively new to society. Before this year, we always had to sit still. In 2009 Apple became the tipping point; it began adding videocams to tiny iPods and iPhones, and teens can now watch films on gumstick-size screens. (God forbid the action going on in college dorm rooms.) Now news emerged today that Yair Reiner, an analyst at Oppenheimer, has dug through the Apple production pipeline and found evidence the mythical Apple tablet will hit the streets in March or April of next year. Sure, Dell will launch an Android Tablet in 2010, too — but Apple will make it cool.

This story goes beyond gadget features, although we’re certain the Apple device will be sexy. Laura DiDio, top analyst at the Information Technology Industry Council, predicts the Apple tablet will have a large screen (the size of a sheet of paper), a crisper resolution than the iPhone, web access and a built-in web cam. Basically a glass pad that does everything.

So what happens to society?

1. Magazines and newspapers might be saved. They will begin to include video and interactivity, like this prototype from Sports Illustrated. The ailing publishing world will gain subscribers as it improves the quality of its content.
2. Television ratings will continue to fall, as fragmentation of viewing approaches infinity and print publishers get into the video game. We see hints of this with Nielsen recutting its panel ratings to include online video.
3. Augmented-reality views of the world may increase, like this stunning app for finding New York City subways.
4. The proliferation of two-way video could finally push down communication fees. AT&T and the like have been worried about Skype; when free international video calls are as easy as touching a pad in your pocket, consumers will lose patience for monthly $200 phone bills.
5. The convergence of the above — falling video costs, ease of image access, and augmented visual clarity — will finally shift society.

It’s a serious thought. Most human communication is nonverbal. If we depend upon our eyes to understand the world, when we can finally get visuals from anywhere with a portable screen, our growth becomes untethered from our physical reality. Telecommuting, a logical idea that has never scaled due to the human need to lock eyes and grip hands, could finally emerge as videoconferencing approaches the clarity of reality. Remote education, now available online in various college portals, could expand university enrollments (while threatening fees). Even the institution of human love, already migrating to online flirtations in Twitter and Facebook, could blossom into far-flung relationships in which you can do everything but touch your lover.

The only real puzzle is what Apple will call the tablet device. We bet “iPad” because it’s alliterative with iPod and iPhone, and Apple is too hip to do the “tablet” we expect. Too bad it isn’t on sale now; we’d ask the USPS to ship us one for Christmas.