iPad, the destroyer: 19 things it will kill
April 2nd, 2010
Daniel Eran Dilger
Pundits, particularly of the Windows Enthusiast variety, don’t understand the iPad. It won’t kill the netbook and certainly can’t kill the notebook, they tell us. If only they knew what the iPad was really meant to destroy.
Steve Jobs likes to kill old things
Back in the 1970s, Steve Jobs pushed his Apple co-founder to kill the expansion slots of the Apple II. Steve Wozniac fought to retain them, but by 1984, Apple was selling lots of machines without slots, including the Apple IIc and the Macintosh. They supplied easier to use ports instead, so users didn’t have to buy a serial expansion card just to plug in their printer.
Jobs killed the 5.25“ floppy drive by introducing the 3.5” floppy on the Macintosh, then killed it off too in the 1998 iMac, telling users to burn CDs or use the network. The iMac also killed off a variety of old legacy ports to capitalize on the premise of Intel’s USB.
In software, Jobs killed off the command-line with the Macintosh only to return to it with NeXTSTEP, but its rich graphic desktop meant users only went there when they wanted to, not when their graphical shell abandoned them in the dark wilderness of DOS at inopportune times. Jobs didn’t kill the CLI, he kill its necessity for all users.
Read Jobs’ more personal musings from the early 80s through the 90s and into the last decade, and you get the clear impression that Jobs understands death as a creative force better than most people. For society, culture, and technology to progress, old thinking has to die off to make way for fresh new ideas. People who don’t die are dragged kicking and screaming in the future the way Strom Thurmond panted into the last decade with segregation still ripe on his breath.
Jobs has uniquely, and remarkably, kept pace with radical changes in technology to maintain a position on the progressive front fringe of tech like no other figure in history. Nobody else has been around for nearly 40 years of progress, continuously leading major companies that define how the world works, and with a finger in everything from the enterprise to education to consumer markets.
A reason to kill
When something works, you don’t need to kill it. But in some cases you should, as Jobs proved time and time again over his career. The iPod Mini was wildly popular, but Apple cut it down at its apex to introduce the Flash RAM iPod nano, which was even smaller and more durable.
Apple could also have mostly sacrificed its iPod business in order to gain the larger and much more lucrative iPhone, but it didn’t do that. Instead, it killed the old idea of what the iPod was: a big hard drive wrapped in a layer of simple user interface for choosing songs from a list.
In its place, it created the iPod touch, which carried on the torch of the iPod brand while slowly phasing out the old identity of the iPod. This is fantastically difficult to do. One only needs to look at companies like Palm and Nokia and Microsoft and Sony to see how much easier it is for even large groups of smart people to take a successful product and let it either die on the vine or fail midway through attempts to revitalize it.
Apple, with Jobs at the helm, has so expertly pulled off massive coups over and over that everyone in the media has been lulled into thinking that this sort of thing is simple stuff that you just plan out and then do by throwing money around, apparently unaware that Sony and Microsoft and Palm and everyone else has had lots of time and money to do what Apple has done over the last decade. They just don’t know how to do it.
The iPad prepares for a killing spree
Apple isn’t about to destroy its MacBook business, which has been expanding dramatically over the last half decade. And it didn’t introduce the iPad to kill off the iPhone or iPod touch. Successfully creating something new without sacrifice is all that much harder to do. It will require Apple to kill off interest in rival things of its competitor’s in order to allow the iPad to inhale the attention spans of consumers that those devices were once consuming.
TV killed off the radio. The CD killed off the audio cassette. DVDs killed off VCRs. The Internet has helped to kill off a variety of things that used to make sense before it, from travel agents to directory assistance operators (if you don’t think those things are dead, you probably are getting fairly old). And so it is that the iPad will kill a lot of stuff.
DVDs. Steve Jobs’ hobby of Apple TV set up a market for immediate movie rentals and purchases via iTunes. That’s still there, but the iPad now delivers the same functionality with wireless mobility, in addition to the value of everything else it does (and unlike the fixed, limited features of ATV). Additionally, iPad also supports services like Hulu and Netflix, which will appeal to a wide audience of users who already use those services. Why do we own DVD’s again? Dead.
eReaders. Oh the Kindle, we hardly knew ye. And the Sony Reader and the B&N Nook. Your e-ink screens pleased pundits and the cat ladies who sit around reading novel after novel, but it was a remarkably limited technology. The rest of your hardware and software was pretty marginal, so it’s hard to weep. Dead.
Stacks of papers in office meetings. Xerox dutifully churns through forests of trees to create documents that will only ever be glanced at once, if that. Greenpeace doesn’t care, because making a stink won’t help it get donations. All the group can be bothered to announce is that the iPad might access servers that sit on the predominantly coal-fired US electrical grid. Stupid jerks. Anyways, every company that is somebody will be passing around iPads loaded with digital documents. Companies are already ordering fleets of iPads, for the same reason their executives sport MacBook Pros: they say “we’re creative and use high quality stuff.” Reams of papers: you’re dead.
Textbooks. Kindle suggested some hope that kids wouldn’t need to be busting their little necks with backpacks full of massive paper volumes of static learning content. But Kindle’s e-ink technology isn’t any good at random page browsing or quickly jumping back and forth between sections. It’s also painful to mark up with annotations. The iPad has none of those problems, and adds all manner of new interactivity and video features, making it a good decade for trees. Short term, thick tomes of rapidly changing educational content: you’re dead.
Netbooks. Oh Dan, you’re so controversial. Netbooks are an amazingly cheap way to get low powered, junky hardware that can even run Linux if anyone cared to. You can type into a word processor, play moron-level Flash weblet games, and even surf the web. Yeah but you can’t enjoy the experience. Netbooks, you’ll only live on in that you’ve already killed of the desktop PC, but your wildly hyped premise? It’s dead.
PSP, DS. Oh no, now you’re just being mean. Think of the children. No, let the children think for themselves. Who wants to shell out $30-50 for a dopey game title when you can download cool $1-5 games to your iPod touch on a regular basis or get rich, major games from big publishers for $6-12 on the iPad? They’re beautiful, wildly interactive, and are going to slay Nintendo and Sony in the portable gaming market. Nintendo’s boss says he doesn’t get the iPad. That’s executive speak for “I’m going down with the ship.” The correct answer was: “We’re creating iPad titles based on our beloved franchises as fast as we can.” Ya’ll are dead.
Brochures. You walk into a Mercedes dealership or begin talking to a real estate agent about that multi-million dollar property and they used to hand you a glossy printed brochure. Screw that. Now you’re going to be handed a digitally interactive version of the product on an iPad you can peruse as the sales expert tugs at your heart strings. They send you a link to look at at home, too. Sold. Glossy print? Dead.
Single-purpose industrial gadgets. Custom developed information systems that cost the government millions to develop in small scale batches. Inventory systems that use some clunky old version of the Windows Mobile platform Microsoft itself just marked for death in its effort to clone the iPhone of 2008 in WP7 next year. Proprietary medical management and note-taking systems, sometimes based on (ugh it stinks) Tablet PC. Category, you could have been a short list unto yourself, but it doesn’t matter because you’re all dead.
Other tablet-ish stuff. Yes, I already mentioned Tablet PC, but this catch-all bucket of death is about the consumer market. This stuff historically kills itself: Palm’s whatever, Nokia Tablets, CrunchPad, UMPC, Slate PC. Along with the death of all this stuff comes the death of Microsoft’s ability to decree what devices are called. It doesn’t make anything anyone wants to buy, so why is it defining all the ridiculous category names? HHPC, UMPC, PMP, really? Microsoft, your leadership in consumer electronics is just like your products and those of Palm and the rest of them: dead.
The credibility of haters. People who earn their livelihood by saying stupid things about Apple, either because they’re shills for a rival firm or because they generate more web traffic staying stupid things about Apple than saying stupid things about another company people care less about, are going to find it remarkably difficult to prattle off more of the same garbage they’ve trotted out repeatedly about the iPhone, the iPod touch, and the iPad. John Dvorak, Daniel Lyons, Paul Thurrott, etc, ad nauseum aren’t going to be able to be taken seriously at Apple’s next launch. But those people aren’t being taken seriously now; the real change will be that fraud marketing and public relations groups who prepare “data” showing how uninterested developers report themselves being in Apple’s next platform, or how terribly worried customers are about not having Flash, or whatever other synthetic results the fact-factory was paid to deliver are simply increasingly and obviously going to be seen as an ineffectual waste of marketing resources. Dead.
Flash and Silverlight and JavaFX. What if Apple created a significant new category of computing devices and connected it to its installed base of 70 million mobile devices, and none of it ran Flash nor Silverlight nor JavaFX? Why would anyone bother to learn that stuff? To deprive Android of having any native apps? To keep performance from rocketing out of control? To expand the required development efforts and QA by orders of magnitude, with no commercial payoff? Dead.
Office. Wait, how does the iPad kill Office? Well, much as the revitalized Mac OS X first proved that, even post-2000, it was possible to create and maintain a software platform mostly independent from Microsoft, and as iPhone established that Apple could successfully introduce a major new platform not based on Windows and Intel chips and turn it into a an important force in mobile software, the iPad is now merging those realities toward Office in a threatening way. Microsoft struggled to launch Vista and it failed to keep WiMo going, but it still seems to be full steam ahead for its Office monopoly. But no, there’s no hint of a multitouch version of Office similar to Apple’s new $10 iWork apps. Apple has beat Microsoft to market again, before its rival even realized it was in trouble of losing anything. Microsoft’s comical Pocket and Mobile versions of Office are embarrassing, and the company hasn’t demonstrated any ability to copy the iPhone or the iPod touch successfully, so what hope is there for a Microsoft tablet or a mobile-savvy port of its currently very PC-centric Office suite? Microsoft doesn’t even have any financial motivation to port Office to the iPad, given the$10 per app threshold Apple set. Dead.
Windows Media Center, set top boxes, Tivo. Microsoft kept flogging the idea of having a command center for recorded TV sitting on your family PC that you can push to your Xbox 360 to watch on your TV. Uptake has been weak enough to keep it free bundleware. But who’d want that when they’re already using iTunes, have iPods and iPhones, and can watch live streaming content or their own library of stuff or movies or episodic TV they can buy on demand, from anywhere? Sony’s trying to push the PS3 as a hub for content, and Tivo has been hemorrhaging cash trying to maintain enough subscribers in competition with the cable company’s own boxes. Apple’s the only company with the mobile part figured out, with an anywhere download store, and brilliant ease of use. There’s a lot of living room stuff that’s ending up… dead.
Idle moments. Remember when you used to sit in the park, lost in your lover’s eyes? Now you’re both busy checking messages on your iPhone. Just wait until you get an iPad and you can lock the screen so it won’t flip annoyingly as you try to lie in bed, half awake reading the latest headlines. Now you’ll have a fixed, big screen display giving you bleary-eyed access to all the information that used to stay attached to your desktop computer. The times you spent doing nothing are all now dead.
Chrome OS. Oh noes! Yes, if you thought Google had another year to complete its tablet strategy, you were wrong. By the time the first beta of its HTML-with-Flash only platform ships, the iPad will have a strong installed base and there’ll have been months of iPad adoration in play. How does a simplistic yet expensive web-tablet compare with a sophisticated iPad platform with real media playback (even Android’s fake iPod module is atrocious), real games (not just Farmville), and a vast collection of native software that nobody will have any financial motivation to port to generic ad-supported web pages or Flash apps just to address the slim potential for Google to sell tablets better than it’s been selling smartphones? It’s not here yet, but its going to arrive… dead.
Android. Oh dear, now you’re really going out on a limb. Sure, Android will stick around just like Creative still makes MP3 players and just like AOL is still a going concern, but it will increasingly fail to matter because nothing is holding it up. Apple has three anchors for the iPhone OS, each holding down very different markets and audiences: the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. They’re suspending the platform like a big tent in the App Store. Android has one trick, and its a mess. The phone hardware wasn’t designed right, the OS has architectural problems, and the app model presents major security issues. All customers care about is what it can do. But Android can’t play sophisticated games, nor is anyone buying enough apps to turn that situation around. Further, Google’s tablet strategy is splintered on Chrome OS. Secretly, that’s because Google doesn’t believe in the future of the Android platform, at least not in its current incarnation as a modified Java VM. The company hopes to migrate its users to HTML apps across the board, so it doesn’t even care that Android Market is losing the battle against the Cocoa Touch App Store. That’s a few reasons why its soon going to be… dead.
Prospects for Windows Phone 7. In 2006, Microsoft unveiled the Zune, thinking it has soundly beat Apple’s 2005 iPod in a number of areas. Then just months later, Apple dropped the iPhone. This time around, Microsoft is striving to achieve a measure of parity with 2008’s iPhone 2.0. The problem this time is that Apple has iPhone 4.0, the fourth generation iPhone and iPod touch, and iPad. How is WP7 going to look relevant or interesting? Dead.
In-flight entertainment systems. Remember the luxury that seat back video screens used to suggest? These days, the early ones look archaic; smaller than an iPod touch. Even the more modern ones are clumsy and look terrible and limit your viewing angles and are likely to not work right. If it does happen to be working, the interface is ridiculous, the buttons barely function, and the content plays at weird times or demands that you pay stupidly high fees just to watch a movie. The iPad is perfect for using in the confines of a plane. It doesn’t need the space of a laptop and works a lot longer. It has a much larger display than a netbook, and its more fun to watch than a iPod or iPhone. Why fool around with some generic junk that may or may not be installed or working when you can ignore that and just relax? Seat backs: dead.
Google’s ad monopoly. With all the revenues it collects from its monopoly, it throws around money on acquisitions and often failed projects. No, not Microsoft in the PC world, it’s Google on the web. Google seems to have earned its position, but the reality is that Google got its lock on the market even more heinously than Microsoft. The company owes its entire existence to stealing the core business of Overture, something that’s no secret but also rarely mentioned these days. After Yahoo acquired Overture, Google paid Yahoo millions in stock to settle the matter, which not only kept Yahoo around as an inconsequential figurehead in search, but also allowed its incompetent management the largess to squander Overture until its talent all ran off to Google and Microsoft. Also like Microsoft, Google ripped off its former partner Apple in hopes of stealing what Apple had invented. But this time around, Apple is playing offensively by moving into the ad market itself. It plans to launch its own ad network and integrate it right into the Cocoa Touch tools, making it that much harder for Google to sell mobile ads (which are currently pretty dysfunctional anyway), the whole reason it got started with Android. If Google is just stuck servicing Android, a group of freetards who refuse to pay for things, who will want to advertise there? Dead.