Is the iPad really a game changer?

The Wall Street Journal’s annual conference – ‘D – All Things Digital ‘ was held at the beginning of this month. This year it was D8 .Speakers included Steve Balmer of Microsoft, John Donahoe of eBay, Ron Garret from Dell, and topping the bill – Steve Jobs (you know where he is from!).

The conference coincided with the recent announcement that Apple had overtaken Microsoft, in terms of its market capitalisation, in part due to the sale of 2m iPads in less than 2 months. Not surprisingly therefore much of the discussion was around the iPad, where it fits in the market, and what the future holds. In the following video clips you’ll see the above gentlemen expressing their views.

Steve Jobs is his usual confident and (seemingly) open self (who wouldn’t be in his position), and talks here of how the iPhone actually arose out of work being done around a brief to develop a tablet computer.
Interestingly he sees tablets as heralding the end of the PC era, and sees them as being more like ‘trucks’ (presumably vs. more nimble and numerous cars). His response to the final question as to how long the post PC era will take to arrive suggests that he, like many, sees the iPad as a game changer. Steve Jobs makes some interesting observations about how he thinks the iPad can act as a positive stimulus for publishers, particularly in the magazine industry.

John Donahoe (CEO of eBay) certainly indicates here that he believes smart phones and tablet computers (more specifically here the iPhone and iPad) have prompted eBay to look at how their website is structured and how content is provided.

It is also interesting to see the reaction of Steve Balmer (of Microsoft) to the iPad. Whilst he may have a point that a tablet computer is another form of PC, it does come across as being particularly defensive, and maybe points to a further flaw in the strategy behind the ‘I’m a PC’. It’s never a good idea to let a competitor’s strategy define your own, particularly when you are tying yourself to a technology form, which will eventually be usurped by others. If Microsoft = PC, and vice versa, what happens when the technology or the vocabulary changes. We will have to wait and see.

A glimpse of this may be seen in Dell’s launch of it’s 5″ tablet – The Dell Streak, using the android OS. But then again, I think not.
This device seems particularly utilitarian, when compared to the concept of the iPad, particularly when you bear in mind if you buy it unsubsidised from Dell.Com it would be the same prices as the entry level iPad. One could be forgiven for thinking that in trying to create something that’s as portable as an phone, but as legible as an iPad, Dell have created something that does neither job well. Watch the reaction, when Ron Garrett puts it to his ear. And it doesn’t bode well when asked what they call (categorise) it, Dell say they’ll ‘let the market decide’ or when pushed Ron gives it the catchy name “an internet device you can put in your pocket” – where’s the ‘wow’ in that?

If we accept at the fact that (according to Gartner forecasts), mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide by 2013, and that already our ability to create information has far exceeded our ability to manage it; it’s not difficult to foresee that we will adapt new ways of interacting with the web. And it’s this perspective that makes the launch of the iPad particularly interesting.

Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester Analyst, it this way:

“There is something very significant about the iPad beyond how many units it will sell: it’s changing how we think about the PC. The iPad creates a use case for a device that doesn’t do everything your laptop does, targeted at a consumer that uses devices more for consumption than production. The iPad ushers in a new era of personal computing that we call “Curated Computing”—a mode of computing where choice is constrained to deliver less complex, more relevant experiences. Let me repeat that, because it’s the essence of the Curated Computing experience: less choice; more relevance”.

See Sarah’s full article.
This raises a number of points:

> 1 The iPad is the best example so far, and surely there will be better to come from both Apple and others, of a device that helps us experience the web, and these devices are likely to be distinct from those that help us manage it.

> 2 Too much (and an ever increasing) choice, is something that, in the developed world, we are all struggling to deal with. The web helps us manage those choices, but also feeds their proliferation. Branding has always been about creating something that audiences will choose, increasingly in a cross category context. If particular devices and environments are developed that encourage us to access particular types of content on the web, it stands to reason that different types of content that are relevant to those environments and user experiences, will be necessary. I don’t think its as simple producing a website and a range of apps. It’s probable that brands that see themselves as multi-faceted (in John Grant’s brand molecules sense) and are already developing a variety of social media content across a range of platforms are going to be best placed to adapt to this scenario.

> 3 Many agencies are struggling to define their role in this post-digital world, and it’s likely that developing apps for the iPad will be there next immediate step. Without doubt such skills will be a basic requirement and offer the opportunity for developing alternative revenue models. There is also an opportunity to take a strategic stance. The iPad represents a new technical platform, which is very exciting in itself. But the value for clients will come from an understanding of how its appearance will change consumers web behaviour – how they access and interact with it differently. Time taken to understand this relationship and the iPad’s role will pay dividends.

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