Wednesday, August 17, 2011

iPad vs the World

For some time now I've thinking about the popularity of the iPad. There's a lesson in here for all technology developers. There also ought to be a lesson for the Android hardware developers out there. If this estimate of active Honeycomb tablets is correct, iPad has been outselling all of the Android makers by a factor of 8 to 1. That kind of ratio should be sufficient to raise the question: What is Apple doing that we aren't?

This BGR blog post attempts to answer the question. But, I'm afraid I have to differ with the author.  As Zach Epstein puts it:
The fact that it is a tablet, I believe, is secondary to the fact that it is a comparatively inexpensive Apple device that is a pleasure to look at and a pleasure to operate. Yes, it’s a tablet, but a $500 Apple netbook might have seen similar rapid adoption.
I gather that the author doesn't really "get" the tablet niche. I got that when he said: "I still say that tablets are useless (and yes, RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook is still my favorite among them)." 

Now, it's true that the svelte brushed aluminum finish of the iPad makes the inner geek in all of us go hmmm. But, to say that the iPad is useless misses the essential difference between Apple's tablet and the rest of the world. Not only is it useful, but it's useful across a number of different areas. 

  • As a mobile browser. Indeed, it's my browser of choice when I'm at my local wifi-enabled cafe.
  • As a tv set. Most of the tv-ish media I consume is currently on Netflix, HBO GO, or the PBS iPad app. The fact that it pairs with the Apple TV for seamless media streaming over my local network.
  • As an ereader. Besides Kindle, Nook (I love the Nook magazines, btw), and iBooks, I use the Safari To Go app to read books I've taken out on The print version of the Washington Post I read on the PressReader app.
  • As a gaming device. Rage, Infinity Blad, Real Racing anyone? Not only are these great games they're only available on the iPad and iPhone.
  • As a document creation tool. I got Pages when it came out on the first iPad and have never looked back. Indeed, I later purchased Pages for the Mac as a result of a positive experience on the iPad. For creating longer documents I've got a bluetooth keyboard. The same keyboard I use with my Mac Mini, btw.

Now, there are kinda sorta equivalents on the Android platform. But there's no compelling narrative across all these areas as there is on the iPad. The video story on Android is particularly spotty. (Check out this list of supported Netflix devices to see what I mean). And, this doesn't even examine unique app areas that have iPad support, e.g., Amplitube. And key to the iPad's success, IMHO, is not just that a compelling narrative exists for the iPad, it existed largely at launch of the device.

Is there an equivalent narrative for the Android tablets? Right now it would have to be along the lines of The Android tablet is almost as fast as the iPad, not as much of a head turner, and not nearly as useful for creating documents, music, or movies as the iPad. And, it costs the same.

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