Sunday, 14 February 2010

Why is Steve Jobs shopping at The Gap for his new gadget?


Some supporters of creationism argue that any gap in the fossil record undermines the evidential basis for evolution. So if no fossil has been found that is a perfect fit between homo sapien and neanderthal, they argue that no link exists. The irony is that when such a specimen is eventually found, there are two new gaps - two missing links where before there was one.

And so it is with Apple's new iPad. During Steve Job's presentation for the iPad launch, he showed a slide with a mobile phone on the left, a laptop on the right, and a gap in the middle, and raised the rhetorical question of what should go in the gap. He then argued that Apple's competitors had attempted to plug this gap with netbooks, only to reject this solution. The netbook is apparently not the missing link. Instead, Jobs argued, anything that plugged this gap would have to do some things far better than either a mobile phone or a laptop. With his highly polished showmanship, he then revealed the iPad as the true missing link to plug this gap.

This argument is built upon four questionable presuppositions:
  1. There is a continuum of device types, with phones at one end and laptops at the other;
  2. There is a gap in this continuum;
  3. There is consumer demand for a product to plug this gap;
  4. Netbooks try and fail to meet this demand.
I am not at all sure that any of these presuppositions are correct, and I don't think that Steve Jobs really believes them either. This part of his presentation sounded suspiciously like post-rationalization. After all, this is not the way in which Jobs normally thinks. He's not one for market research and gap analysis. As Leander Kahney explains in his excellent book, Inside Steve's Brain, Jobs looks at himself in the mirror and asks himself what he wants: "Almost everyone else takes the opposite approach: they develop new technologies and then go in search of problems for these technologies to solve."

When the iPhone was announced, from day one it leapt onto the world stage as a fully formed, perfectly conceived product. To look at it was to know that you wanted it. There was no need to hesitate and ponder what it was for. No reason to come up with excuses for why you needed to buy one. It was so obviously right. The iPad, in contrast, looks like lots of fun, but it is far from clear what it is for, and why you would want one.

The iPad is a rare example of Jobs launching a technology, rather than a product. Like George Mallory who famously ascended Mount Everest "because it was there," Jobs has built the iPad because it was possible, rather than because there was an obvious need for it. He had this beautiful new multi-touch operating system, and he wanted to put it to the test and see what could be done with it on a larger device.

This does not mean that the iPad is doomed - it just means that it is not being launched into the world fully formed. When the Mac was first launched, it too did not initially seem to have a purpose. It was only with the subsequent advent of desktop publishing that the true potential of a graphical user interface became apparent. And so it may be with the iPad. Some killer apps may come along that turn this technological novelty into a mass-market desirable product.

And this brings us back to Jobs's supposed gap. It's an example of the well-constructed spin that is sometimes referred to as Steve Jobs's reality distortion field. But even supposing we do accept his presuppositions, then like the creationist's analysis of the fossil record, we might point out that Jobs's new chart, with the iPad neatly plugging the gap between mobile phone and laptop, has merely created two more gaps. What product plugs the gap between phone and iPad? What product plugs the gap between iPad and laptop?

In other words, the gap argument fails the reductio ad absurdum test. Doubtless Jobs knows this. He just couldn't resist working on this fun new toy, and seeing what was possible. And I must confess, I can't wait to play with it myself.

17 comments:

  1. But to me it does fill a gap between my laptop and iPhone.

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  2. “…but it is far from clear what it is for…”

    For a guy who's pretty good with logic, you sure come up short on the imagination. I've been there— I sniffed when a co-worker told me about this great “spreadsheet” program called VisiCalc that he saw at the West Coast Computer Faire— but there are at least three usage models for the iPad:

    1. Mobile knowledge workers: field techs, docs, nurses, realtors, salespeople… they all need to access job-specific data from the Cloud or HQ or personal files; they need a mix of apps that a netbook could provide, but they need instant in/out of functions and instant on/off that today's netbook form-factor doesn't provide. Industry-specific solutions providers love the fast development cycle for the iPad and the streamlined process of getting it into users' hands. Market: tens of millions of devices in the US.

    2. High school, college ed. Books, note-taking, portability are factors. If you've ever tried to read text more than a bit on a netbook, you know how unsatisfactory it is due to formatting, lousy screen quality and the often downright ugly fonts that most apps rely on. Market: tens of millions of devices in the US per year.

    3. Home media/game/websurfer consumers. “Media” includes books, magazines, newspapers, videos/TV/movies, music and more. Might be for the kid to play a game while the folks do facebook on the home PC; might be the easiest way to read the newspaper over morning coffee; might even be the sole non-TV device in households not bitten by the PC bug. Market: perhaps a hundred million devices in the US.

    I'm absolutely not saying that the iPad will capture the ~ 150 – 200 million sales suggested by the market size; people take a love-it-or-leave-it approach to their gizmos. But if the technology is half as spectacular as suggested by the “wicked fast” comments by journalists at the January 27 rollout, it could become a best-of-both sweet spot between too-tiny-screened smartphones and too-clumsy netbooks.

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  3. Your argument is rendered moot by the failure to classify the iPad as the descendant of the PC. Until then, the only continuum that matters is this one:

    http://bit.ly/bcrPeh

    
Unlike the desktop, the iPad was designed for media. No windows; cursors; file system hierarchies; nothing you don’t need. Because of the modular design of the OS, the device’s sole focus is the content. I’d call it a web/media appliance curated by Jobs for EVERYONE to use.

    I don’t think the iPad is really a "gap" product (despite being sold as such) because it CAN do some things better than a notebook. As John Gruber noted at Friday’s Macworld keynote, Apple can’t have two good computer products overlapping each other. It’s pretty safe to assume Jobs deliberately dumbed the iPad down a few notches (no multitasking or advanced gestures) in order to begin selling them at $499 and avoid cannibalizing the premium Macs.

    A great Jobs move was his timing of the iPhone (deriving most of the of tech from the tablet project) launch, which took advantage of a massive built-in market for a commodity product tied up in baby software. Obviously, the success of the iPhone and the app store laid the groundwork necessary for a successful and well-developed iPad. Apple is smart enough to realize what the iPad means for the dev community keen on producing more capable, profitable, and full screen touch apps similar to the impressive iWork touch. 


    What’s the iPad for, you ask? I'll let the thousands of App Store devs tired of the 99 cent economy and 3.5” real estate answer that.

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  4. Sebastian: I'm not sure what you mean in saying the the iPad must be classified as the descendant of the PC - but the continuum argument is not mine - it's the one that Steve Jobs made at the launch. And in my article, I actually say that I don't believe Steve Jobs thinks it's a gap product. Finally, like you, I also believe that the success (or otherwise) of the iPad will be down to the third party apps.

    The funny thing is, the tone of your post suggest you disagree with my article, but on most of the details, we seem to agree!

    Walt: thanks for the post. I hope you're right about those three potential markets - but there are issues, with at least 1 and 2. For the first market, I think a "companion" product like the iPad is not ideal. This audience would be better off with a device which gives you full access to the file system, and is not dependent on iTunes for syncing - can you really see these knowledge workers syncing their tablet via iTunes? The second category, i think that the iPad would not be an ideal device for taking notes. Even a netbook might be better. The third category - games, I suspect the iPad will turn out to be awesome. If the iPad turns out to be a hit, then I suspect games and home users will be a large part of its success.

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  5. My disagreement is how the evolutionary theory can't rationalize the “gap” argument. I also don’t see how the iPad creates two more gaps (there are 6 different SKUs! $499-$899).

    As the Apple product matrix compiled by BGR shows, the iPad sealed the only “gap” in the entire lineup in terms of size, features, and most importantly, price.

    

I suspect Apple intentionally opted out of iPad carrier subsidies to: 1) get a sweetheart deal from the carriers 2) maintain the iPhone’s price points in place, which create the “gap”.

    
Other than that, we’re on the same page.


 ;)

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  6. Hi Sebastian. Thanks for the comment. All I mean is that if you have two items (whether they're fossils, computers, or whatever), you will have one gap in between them. If you place a third item between the other two, rather than plugging a gap, you create two new gaps - one on either side.

    i.e.:
    x {gap} y
    versus
    x {gap} z {gap} y

    So conceptually, plugging gaps is the wrong way to think about a continuum. It's a logical fallacy.

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  7. So many time people look at a product (especially an Apple product) and see no use for it in THEIR life but cannot get out of their own way to see how this product would be useful to others.

    The whole 'I wouldn't use it so this product is FAIL!' mentality.

    I'll tell you how this product will revolutionize MY world.

    Sales presentations.

    I use a 15" MacBook Pro for my presentations that I make at prospective clients' homes. Its a keynote that has about a hundred slides with video and audio and some nice transitions and builds. I do event video and photography.

    I can imagine using the ipad instead - so much easier to navigate, so much lighter. I can go to the iPhoto portion and hand it to the client, having them physically swipe through hundreds of photo samples - I simply wouldnt want (or let!) them do that on my laptop.

    Plus, for me to buy an iPad to give to a salesperson would be a lot less painful at $500 than $999 for a MacBook. Heck, i could hire TWO salespersons for the same price. My sales potential just doubled thanks to the iPad.

    Could it be a better product? Sure thing - Minidisplayport out would be wonderful (instead of that goofy VGA, but I understand the thinking there) and surely larger would be better. Id love a 13 or 15 inch iPad.

    And while we're at it, I like that the MacBook Pro line has adopted SD slots - not that I USE SD cards, but if I do, now I have a simple and ALMOST elegant solution.

    Id love to see that in the iPad.

    But, other than a few 'wishful things' this product will certainly do wonders for me.

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  8. I think there is a continuum but the end points don't stop at the smartphone and the laptop. Right now the space between the iPad 32GB and its neighbors is filled with different specced iPads and netbooks.

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  9. Hi Graham. Strangely, on the one hand, I think that you are correct that Steve feels a lack of confidence about those four presuppositions, and on the other hand, I disagree with any presupposition that Steve NEEDS to believe them.

    Here's what I mean: I believe that what Steve needed was a way to present the iPad that was clear and easy to grasp for everyman. Therefore to accomplish that, he needed to present the iPad in a context that people are already familiar with.

    So the familiar context he chose was: "Phones I Gap I Notebooks". People can grasp that.

    But in reality, I believe that what Steve was introducing was a product that serves such a new purpose that there really is no familiar context in which to place it accurately. Got it?

    So what is this new purpose which defies existing contexts, and therefore might not be easy to present?

    The iPad is Steve Jobs reinvention of the computer. He wants to redefine what computers will be like for regular people.

    For years people have asked "When is someone going to reinvent the UI? Computers are too complex, when is someone going to vastly simplify them?" The iPad is the answer to that. It's whole new way of "computing".

    Think of my patented 90% rule: What do 90% of users do 90% of the time they are on their computer? All of those things can be done on an iPad. That being the case, why not wring every last ounce of complexity out of the experience, and make it as dead simple and reliable as the iPhone?

    As processing power advances, in a few short years, computers as we know them today will only be used when high-powered applications such as photoshop or CAD must be run. Here's the key: all "regular" applications will have migrated to the iPad (or others). Nearly all consumers and most business users will not require a "real" computer, from a power standpoint, but will be more than satisfied with an iPad.

    To people like you and me, computers today are still complex, but in a sick way we kind of like it that way. But the vast majority of human beings cannot even figure out how to print a picture without help.

    Enter the iPad. Goodbye frustration. And maybe goodbye Windows for the 90% crowd!

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  10. Hi Scott. Good to hear from you and thanks as always for your interesting comments.
    I agree - Steve Jobs was just using the gap as a convenient way to intro the product, and to frame how people should think about it, rather than it being indicative of how he actually thinks about it.
    Regarding your point on the iPad as a replacement for a computer - I'm not sure this is how SJ sees it, since it's actually a companion product to a Mac or PC running iTunes.
    Interestingly, Netbooks are not necessarily companion products - they don't sync with desktops, and they give the user direct access to the file system and even support filesharing, etc. In practice, however, I think a lot of them are bought as "second computers". I'm going to have a hunt to see if there's data on that. Could make another interesting post :)

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  11. I have a brilliant :) response to your thought that Steve doesn't see the iPad as a computer, but as a companion product to a Mac or PC running iTunes:

    First, don't look at the state of things today. Think down-the-road a bit. Let's look just two or three years out.

    --Processing power. The iPad will be plenty fast.

    --There may be half a million apps in the App Store and that will include the most of the common apps that today we think are just for computers.

    --Syncing to iTunes. When iTunes and all your sings, videos and stuff are in the cloud, and your iPad has plenty of power...

    Now, where's the need for the Mac or PC?

    ReplyDelete
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