IE Focus | By Enrique Dans, Professor at IE Business School
Apple did it again. It focused everyone’s attention on the iPad launch, and it will be a success because it takes the best that tablets had to offer and adds the Apple touch.The world of technology has experienced another of those characteristic “cult of the apple” events, also known as the “field of distortion of reality”. Once again we saw how that high priest called Steve Jobs, thin and fragile after his liver transplant, hypnotised the world of technology from a stage, completely redefining, almost reinventing, an entire market segment. For several hours, searches on Twitter for the word “iPad” returned more than five thousand new results per minute, while devotees and critics eagerly followed the news via the several thousands of bloggers and journalists who were at the Yerba Buena Centre of San Francisco. Once again the mystical information system designed by the company worked its magic: a combination of obsessive secrecy seasoned with a few information leaks that were not confirmed until the moment of truth and a staging capable of creating a truly surprising level of expectation.
Before the iPad, the world of mobile devices began with mobile telephones, continued with the so-called netbooks and ended with laptops, the category in which Apple´s sales reached their high. However, Apple had often snubbed the intermediate category of netbooks, which it referred to as small, limited computers that led to poor user experiences. As a result, Apple had a clear gap in its product range, a gap it has filled with a move that is strategically perfect. It offers a product that is familiar: after redefining mobile telephones with the iPhone and becoming the reference design, it has designed something that is simply a very big iPhone, something everyone who has ever had an iPhone in their hands knows how to use or, in the light of the company´s concept of usability, even if they have never held one. It is everything from a book or a magazine to a simple computer when used with a keyboard base. There is no doubt that its design is limited, falling short of what might be a full computer. But it satisfies needs that range from leisure to business, from media consumption (with the corresponding agreements with newspapers, magazines and publishers) to word processing, spreadsheets and presentations with a concept that is nothing short of brilliant. It might also be a last resort for sectors such as the press and publishers, to which it offers a repetition of the success iTunes brought to the music world: the possibility of a certain level of profitability under the terms and conditions Apple decides to apply.
Basically, it is more of the same thing: when the iPod appeared, many said that the MP3 player had been around for a long time and that Apple´s version was expensive and limited. When they presented the iPhone, the comments were that it was a ridiculously expensive telephone and that it would never catch on. Today, both products have been astoundingly successful and have completely redefined their respective categories. They have also become extraordinarily profitable products for the company and are the driving force behind economic ecosystems such as iTunes and the App Store. Tablet PCs were invented sometime ago. I once had one: a Compaq TC1000 I used every day between 2003 and 2006 with very good results. However, the iPad is, once again, a complete redefinition of the category, a reinvention that has gone through the Apple process, touched by the magic wand of Jobs, who says that it is one of the best products the company has ever launched.
You might love or hate the iPad. You might think it is the ninth wonder of the world from the mind of a genius or an absurd design that will only catch on among the brand´s snobs and fanatics. It doesn´t matter at all. In either case, you will soon grow tired of seeing the iPad everywhere you look. Once again, it is proof of the brilliant philosophy Apple applies to perfection, as summarised by Alan Kay: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.