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iPad: What Will Happen

I’m enjoying watching folks around the world prognosticate about the iPad, what it is and is not, how it might sell and what it means for computing. Sorry, but I can’t help but weigh in with some predictions.

My son (age 12) and I have a bet at the moment about the outcome of the NCAA basketball tournament, which I know nothing at all about: I wagered that Duke would emerge victorious (I ignored the rest of the brackets). If I am correct, he owes me $487 trillion dollars; otherwise I owe him $12. (Hey, I’m trying to teach him about Popperian philosophy.)

So, it is with the understanding that if I’m right, you, dear reader will owe me $487 trillion dollars, that I offer this humble marketplace analysis.

  • iPad will be released on Saturday, April 3. That means that a ton of people are going to get to play with it over the Easter weekend. And I’m talking about peoples’ moms and aunts here. It’s been widely reported that the experience of using the device is quite seductive, and I’ve argued it’s because it activates different parts of the brain. Somewhere around 200,000 units will be sold over this coming weekend, and each one will be shown to an average of 10.6 other people, creating a latent (nagging) demand for another 21 million units.
  • A bunch of old-media outlets will rejigger their offerings for the iPad and try to monetize the audience. Many already have. But this is Waterloo. Or Little Big Horn. They will sucker some folks into using the device for the “traditional” content, but sales will be disappointing. Ultimately they are going to have to radically reconsolidate their offerings and innovate in some serious ways. See below re: piracy.
  • The device is going to continue to rip through the population, busting past all sales records for a general computing device. This will have nothing to do with features or even the apps (yet). This will be based on the user experience alone. Everyone who uses the thing comes away sounding like a religious convert. In the same way that the original iPod just “felt right,” Jony Ive has managed to bring meaning to a general purpose computing device like nothing ever before. The central thing Ive has done is to bring the experience of computing directly to the user, with no barriers and no “analog” devices like the mouse. People will have a visceral relationship with these devices.
  • Roughly 20% of the initial batch of Wi-Fi only devices will be “handed down” to a secondary wave of users when the 3G models are introduced a month later. This will amplify the initial sales numbers, as many folks end up buying two units in the first month.
  • PDF-format books and news will become the Lingua Franca. What happened to music and movies is about to happen to books. A wave of piracy will couple with a race to the bottom in content prices. Some killer app, possibly Kindle for iPad, will capture a big chunk of the market share. It doesn’t much matter how it plays out, but paper books are going to be items of “significance” and the kind of thing hipsters trade, like vinyl records.
  • All desktop software will seem obsolete overnight. The obsessive attention Apple has paid to aesthetics in the built-in reader, calendar, and email apps will set the bar not only for other app developers on the iPad, but also for the iPhone and particularly the Desktop. Expect your Mac to feel particularly creaky. And Windows? It’s gonna seem steampunk compared to the twee aesthetics and colors emerging in the iPad design universe.
  • WiFi is going to become even more ubiquitous and free. Businesses are going to trip over themselves to get iPad users into their establishments, as the iPad rides its way to prominence. WiFi-only iPads are going to be somewhat cooler than the 3G versions.
  • Hipsters are gonna start using iPads as cell phones, using Skype and similar apps to bypass carrier relationships altogether. I’d expect the 3G-iPads to be used for voice too, marking the first significant use of the cellular network in a “data-only” mode, which will ultimately lead to the scrapping of the whole “voice/voicemail/minutes” paradigm. The first carrier to do this will have a temporary competitive advantage.
  • A whole new market in mouseless/keyboardless computing will emerge. Yeah, I don’t know what it’s going to look like either. But the raw numbers (100 million by 2015) of the iPad platform will create a new kind of pop/tech culture. Expect a New York Times Sunday magazine piece; potentially in that publications’ last print issue.
  • The next generation Macintosh, if there is such a thing, will be based on the iPad OS. Hard to say what this might mean, but I would not be surprised if Mac OS was phased out over a few years, or possibly converted into a server-only OS for the MacPro / X-Serve platform only.

Remember that demand is not static waiting to be filled by the possible universe of devices: if that were the case, the iPod and the Mac and the iPhone should never really have gotten any traffic. What Apple understands is that good design can change the market, and invent new markets.

And this is what the iPad will do: invent a new market. And the presence of that new market will profoundly change the dynamics of the existing (previous) market. New demand will emerge, and all kinds of new supply will emerge. The great thing about Apple, particularly Jobs and Ive, is that they know how to drive change.

And that, ultimately, is what entrepreneurship and innovation are all about. If it were just about building devices to match the demands of the existing market, the Chinese seem to do a pretty good job of that.

And I will supply my banking information, so you can wire me the money, when this all comes to pass. If I’m wrong, I’ll buy you a beer.

  • Arnold

    Well, either a lot of people will owe you $487 trillion dollars, which would make you a gazillionaire, or you will owe a lot of people a beer (which could cost you $487 trillion dollars). If the former happens, can I borrow some money? If the latter happens, I like Sam Adams.

  • http://jonathanjulian.com/ jjulian

    What do you think of the requirement that iPad owners still need to own a Mac or PC to “sync”? What will it take to lift that requirement and allow someone to own *just* an iPad?

  • davetroy

    I'm not convinced that much in the way of syncing will be required to begin with. Sure, that's the best way to push media onto it at the beginning, but I'd expect that most people will consume media directly on the device going forward.

    Also it looks like Apple, at least, has every intention of making music and movies available from the cloud, and having users purchase rights to materials rather than “copies” of them. That's what they are building their new data centers to do, it seems.

    Lastly, the thing has almost no limiting characteristics. Everything can be changed in software. If they decide they need to go in some direction, they can just push out another release.

  • samaparicio

    Dave, bravo for venturing out some predictions. I, for one, am not looking forward to your last: “iPad OS” as the future of Mac. We keep on forgetting that Apple is becoming less and less open, more and more controlling. What problem do I have today that requires Apple to control the applications on my computer?. And for that same reason, I have a harder time believing your “iPad as cell phone” prediction.

  • davetroy

    Sam, I think Apple's model of closed control, and of abstracting away files and instead relying on 'apps' as the model, is going to resonate very strongly with the casual computing market, and that's a market that has yet to really be created yet. So I stand by the prediction; MacOS will probably become something targeted at professionals, and there will always be room for new niche players with Linux, Chrome, and the like. Dominance of the center of the bell-curve probably requires vertical integration.

    The iPad as cellphone thing was kind of in gest, but think about it: the iPhone is used more as a general purpose computer than as a phone. And do we really need to talk casually very much anymore? A ton of people use phones for things like conference calls and planned person-to-person calls. For everything else we tend towards email/SMS/Twitter/Foursquare.

    The sooner we stop thinking of the future in terms of phones and more in terms of portable ubiquitous computing+data comms the better. Phones are dead.

  • gregorylent

    i go the other way .. i think the press will use such phrases as sales are curiously flat, about three months out

  • davetroy

    That could be. And I might owe you a beer. Another possibility is that we are both right and the vision I'm describing will take 12 months to take off. Will definitely be interesting to watch!

  • http://smartic.us bryanl

    Won't you need a mac to create ipad apps? I don't think Macs are going away, but I do think this device will carve out its own niche.

  • davetroy

    I kinda covered that; making apps is not a mainstream activity. So I could easily see the Mac turning more into a 'studio' device (for music, high-end video, programming, servers, etc) and the middle of the bell curve going more towards phone/pad/Cocoa-touch-based devices.

  • http://hecker.org/ Frank Hecker

    Dave, I agree with you that syncing is a mechanism that's past its sell-by date. In my case I could see having a trio of devices: company-provided Windows laptop (not used for anything but work), personal WiFi-only iPad (for “play” activities, including reading blogs and books, watching videos, downloading and playing music, etc.), and iPhone (for up-to-the-minute checking of work or personal email and “standing in line” perusal of web content).

    I happen to also have a personal MacBook Pro I can use to sync the iPad and iPhone, but why should I need this? Ideally I should be able to download everything I need from the network, with cloud-based backup storage of my personal music, video, book, and application library, however those items were originally acquired. (For example, I buy all my music through eMusic, not the iTunes Store.) However I don't think that's going to be possible in the near-term future, both because the rights holders don't want to enable this vision (being stuck in their current business models) and because Apple wants to control the direct path by which content gets on the iPad (or iPhone).

  • http://hecker.org/ Frank Hecker

    Dave, I agree with you that syncing is a mechanism that's past its sell-by date. In my case I could see having a trio of devices: company-provided Windows laptop (not used for anything but work), personal WiFi-only iPad (for “play” activities, including reading blogs and books, watching videos, downloading and playing music, etc.), and iPhone (for up-to-the-minute checking of work or personal email and “standing in line” perusal of web content).

    I happen to also have a personal MacBook Pro I can use to sync the iPad and iPhone, but why should I need this? Ideally I should be able to download everything I need from the network, with cloud-based backup storage of my personal music, video, book, and application library, however those items were originally acquired. However I don't think that's going to be possible in the near-term future, both because the rights holder don't want to enable this vision and because Apple wants to control the direct path y which content gets on the iPad (or iPhone).

  • Craig Poland

    Dave, I was just reading this post and thought a quote from a friend of mine who was among the first to get an iPad (Glenn Parkinson) would be in order:

    “With it's larger size, you do expect the iPad to be a computer. So you really notice the lack of an Explorer or Finder or file structure or Control Panel or driver installation, etc. etc. The only way Apple can get away with this is to tightly control everything that goes into its products – a policy frustrating to many, but necessary for their goal.

    I was just absorbing the notion of making the operating system invisible, when I realized that the iPad almost makes the user interface invisible, too. Controls are minimal and tend to “pop up” only when you need them. The effect is stunning – you just have a screen to look at – no buttons or controls or menu bars – just a screen doing something. I can see why people use the term “magical.”

    And, in fact, I've been toying with the idea of replacing my cell phone, when the contract is up, with my iPod Touch running Skype. There are plusses and minuses of course (emergency calling comes to mind), but I've been actively thinking along these lines for about 2 months now. In the future, some may find it amusing that we differentiated “voice” and “data” for so long.

  • http://www.ipadaccessoriesplaza.com/ iPad Accessories

    Yes, You are absolutely right. Apple iPad is changing the existing market by introducing the new technologies and increasing the demand for iPad and its accessories.