I have a weakness. I like to think big. And when we heard so many juicy rumors about the Apple tablet device, now named the iPad, I knew that with Steve Jobs at the helm, I could afford to think big. So big did I think, that I suggested the iPad should take media consumption to the next level and create an entirely new category of device.
At first, Jobs appeared ready to confirm my suspicions. He said seductive things like, "Everybody uses a laptop and or a smartphone. The question has arisen lately. Is there room for a third category in the middle?" I was sitting on the edge of my seat, ready to hear Jobs demonstrate that new category of device. But he didn't.
Instead, what Apple debuted today was a very nice upgrade to the iPod Touch.
Don't get me wrong. I love the iPod Touch and I was this close to getting one for myself. Now that the iPad has arrived, I can finally get one, the new, big one. But it's not a new category of device. It doesn't really revolutionize the 5-6 hours of media we consume the way it could have. It doesn't even send Amazon's Kindle running to the hills for cover. In fact, the competitor likely to take the biggest hit from the arrival of the iPad is Apple, in the form of fewer iPod Touches sold and fewer MacBook Airs sold.
In the last month the din of rumor and the clamor of speculation inspired by Apple’s expected announcement this week has risen in a crescendo that is about to peak. We’re all convinced this Wednesday’s “one other thing” will be some kind of magical tablet device. We all expect it will be a big deal. And in these past weeks we’ve witnessed a parade of writers, analysts, and consumers who have all published their “wish” or even “guess” (or, in some cases, “fantasy”) lists. But we have yet to see what we think really matters: an Apple “should” list that identifies the things Apple should do to ensure that its device is successful.
The iPhone has proven to be the 'Ironclad' of mobile phones. Everything that went before was obsolete overnight, both smartphones and dumb phones included. No prior phone could compete with the experience and the abilities of the iPhone. Sure, some phones were superior in very specific regards -- especially on cost and call quality -- just as very early Ironclad warships were not always the most sea worthy vessels. But overall, nothing existing could go toe-to-toe with the iPhone.
Other manufacturers saw this fast and reacted. Just like with the warships of the latter part of the 19th century the pace of innovation since, both from other manufacturers and from across the whole mobile ecosystem, has been ferocious. This week at CES we've seen numerous competing high end mobile phone launches that demonstrate that the pace of innovation in mobile is accelerating, rather than slowing.
Consumers use this new breed of high end phones in completely different ways to older 'smartphones' or dumb phones (we have consumer data on this, clients please ask!). This is especially true in Europe where consumer ownership of Nokia's Symbian Series 60 handsets is so great.
Much that's been leaked about the Google announcement later today is familiar and evolutionary. What will matter most is how Google communicates the news and how it's received. This will set the tone for the Android smartphone operating system for 2010 and influence how other firms involved in Android -- Motorola, LG, SonyEricsson as well as the operators -- react and adjust their strategy.