Mike the Mad Biologist

I keep reading stories about how the iPad will revolutionize everything–or not (here’s one example). There are also lots of complaints about how the iPad is betwixt and between an iPhone (or similar device) and a laptop. But these posts are missing the point: the iPad is an attempt to sell computers to the approximately forty percent of households that don’t own one. Not only is this an opportunity to sell something to a consumer sector that otherwise wouldn’t buy any computers, but it also might ultimately, by serving as an introduction to the web, email, and basic computer operation, lead to buying an iBook.

I realize to some readers this seems farfetched (you’re reading this, right?), but many households don’t own a computer. While some of this is due to either poverty or lack of internet access, much of this results from just not having any real desire to have. If you don’t use a computer for your job, or if you don’t have a job (e.g., retired, taking care of kids), you might not want to learn how to use one. Also, many people somehow manage to keep busy doing other things: reading books, watching TV, talking to people in person (quaint, isn’t it?). They’ve done fine so far without a computer, and don’t really see the need to get one.

Targeting that market segment is the goal of the iPad. Not only are you selling product to completely new consumers, but you might even convince some of them to upgrade to a ‘real’ computer. All of the concern about lack of interfaces with standard devices, and low computing effectiveness are moot*. The iPad isn’t targeted towards those with basic computer skills, it’s targeted at those who lack them.

As a shareholder, I think this is very smart.

*The whole incompatibility with Flash is puzzling however.

Update: Frasier Spiers and Jennifer Oullette have related thoughts.

Comments

  1. #1 Marco
    February 1, 2010

    I would like to get the numbers on people in that 40% who don’t have computers, if it is due to limited finances this product will not appeal to them.

    As to the lack of Flash it has been speculated it is so you have to buy games, movies and TV shows from iTunes. Who would buy those things if Flash could be used to view them freely, a la hulu.

  2. #2 Bob
    February 1, 2010

    I figured it was targeted at highly specific applications. Load it up with some custom software developed for some process, and you’re good to go. It’s like the datapads they used Start Trek-TNG. ;-) You could have one configured for a medical office or a legal office or… whatever.

    lack of interfaces

    It’s got wi-fi and/or 3G. That’s all you need given the right software. In a business situation these things would probably be subservient to a central server application.

  3. #3 Charity
    February 1, 2010

    Flash is terrible. Long live HTML5!

  4. #4 jake
    February 1, 2010

    This is the first time I’ve heard this argument. I thought that the iPad was supposed to be a netbook killer… somehow…

    Regardless, I can think of one demographic that the iPad might be GREAT for: the elderly. If I had any grandparents left, I can totally see myself buying them a 3G iPad with one of those kickstands. Even when they are not using it, it can act as a photoframe connected to my Flickr account or something.

  5. #5 Isis the Scientist
    February 1, 2010

    I am curious to see which market buys in to this. At ScienceOnline I learned that minority students are more likely to communicate with handheld devices than anything else. It will be interesting to see what market this device serves, and how they adapt the iPad 2.0 to reach other markets.

    I love, love, love the idea but I think I will wait until they’ve parsed out some of the bugs.

  6. #6 cmt
    February 1, 2010

    I’m actually tentatively interested in the iPad as a potential replacement for a notebook. Not a notebook computer – I mean an actual notebook. With a third-party pen (they exist) and the right apps (they probably don’t .. yet), it could be useful for reading papers and writing notes and equations. It seems a bit much to have to get an entire tablet PC (and one that only runs the dreaded Windows) just to be able to do that when I have a perfectly good laptop already. The fact that it is also an ebook reader is a plus in that respect.

  7. #7 BROD
    February 1, 2010

    Exactly!!! Anyone with an iPhone gets it!! The ipad is going to a great product and any online retailer should be subsidizing these things!! Also online gaming should be very worried!

  8. #8 Nomen Nescio
    February 1, 2010

    what Marco said. i’d be quite surprised to learn a full 40% of U.S. households still lack a computer; i think i’d be surprised if that fraction was still above 20%, in fact. but whatever the percentage is, the vast majority of them will be looking for very, very cheap machines if they’re looking at all, which pretty much rules out anything with an apple logo on it.

    that said, i think i’m with Yglesias. tablet PC’s aren’t a new idea, and they’ve been just about to take over the world any day now for decades. i suppose it’s possible that apple might change that, but if so i’d like to know just exactly what their tablet does right that every other tablet so far has done somehow wrong. i, too, suspect the real issue is simply that keyboards — even crappy, cramped, netbook keyboards — are just plain better as input devices than touchscreens are, for all but a small number of highly specialized applications.

  9. #9 MRW
    February 1, 2010

    “i’d be quite surprised to learn a full 40% of U.S. households still lack a computer”

    According to the US Census Bureau, 67% of US households had a computer 5 years ago. That’s the most up-to-date number I could find. A bit of extrapolation (very rough) based on the trend since 1992 suggests the current fraction of households with computers is probably 70-75%, leaving 25-30% without.

    Mike’s estimate is high, but not so much that it defeats his point. I’m still not so sure that the iPad is targeted where he thinks it is, though. I didn’t manage to find the numbers on why people don’t own computers (although I know the Census Bureau collects this info). I’d be interested to know what fraction of households that don’t have a computer can afford a $500 dollar computer-like gadget (probably plus the monthly internet connection – a device with minimal non-wifi connectivity seems fairly useless without a home internet connection).

    Of the fraction that can afford, but don’t have, a home computer, I have trouble believing that enough of them actually would buy an iPad to make them a good primary target audience. I’m sure that Apple hopes to sell some to them, but I can’t believe that they’ll make up the majority of the millions of units expected to be sold in the first year.

  10. #10 Bob
    February 1, 2010

    for all but a small number of highly specialized applications.

    Eh, you guys just aren’t seeing it. Forget about sitting on a couch at home web browsing and emailing. Think about someone on a job where they are highly mobile, maybe even walking around all day with this thing. One quick example off the top of my head: a real estate agent with a Century 21 developed App that can access the listing services, financing and loan apps, local area info database, and so on.

    It’s a situation where you don’t have to get Apple approved apps through the Apple store. A company can get a developer’s license (which they will need anyway to write the software) and put *whatever* they want on company owned iPads.

  11. #11 Joshua
    February 1, 2010

    All of this stuff that relies on special-purpose apps is really funny to me, considering how the only way to get your application onto the iPad is through Apple’s online app store. Maybe Century 21 can afford to have its developers shove their app and its updates through the app store… but then the RE/MAX guys or whoever could download it and use it, too, and Century 21 can’t stop them.

    And there’s no way for some small shop to write their own app based on their specific needs and get it onto their iPads, for that matter. They’d have to go through the app store approvals and blah blah blah.

  12. #12 GrayGaffer
    February 1, 2010

    You don’t need to write an iPhone App to get useful special purpose apps. Write an AJAX app where the heavy lifting is done by your corporate server and the iPad’s Safari does the UI. Works just fine, thankyou.

    If you don’t believe me, try this fun game written for the Browser, not the store:

    http://www.conceptdraw.com/aha/

    iPad Safari is quite Javascript capable.

    Why aren’t there more? Possibly because there is not such a clear place to go shopping for them, also they would not be so easily monetizable. But you don’t need monetization for corporate special purpose apps.

  13. #13 John
    February 1, 2010

    “Maybe Century 21 can afford to have its developers shove their app and its updates through the app store… but then the RE/MAX guys or whoever could download it and use it, too, and Century 21 can’t stop them.”

    This isn’t accurate. There is a separate developer program that allows in-house developers to create apps that are deployed within organizations for this exact purpose. I’m sure it will be expanded for the iPad since it is a perfect fit

    As for Flash, it is appearing more and more that Apple has a problem with Adobe though there are issues with how flash would work without a cursor (no rollover state for example). I’m skeptical that it is just to make people use the App Store since that doesn’t explain how I can easily use mp3s and rip my own DVDs to use on my iPhone or Mac.

    I don’t buy into the idea that the iPad is for those who don’t have computers. I think it is more likely to be bought by people who have computers who just want a lite version for casual use. I’ll probably get one and see it being used by anyone within reach around the house for quick hit activities like looking up who that actor that looks familar is. You can grab the pad, hit IMDB and close it much quicker than how you use the computer.

  14. #14 Nomen Nescio
    February 1, 2010

    It’s a situation where you don’t have to get Apple approved apps through the Apple store. A company can get a developer’s license (which they will need anyway to write the software) and put *whatever* they want on company owned iPads.

    or i can stick Ubuntu on my netbook and write whatever i want, however i want, without needing to pay anything for any kind of license. Python’s free, and so’s gcc. so should the basic programming tools for every platform be, beyond possibly a nominal charge for the duplication of the install CD’s or whatever.

    why on earth should i have to pay to write software for a computing device i already own? that’s like owning a pen and a legal pad, but having to pay licensing to jot down some notes with them. the notion’s inane. having the “option” to pay money for to get around an “app store” which shouldn’t have to be in my way to begin with is crazy talk.

  15. #15 Jean-Denis
    February 2, 2010

    Nomen, the notion that you can develop software for free is not very old.

    Also when you buy a computer, you own the hardware, but not the software. You only have a license to the software.

    Apple decided that the 99% of people who won’t need to develop and privately deploy their own software shouldn’t have to pay for the license to do so. They also decided that the license to do so was available for $299.

    So if you need to privately deploy your own software, then the first iPad you buy is $299 more expensive.

    You are entitled to dislike it. And you are free not to buy it. It might make sense for others (like me), even economic sense.

    That said, all the development tools from Apple are free, contrary to Microsoft’s.

  16. #16 Nomen Nescio
    February 2, 2010

    the notion that you can develop software for free is not very old.

    the notion of software and its development isn’t very old to begin with. the two are arguably contemporaneous; i know RMS has been beating the free software drum for most of my lifetime, and he only started doing that when the idea of non-free software began to look threatening to him.

    the notion of “owning” software may, in fact, be what i’m railing against — depending a little on what you mean by “owning” such an intangible, since the concept can be a bit slippery. i do not “own” any of the code on my Linux systems (excepting the bits i write myself, but that’s a trivial truth; anyway, i’m the only person interested in those), but i still get the source code and development tools for them all. the freedoms that fact give me are important to me. important enough that, were i ever to write any code that anybody else on the planet expressed any interest in, i’d slap the GPL on it and give them the source.

    Apple decided that the 99% of people who won’t need to develop and privately deploy their own software shouldn’t have to pay for the license to do so.

    needless to say, i agree! it’s that other decision of theirs which you also mentioned that i think is unwarranted, exploitative, insulting, and damaging. especially given the fact that Apple is in the business of selling hardware, i see no reason why they should have made it, and some very good arguments for why they should have sided with me instead. i think they’re shooting themselves in the foot by making it harder for other people to make their hardware product more appealing to their customers, but then ballistic self-injury is nothing new to Apple.

    That said, all the development tools from Apple are free

    here, i’ll give you this pen and this pad of paper for free. want to write anything? gotta pay me a $299 license fee first. only a solipsist would claim that that is actually “free” in any meaningful sense at all. free is firing up synaptic and downloading whatever devel tools i want from the repositories i’ve configured, no licensing, no nothing. and even getting the source code for the tools themselves if i desire it.

  17. #17 Jean-Denis
    February 2, 2010

    Nomen,

    I see your point, and I respect your position. I also respect the position of Apple who invested millions of $ in R&D and need to recoup on their investment, and to return some profit to its shareholders.

    They decided it was a good idea to split the license cost of their software the way they did. It might be that they think it allows them to lower the price of the iPad for the rest of them (thus shifting to the left of the demand curve), by switching a bit of it to a smaller fraction of the user base with lower price elasticity.

    You contend their choice is bad even for them and that, far from maximizing their ROI, this will be counterproductive.

    You might be right. But I disagree.

  18. #18 Jean-Denis Muys
    February 2, 2010

    Let me also add that the “Free” development tools from Apple are far from useless. Nothing else is required to develop for the Mac platform. While you might contend this is unrelated to the iPad, it is technically related, and it possibly is also quite related for long term strategic reasons for Apple.

    Additionally, there are ways to install the software you have developed using those free tools onto an iPhone or iPod touch without paying the $299 Apple asks for their signing certificate facility. It won’t hopefully be long before you can do so on an iPad as well.

    Now I understand you’d like Apple to condone those ways. I’d like that too. I won’t hold my breath.

  19. #19 Bob
    February 2, 2010

    why on earth should i have to pay to write software for a computing device i already own?

    You don’t. The gnu compiler with Objective C 2.0, XCode and Cocoa are all included on every Mac.

    that’s like owning a pen and a legal pad, but having to pay licensing to jot down some notes with them.

    You win worst analogy of the day. :-)

    Some of you folks are stuck in “me” mode. I’m talking about businesses where a $99 developer license comes under “Miscellaneous Expenses”. I know people who have started businesses. They don’t give a gnat’s fart about the religion of Open Source. If an OS solution works, fine. Apache is a good example for web servers.

    Write an AJAX app where the heavy lifting is done by your corporate server and the iPad’s Safari does the UI. Works just fine, thankyou.

    Until you lose your connection. Oops. Or your single point of failure fails. Mobile, people, means possibly going places where reception is poor to nonexistent.

  20. #20 Nomen Nescio
    February 2, 2010

    The gnu compiler with Objective C 2.0, XCode and Cocoa are all included on every Mac.

    wonderful! are they also included with the iphone, and — much more to the point — will they be included with the ipad?

    i can understand the iphone coming without development tools, actually. it’s a phone, after all, and most folks don’t think of even the smartest of phones as being computers; i myself see them more as appliances. one doesn’t expect to be able to program one’s appliances, even if it’s technically possible.

    but the ipad is being represented as a tablet computer, and those are computers. to me, at least, the very definition of the word includes “programmable, general purpose computing device”; if i can’t write code for it, it’s not a computer.

    it might be a really nice scientific calculator, ebook reader, and flat surface for resting my legal pad on while jotting notes in a meeting after its batteries die on me (;-) but if it’s a computer, it should come with at very least some form of scripting language for me to automate common tasks with. that’s what i expect computers to be capable of, and i use such capabilities in all my computers routinely.

    I’m talking about businesses where a $99 developer license comes under “Miscellaneous Expenses”.

    i’m not a business. i’m a private person who happens to know how to code. (i mean, it’s not as if it’s hard to learn. pimply-faced teenagers pick it up in no time.) telling me i have to either be a business, or pay up as if i had that sort of expense account, just to do something a high school kid has no problem learning how to do, is patronizing and insulting to me. it’s implying that private people like me are second-class customers, as well as being mere consumers who shouldn’t be thinking about producing our own code.

    it is, in fact, quite a bit like saying you can own the legal pad — maybe even a pen to go with it, if you ask nicely — but only professionals and businesses who can pay for the privilege get to actually write anything. that’s not for the average paper-consumer like you and me, oh no. us regular folks should buy their pads pre-written, if you want to add your own little notes, that’s a big chunk of extra change you’ll have to pony up first. shouldn’t be any real concern if you’re a company in the writing business, though…

    ($99, BTW? where’d that number come from, all of a sudden? did Apple decide to cut their license price by two-thirds overnight?)

    I know people who have started businesses. They don’t give a gnat’s fart about the religion of Open Source.

    none of those people are Everyman, bob. here, now you know me; i work for a small business, and you can bet it cares about open source — all our back-office billing code runs on open source, as do most of the servers that provide what our customers are paying us for. we’d have a hard time either making or tracking revenue without open source and free software; we might arguably owe our corporate existence to Richard Stallman, albeit indirectly.

  21. #21 GrayGaffer
    February 2, 2010

    @19 Bob:

    Write an AJAX app where the heavy lifting is done by your corporate server and the iPad’s Safari does the UI. Works just fine, thankyou.

    Until you lose your connection. Oops. Or your single point of failure fails. Mobile, people, means possibly going places where reception is poor to nonexistent.

    Well, back end is not essential. You can do the whole thing in Javascript if you want. Use the SQLite HTML5 database locally, etc etc. You can put all the code into a data: style bookmark and save it to the pad-top. However, if the app is to be at all useful to the business it will need to connect to the corporate server sometimes.

    On another tack: I just noticed the iPad is the same size as a Crestron home automation controller surface. Pair it with a Mac Mini server with a bunch of serial ports (for X-10, ces, etc), some pretty trivial perl cgi’s, and a pretty AJAX front end … jes’ thinkin’. About 10% the cost of a Crestron system.

  22. #22 Nomen Nescio
    February 2, 2010

    Well, back end is not essential. You can do the whole thing in Javascript if you want.

    or in a Java applet, one presumes. if the ipad has something akin to java web start, you should be able to use fairly heavyweight java clients with it. java applets are sneered at more often than they should be. considering the online games i’ve seen written that way, it may be a painful platform to write for but by no means lacking in power.

  23. #23 Jean-Denis
    February 3, 2010

    Nomen, all of a sudden, I have the feeling you are not arguing in good faith. I hope I’m wrong.

    First off, the license cost: you started enquiring about deploying an app internally in an organization. The license cost for that is $299. It’s called the enterprise program.

    Now you talk about something else. The basic license to deploy an app. That one is $99. This is not new. You are welcome to research the internet without being spoon-fed.

    To be really precise, there are three “kinds” of development for the iPhone platform:

    1- Free: the development tools, including the iPod/iPad emulator.
    2- $99: the basic development program. This lets you to deploy your app on the App Store, AND to deploy it on an ad hoc basis on up to 100 machines per build.
    3- $299: the enterprise program. This lets you to deploy your app on an unlimited number of machines in your organization.

    Regarding the rest of your rant:

    If you want to “compute”, buy a computer. The iPad is not a computer in the sense that you describe it. To use a computer, you need to be a geek (to some extent). You need to understand what a file hierarchy is for example. This is geeky. My mother doesn’t: she saves everything on her desktop.

    We are geeks.

    The rest of them aren’t.

    They look at this iPad as a *major* pain relief.

    Many around me at least.

  24. #24 Nomen Nescio
    February 3, 2010

    you started enquiring about deploying an app internally in an organization.

    you seem to have me confused with somebody else. i jumped into the middle of such a discussion, and i may not have made it sufficiently clear at the time that i was doing a minor threadjack; i’m not very interested in the corporate-internal development scenario. i do a lot of that for a living, true, but it’s not a private interest of mine, and the company i work for uses no apple platforms.

    (although the notion of having to pay to deploy an app you wrote in-house on hardware your company already bought is, i admit, very strange to me. i doubt my company would go for that, considering how much in-house code we use and deploy for absolutely free.)

    Now you talk about something else. The basic license to deploy an app. That one is $99.

    Bob brought that up, not me. i still have no real idea how these two fees differ, or what value you’re supposed to be purchasing for each. yes, i could go googling, but given that i have exactly no interest in ever paying either sum for any reason, i’d be wasting my time — at least arguing here, i’m entertaining myself. ($99? $299? i’m paying $0, myself. if you’d like to know what i’m getting for it, google “ubuntu”. there’s a live CD you can try…)

    If you want to “compute”, buy a computer. The iPad is not a computer in the sense that you describe it.

    ah, good, now we’re getting somewhere! i had misunderstood the ipad’s intended purpose, or at least understood it radically differently from how you have understood it. if your understanding is the correct one, then my rant was indeed aimed at the wrong target.

    To use a computer, you need to be a geek (to some extent).

    now we can start arguing about whose understanding of “geek” is the more likely correct one. that may not be an entirely productive use of our time, but at least we need not speak at cross purposes as much any longer. i think you vastly underestimate what “geekiness” is, and overestimate the mental agility needed to use a fully-fledged computer productively. for example, the concept of information stored in abstract containers is not at all hard to grasp, on the contrary it flows naturally from the sort of abstract thinking humans use all the time.

    (some people prefer to use just one single container, and leave it front and center before their eyes all the time. that may seem inefficient to some others, but whatever works, works. trying to tell a person that they’re working in the wrong way when they’re working the way they want to is almost never productive.)

    yes, computers are complex tools, but you don’t need to understand the complexities of how they work to use them. what they do is in fact a profoundly human notion — manage information in more (and less) abstract forms. we all do that every time we use language — even those of us who may not qualify as “geeks”.

  25. #25 Jean-Denis
    February 3, 2010

    I apologize confusing who said what.

    “you don’t need to understand the complexities of how [computers] work to use them”

    That’s not what I meant. I meant that it is inherently complex to use a computer, without even starting to understand how they work.

    My example was a file system. Its hierarchical nature is cognitively complex. Yes it’s possible to *learn* to use one without understanding how they work internally.

    The rest of them don’t. They keep suffering.

    Another example: I have been telling my SO for years that hyperlinks on the internet don’t need a double click. Yet she keeps double-clicking everything she wants to open. The distinction between a single and a double-click is cognitively complex. It’s for geeks. Of course she could *learn* the difference: she is biochemist and she has got a PhD.

    But she doesn’t and she probably won’t ever. She doesn’t care about these. For her it’s unacceptable that she would have to learn: she is not at the service of the computer, the computer should be at her service.

    Clearly, she doesn’t want a computer any more. She wants an iPad.

    And I will port her lab book and curve fitting software I’ve developed for the Mac to run on her iPad.

    Because I’m a geek and she isn’t.

    And she will be delighted, just as will my mother and a countless number of my computer-averse friends.

  26. #26 muhtar
    February 8, 2010

    I’m actually tentatively interested in the iPad as a potential replacement for a notebook. Not a notebook computer – I mean an actual notebook. With a third-party pen (they exist) and the right apps (they probably don’t .. yet), it could be useful for reading papers and writing notes and equations. It seems a bit much to have to get an entire tablet PC (and one that only runs the dreaded Windows) just to be able to do that when I have a perfectly good laptop already. The fact that it is also an ebook reader is a plus in that respect.

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