iPad & the Battle for the Future of Computing


I haven’t been sanguine about iPad. But consider this. One reasons Windows & PC hammered Apple for many years was user familiarity. The dominant metaphor in user interface for decades has been the mouse, the icon and the window. Windows didn’t develop this technology and it wasn’t the first to provide it. Windows was the first to mainstream it. In a world where the vast majority of consumers were familiar with Windows and not with Apple, the Mac got hammered. Familiarity with Windows made it easy for folks to buy another PC, and hard for Apple to sell them a Mac. Even while most agreed Apple made comparable or superior products, the PC dominated.

Suppose Apple believes touch interfaces will become the next paradigm of user interface design. Then being the first to build a large body of consumers who are familiar with Apple’s touch interface will position Apple to dominate that future in much the way they’ve been dominated through most of the mouse-and-windows era. Steve Jobs hinted at a strategic awareness of this in the iPad launch presentation. He said one of iPad’s strengths is that 75 million people use iPhone and iPod Touch so 75 million people already know how to use iPad. If Apple thinks this way about iPad surely they think the same way about the rest of computing.  Perhaps the strategic role of iPad in the Apple product mix is not so much about entering the crowded netbook market as it is about shifting Apple’s touch interface from the periphery of computing where mobile devices live into a central position where users are reading books, perusing the daily news, watching their movies, writing their documents and checking their mail.

The multi-touch mouse is another move in this direction. It and iPad are evolutionary products, underwhelming beside revolutionary rainmakers like iPod and iPhone. Examined alone they’re less than stellar products, but perhaps their strategic purpose is more about centralizing Apple’s role in the future of computing. Apple would love to put the first multi-touch PC in the position of presenting its users with a learning curve while competing with Apple products users already know how to operate.

  1. #1 by G.T. on June 2, 2010 - 11:34 AM

    Steve Jobs said today:

    “The transformation of PC to new form factors like the tablet is going to make some people uneasy because the PC has taken us a long ways. The PC is brilliant, and we like to talk about the post-PC era, but it’s uncomfortable.”

    You know he’s thinking about how to build a foundation for dominance in that era. Mainstreaming Apple multi-touch has to be more important to him strategically than selling iPad’s and touch mice.

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