Defensive Strategy

The Big iPad Question: What is it?

15 Apr 2010  

One of the core parts of any positioning is the frame of reference. 

Before you can tell someone about the benefits of a particular product you first have to tell them what the product is.  This is a type of, well, what?  It is hard to discuss the unique benefits of chocolate ripple ice cream, for example, before you establish the fact that we are talking about ice cream.

So what is the frame of reference for the iPad?

This is a rather difficult question.

Is the iPad a type of computer?  It seems a bit like that, since there is a key board and it is about the size of a computer.  But it isn’t a very good computer.

Is the iPad a type of smart phone, like the iPhone?  It seems a bit like that, too, since it runs apps and is portable.  But it doesn’t make calls.

Is the iPad a type of ebook, like the Kindle?  This seems quite good, but then I’m not sure what is particularly good about the iPad versus the Kindle.

Is the iPad a type of television?  I guess it could be this, too, since there is a nice big color screen suitable for watching things.

The new ads for iPad seem to position it as an ebook, since they show people reading books on a couch.  But this doesn’t seem like a compelling proposition.

Sorting out this frame of reference question will determine much of what happens to the iPad long-term.  The frame certainly isn’t clear to me right now, but the folks at Apple are pretty savvy marketers so I’m confident they will clue us all in as the time goes by.

Any thoughts on this?  What is the iPad, anyway?

7 Responses

  1. Murali says:

    Apple seems to be of the opinion that as long as they put an apple logo on the top of anything, people would buy it. I’m not sure whether Apple themselves had a clear idea on what this product is about. It is quite possible that they wanted to kick start a new profitable product line, and given the high enthusiasm people showed for Apple products, Apple might have just caved in to their expectations.
    It might also be true that Apple wants the people and the App developers and other s/w companies to define what iPad is supposed to be for. Like the App developers defined the iPhone experience. So for now, in all the Ads they just show people using it to read books.
    Also, no one seems to notice how inconvenient it would be to hold iPad in your hands for an extended period of time for reading. iPad requires you to use the device in a laid back position with your legs raised and placed on a solid surface. Not an effective/comfortable way to use a device for an extended time. Kindle is lightweight compared to iPad, and needless to say also easy on eye, and can be used for a long time for reading.

  2. fnoorali says:

    I recently read a HBR blog that explained it well- the iPad is simply a device that reflects how we use computing now. The proliferation of social media, such as facebook, linkedIn, twitter, etc has use clicking our mouse more than using our keyboard. To that end, the iPad is a computer where our finger is the mouse.

    Can I write my reports and run financial models on iPad? Probably- but that is not what I would use it for as it would be tedious. Rather, I use it when I want to twitter with other people watching the Stanley Cup playoffs or when I am sitting at a cafe and want to catch up with what’s going on with my friends via Facebook.

    Data, particularly visual data, is increasingly prevalent (the open data initiative of World Bank announced today is one example) and we will find that computers such as the iPad will become increasingly important in presenting that data in a manner that appeals to the consumer. The idea of simply flipping through data using your finger is far more attractive than reaching for a mouse….

  3. RC says:

    The iPAD is a tool that converts otherwise boring segments of one’s time into more gratifying periods of entertainment.

  4. Rob DeMento says:

    There is no frame of reference for the iPad.

    Is it a netbook killer? (No, not really….it’s pretty hard to use productivity tools on the iPad).

    Is it a great eReader? Nope. (I’m not an eBook person to begin with, but I’m not any more compelled to read on the IPad than from a print magazine).

    Is it an oversized iPhone/iPod Touch? From my experience, no…and I’ll explain why.

    I was skeptical about buying an iPad, but then I was fortunate enough to win one in a Twitter contest (no joke, thanks again!). As an iPhone user, the interface is of course familiar. However, “familiar” is where it ends. The iPad is creating a whole new level of interactivity in the way that content is delivered – the interaction with the content is much more intuitive than from a web browser on a computer, but because of the screen real estate creates a number of additional options compared to an iPhone. The iPad provides access to web content in a smaller, more convenient package (compared to a laptop) for viewing from your couch, in your kitchen, on a plane, etc. And with it’s bigger screen (as compared to an iPhone), it is much more effective at delivering that content.

    Applications for the iPhone that have been especially adapted for the iPad have a whole new layer of functionality (and usability) that wasn’t feasible in the iPhone version. As one example, Epicurious (a cooking website with matching iPhone and iPad applications) is leaps and bounds better on an iPad. Before owning an iPad, when using an Epicurious recipe I had to print everything out because using a laptop in the kitchen (dirty hands, spills, etc.) wasn’t feasible, and looking at the small screen of an iPhone really wasn’t a great option either. But with the iPad propped against the backsplash, it was easy to navigate the recipe without taking up a lot of counter space or trying to fumble with the small screen of an iPhone. When I had to scroll down but had dirty hands, my knuckle was plenty good enough to make that happen. (Nevermind the little added features that made it much better than either the web or the iPhone versions – for example a little slider that you can move to help you keep your place in the recipe).

    Anyway, I’ve digressed. The iPad is a new platform for delivering user-defined content. There truly is no frame of reference. In our world of rapidly-evolving technology, the content is the king. Apple has brought to market a whole new interactive method of content delivery. So the best you’re going to do is “interactive media device.” That’s about as low of a category as granular as you’re going to get. And having seen the leapfrogging in functionality from the iPhone versions of applications to the iPad, I have no doubt that the best is yet to come.

    And no, I don’t work for Apple!

  5. kquesen says:

    These are all good questions. I wrote about the iPad on my blog also. Besides a device to combat netbooks and Kindles I believe it is Steve Jobs attempt to save journalism. Journalism needs a new revenue model and Jobs is quoted in The New York Times about trying to save newspapers . . .

    Can the iPad save my newspaper?

  6. shira abel says:

    The iPad is trying to be the answer to magazines – especially colorful glossy mags that got battered by the internet. It’s also meant for video, but something smaller and portable. It’s not meant for reading books, the kindle is better spec’d for that. It’s also meant for apps. It’s going to replace paper magazines and comic books though – that’s for certain.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Shira–Good point. I think it is odd that iPad doesn’t really work well for book reading. Hard to imagine it will succeed as an incremental device. Would someone buy an iPad and a Kindle? And an iPhone? This is all a bit hard to sort out.


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