John Gruber, who blogs at Daring Fireball, and is an essential source of news and opinion on all things Apple. Today Gruber promotes his own column in the next issue of MacWorld, where he attempts to describe how Apple new product development works and how the process ends up creating market shifting products.
Read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt:
They take something small, simple, and painstakingly well considered. They ruthlessly cut features to derive the absolute minimum core product they can start with. They polish those features to a shiny intensity. At an anticipated media event, Apple reveals this core product as its Next Big Thing, and explains—no, wait, it simply shows—how painstakingly thoughtful and well designed this core product is. The company releases the product for sale.Gruber then goes on to trace the history of various Apple products/innovations, leading eventually his views of the iPad: "The iPad really is The Big One: Apple’s reconception of personal computing," Gruber writes.
I think Gruber is right about much of this, and he is definitely in a better position to comment on all things tech than I am. But having lived with the iPad for over a month now, and having written about and tested many news apps developed for the device, I am a still a little torn between thinking the iPad is revolutionary, or that tablets designed like the iPad will be the real revolution.
Gruber talks about the development of the first iPods and how the devices were (typical for Apple) sleek and minimal -- that is, they were engineered down to their essential elements. Only later was more functionality added.
Where I question whether the iPad can be as important a device for Apple as the iPod is in the area of openness and compatibility. When Apple first opened the iTunes store, it used the AAC format with added encryption instead of the more common MP3 format. The result was lots of complaints and claims that Apple was closing down its system. It was not true, not because that wasn't Apple plan, but because re-encoding music from one format to another is so easy (and still is).
Today, the Achilles’ heel of the iPad could be its inability to display all Internet sites as currently designed, and the fact that many news organizations have hesitated designing apps for the product because of this same weakness -- in other words, Flash.
Am I arguing that not supporting Flash is a mistake? No. I think we will have to wait and see. But I would argue that if another manufacturer were to introduce a tablet as powerful as the iPad, as sleekly designed as the iPad, and with the same access to third party apps as the iPad and it supported Flash, we might be a fair fight.
I suppose this is where Apple has the advantage, and why I respect Gruber's opinion on these matters. Go to any major computer store that also carries Apple products (OK, I mean Best Buy) and compare laptop computers. PCs from Sony, Asus, H-P, Samsung may be as powerful or more so, they may contain more features, they most certainly will be cheaper, but how do they compare design-and-build-wise? (We'll leave the OS question out of this.)
The point is that Apple's iPad may, indeed, be the next "Big One" as Gruber claims, or it may be like the Mac, a product that changed everything in personal computers, and still ended up being a product with a minimal market share. I am sure that the iPad has introduced to the media world tablet publishing -- it is, in fact, one of the reasons this site was established. But whether Apple ultimately dominates the world of tablets is still to be determined.