I have had my own struggles with the widely lauded new iPad, so it was good to hear from Forrester’s analyst James McQuivey that it really “doesn’t matter” much. McQuivey made a thoughtful post at The Economist’s Lean Back. 2.0 blog the other day about how the specific form factor of this staggeringly successful device for Apple is not likely to be a fetish for much longer. Apple itself seems poised to issue an alternative smaller model, as the world blossoms with a wide range of such devices from multiple manufacturers.
McQuivey’s larger point is that tablets of all shapes and sizes are simply going to be the central player in a much more important move away from gadgets and toward platforms. While the term is much overused and ill-defined, McQuivey says: “I mean the collection of devices that one company ties together with its software experience -- an experience that binds consumers to its current benefits and makes promises about future benefits that it must deliver to maintain that customer relationship.” Netflix is the strongest example -- but so are iOS, Facebook, Amazon, and even Microsoft (especially via the Xbox 360) et. al.
McQuivey imagines a world of personal services spun out endlessly and quickly by the platforms. Not only will personalized media be delivered across devices as easily as Netflix currently does it, but inputs from device-bound sensors will maintain our profiles and tools like personal makeup assistants will be available everywhere.
While McQuivey doesn’t go into any detail about the kinds of app, we can imagine what he means. From calorie tracking to recommended video clips to fill the commute time, from family communications and shared shopping lists to geo-aware shopping assistants, the winner will be the company that seamlessly weaves it all together in one spot. The tablet is the most likely locus for this activity because it is the most immersive and personable of the devices we have.
Moreover, a highly personalized service should not even require as much input as traditional computer software. The app should be doing much of the work and generally asking for our assent. That this process will go on across multiple personal devices -- perhaps even a shared living room 14-inch tablet among them -- seems an obvious future.
Which is all the better for me because I already have to juggle a smaller tablet to complement the new iPad. I am on my third unit because I find the over-hyped “Retina Display” to have chronically uneven lighting and tan splotching on pure white-and-grey screens. A small percentage of iPad diehards (some call us obsessive-compulsive) have noticed this, complained, and returned multiple units in the hopes of getting one of the better displays. It is not visible on the color-rich images that dazzle consumers in the TV ads. But for some of us who use iPads as book readers and Web browsers, the uneven illumination is obvious most of the time.
And of course it is maddening that the book reading experience on my otherwise inferior Kindle Fire is better than the iPad on which I spent three times the price. I spent a half hour with Apple support yesterday only to be told I should make a third forty-minute roundtrip to my Apple Store to try another return, although they claim they are not seeing the problem. Hundreds on Apple’s own support boards are seeing the issue, by the way.
So it is good to know my new iPad ultimately doesn’t matter because it is likely to be one of many portable screens I will be owning sometime soon. As for platform loyalty, I am not so sure how hermetically any one of these players can seal me into their systems. For the first time, Apple’s device quality control has disappointed me, so I will think twice before buying into a smaller or bigger device from them. But I also use Netflix, Amazon Kindle reader, B&N’s Nook reader and Google Gmail and Docs via apps and Web access across all the devices I own and test anyway.
I am left for now wondering if the dream of “owning the customer” is coming anytime soon.