When Apple changed its name by dropping the “Computer” word we all thought that the reason was the phenomenal success it has had in consumer electronics. Sure, the company kicks booty with its computers thanks to great design and a stable operating system, but the success of the iPod seemed to point the company in a new direction.
Apple’s success has been three fold — near flawless manufacturing, customer service and software. More than anything it has been the software that seems to make you almost forget there’s a device involved as some of those who played with the iPad yesterday seemed to indicate.
Yes, Apple unveiled its long rumored slate computer, the iPad, yesterday but what I saw was release three or four of the software that runs the modern iPod and iPhone. Apple’s success comes from being able to repurpose and add on to a core piece of software that runs its consumer devices.
For example, start with the iPod Touch and you have, an iPod with applications and a nice user interface. If you add a camera for stills and video plus phone capability you get the iPhone. That was a nice trick but not so revolutionary as it was evolutionary — at least from that angle. But now take the iPod software and put it on a bigger device and then plug that device into your HD TV — in the presence of a high speed wireless network — and that device is called Apple TV. In that vein, yesterday’s iPad announcement is really not much more than iPod in a different form factor and with some tweaks to the software including more applications.
Ok, now there are some significant differences in look, feel, purpose — what is iPad’s purpose? — and the applications that run on each gizmo but the fundamental software appears to be common to all these devices. And it needs to be said that all of these devices also have in common the ability to connect with the mother ship (not you, Apple!) to download content for a price.
One of yesterday’s announced uses of the iPad will be for downloading and reading newspapers, starting with the New York Times, and books. In fact a whole new (?) store format for book content will feed the iPad, but let’s face it, that sounds like a repurposing and modification of iTunes.
Now, I am not complaining about any of this. Downloading digital content — especially the kind that you read and that has heavy-duty information — has been a missing factor in our digital lives and I, for one, am glad to see this evolution. If iPad can help to save the newspaper industry, I am all for it. But I am most impressed with the vision and the execution on that vision. Apple built sophisticated software for iTunes and the iPod and then contemplated the number of ways they could leverage it to invent not only a number of useful devices, but also categories. That’s genius, if you ask me.
Perhaps the next game we all play on the web will be asking and answering the question, What will Apple do next with its software? I think it’s worth pondering.