Monday, February 1, 2010

iPad - the device for the gaaks.

Most of us have become experts at seeing what isn't, so we miss out simple 'what is' facts. The other problem that we face is that of wanting everything, everytime, everywhere.

Apple's latest creation, the iPad, has underwhelmed the tech media and analysts; they are unable to see why somebody would use a large smartphone or an inferior laptop. Many others are aghast at the iPad's lack of Flash support or multi-tasking. That there aren't two cameras to support photography and video-chatting has let down a few more. Of course, some can't get over the "i" jokes and worse still, the "pad" jokes.

I beg to differ. I see here (and in a few other such devices) an opportunity to expand the market for digital services. Take it beyond the tech workers and fans of gadget blogs, take it beyond the home and office use, take it beyond the developed markets. I firmly believe that iPad has the opportunity to define its market, not as a large smartphone or as a cheaper/smaller laptop but as the primary digital device for the GAAKS, as against the geeks! (More about the gaaks, later.)

Broadband penetration remains relatively low in several emerging markets, not only because of supply constraints but also because prospective customers do not see value in the service. The primary interface device is a computer that is as "complex" as it is expensive. Most kids and senior citizens (all 45+ would qualify!) that have not received "formal" IT education would not venture to use a computer without assistance. Even when they do use a computer, it is rarely for its computing or processing power but really for the purpose of communication, media consumption and sharing. Finally, the keyboard is the most counter-intuitive input/control device that puts-off even highly educated people, leave alone those that aren't.

It is obvious that the next Broadband access device has to be developed using the same principles that have made mobile phones and media players accessible to several billion people worldwide. Simple and intuitive user interface that helps in communication/sharing and digital media management. A device that two-year old kids can manage and so can 60+ old grannies. Something that the neighborhood aunty will find as appealing as students focusing on their courseware. Something that the average-J can use to be more productive at work. Move over geeks, we need to serve the grannies, aunties, average-j, kids and students. The GAAKS.

Using a few personal, albeit anecdotal, experiences, let me outline needs of the gaaks in the context of a digital device:

Grannies: Simple visual control-interface, limited need for typing. Big, bright screen; large icons. Mostly photos, videos and music. Reading books. The occasional video chat. Home use.

Aunties: Cool looks. Fit in handbag. Idiot-proof controls (Oh, did I delete something!?). Music, videos and photos. Calendar. Facebook. Mail reader and forwarder. Home + nomadic use.

Average-J at work: Portable. Simple but secure. VPN/Exchange connectivity. Mail, Calendar & Contacts. Notes. Presentations (on-screen or projector). Document editor. Corporate apps. Occasional media (IT rules permitting). Mobile use.

Kids: Rugged (4-feet drop proof). Delete-proof. Intuitive physical & visual interface. Music, videos, games. Education apps. Occasional books/comics. Anywhere the parents want a silent kid.

Students: Cool looks. Portable (fit in a ruck-sack with other assorted stuff). Social networking. Music, videos, photos & games. Camera or camera-phone interface. Search. Reading books & making/sharing notes. Everywhere use.

(I have described generic / average usage scenarios. There are bound to be exceptions in each of these categories. Have also not included stuff that can be done using pretty much any mobile phone: yakking, texting, FM radio, etc.)

Which device is more likely to serve these large user segments: a laptop-variant or an iPod Touch variant? Remember, most of these people already have access to a mobile phone, so they have basic voice and narrowband connectivity. A bigger, brighter and more capable iPod Touch or an iPhone appears to be more relevant to these users than a laptop or a netbook. The iPad may not yet address all these requirements but from a hardware perspective, it appears to have all features (except a video camera for chat: surprising but not a deal-breaker). The interface and software are almost ideal for the gaaks; a few rough edges should get resolved through software upgrades.

Us geeks will still buy the iPad because, well, we just have to have it. It will add to the bag-load of devices and accessories that we carry with us everywhere. The significance of the recent Apple announcement is that a whole new, untapped market is about to open up. What they call "blue-ocean" stuff in management consulting parlance. More power to the gaaks.


Anonymous said...


Mary Francia said...

Great - and if we add to that my view of the network - think of the usages we can drive...... then the Service Provider matters again.