Tim O’Reilly on the iPad: my sentiments entirely (well mostly)

From the NYT where you’ll find other excellent reviews:

If you’re old enough to remember the original 128K Macintosh, underpowered, not expandable, and soon-to-be obsolete, you know that the iPad doesn’t need to be perfect to be the harbinger of a revolution.

If the iPhone didn’t tell us that the 25-year reign of the mouse and windows user interface popularized by that original Macintosh was soon to be over, the iPad shouts it loud and clear.

Accept it. But the iPad signals more than the end of the PC era. It signals that the App Store, the first real rival to the Web as today’s dominant consumer application platform, isn’t going to be limited to smartphones. It signals that App Store-based e-commerce may replace advertising as the favored model of startup entrepreneurs. It signals that cheap sensors are ushering in an era of user interface innovation.

Understand, too, that like the Macintosh, the iPad and the iPhone itself may well be outstripped by next-generation competing products built on commodity hardware and open source software. Never mind the brilliance of Apple’s design team, the lead in application count, Apple’s enormous and growing profits. Apple’s Achilles’s heel is that it seems to have come too late to an understanding of the key drivers of lock-in in the Internet era: not hardware, not software, but massive data services that literally get better the more people use them.

Yes, Apple plans to compete in search, in maps, and in mobile advertising, offering a five-year time-horizon for their efforts. But by then, it will be game over. And in the meantime, Apple makes poor use of the networked capabilities that they do have.

Media and application syncing across iPhone and iPad is poorly thought out. MobileMe, which should be Apple’s gateway drug for lock-in to Apple services, is instead sold as an add-on to a small fraction of Apple’s customer base. If Apple wants to win, they need to understand the power of network effects in Internet services. They need to sacrifice revenue for reach, taking the opportunity of their early lead to tie users ever more closely to Apple services.

Aesop said, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Apple clearly knows one big thing. But is it the right thing?

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Peter J. Nicol
11 years ago

Laugh? I nearly shat!

For “app store” read “AOL” or even better “The Microsoft Network”.

Open networks will (again) trump closed ones.

11 years ago

This ad sold me! I want one of those.


Not that I do a lot of cooking, but you never know.

11 years ago

Peter, generally I’d agree with you, except for one thing: iTunes.

Firstly the iTunes client is the most widely used PC application of all.

Secondly, it actually does use open standards. It doesn’t work just with the iTunes store. If you point it at some other MP3 site (say All-of-MP3 in the old days when it was still around) the iTunes client will fire up (or at least it does on a Mac) and happily download stuff for you.

Apples’ strategy is two fold:-

1. make their hardware act as “dongles” for services
2. make the services open standards so that other manufacturers are prevented from establishing proprietary lockins.

The iPod was the first example of this by preventing the spread of Microsoft formats and forcing competing hardware manufacturers to continue to support NP3. The iPhone followed with its rigorous use of HTNL-based web standards and encouragement of the open source Webkit framework.

Mac OS X has done the same thing with Mail, iCal (using open calendaring standards) and MobileMe (open web standards)

The don’t really care if there is competing hardware as they figure they can compete effectively on that ground. What they were really worried about 10 years ago was that Microsoft and (to a lesser extent) Adobe would kill open standards and lock Apple out, or force them to licence proprietary formats.