The Apple iPad’s Impact on Mobile, Gaming, and E-Books: Local Techies and Startups React

1/27/10Follow @gthuang

[Updated 1/28/10, see below] The wait is over, but the endless mulling of the details and implications is just beginning. As Apple unveiled its long-rumored tablet device, the iPad, at a press event today in San Francisco, mobile industry insiders in Seattle, Boston, and elsewhere were watching closely. Which is exactly what you would expect, given Apple’s track record of disrupting industry after industry with previous iProducts like the iPod, iTunes, and the iPhone.

After all, long before Steve Jobs lifted the cloak of secrecy, the iPad was both feared and revered—feared because of the possibility that it will once again upend the way people consume digital content such as music, movies, TV shows, games, books, newspapers, and magazines, and revered because it could provide creators and distributors in each of these media with new ways to reach customers.

In case you’ve been offline all day, the iPad is basically a giant iPod Touch. It’s a 1.5-pound media device with a 9.7-inch LCD multitouch-sensitive screen and, according to Apple, up to 10 hours of battery life. It will have Wi-Fi Internet connectivity and will come in no fewer than six versions priced from $499 to $829, depending on whether you want 16 gigabytes, 32 gigabytes, or 64 gigabytes of flash memory, and whether you want 3G connectivity in addition to Wi-Fi. 3G data plans, available on a month-to-month (not contract) basis from AT&T, will cost $14.99 per month for up to 250 megabytes of data, and $29.99 per month for unlimited data. The Wi-Fi-only version of the iPad will be available in late March, and the 3G version will be available in April, according to Apple.

Those are the basics—but what will the device mean for consumers, entrepreneurs, application developers, and Apple’s competitors? To start the search for answers, Wade and I pinged a bunch of our favorite tech experts in Seattle and Boston, and below we’ve summarized their early reviews. So far we’ve gathered comments from Bill Baxter and Robbie Cape from Seattle-based Cozi (which makes family software for the home); John Chuang from Boston-based internet appliance maker Litl; Steve Hall, managing director of Seattle’s Vulcan Capital (Paul Allen’s investment firm); Todd Hooper, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Napera Networks; Mark Lowenstein of Brookline, MA-based wireless industry consultancy Mobile Ecosystem; Mike McSherry of Seattle-based Swype; and Greg Raiz, founder and CEO of Raizlabs, a mobile application development firm in Brookline that focuses on iPhone apps.

Our sources expressed a variety of opinions about the iPad, ranging from adulation to surprise to disappointment. One thing is certain: the device is kicking up serious dust in some very diverse consumer markets, including e-books, gaming, music, and video. That means it probably stands to gain much better traction than any tablet computer that has come before (sorry, Microsoft—though we know you have something in the works too).

Without further ado, here are our expert reactions:

Bill Baxter, chief technology officer, Cozi, Seattle:

The iPad is a game changer. The single-minded focus on enterprise was the mistake Microsoft made with Windows Mobile. It is the same mistake they made with the tablet PC. Now technology is such that iPad is a realistic possibility for consumers and nobody is positioned as well as Apple to make it happen.

The impact of this has already begun to ripple through the PC OEMs [original equipment manufacturers]. They are going to have to scramble to offer an alternative. This will create new opportunities to expand family focused services like Cozi into the home. Cozi is well-positioned to capitalize on that opportunity.

Robbie Cape, CEO and founder, Cozi, Seattle:

No question the Apple announcement today will have a huge impact on the consumer electronics ecosystem in the home, but not in the way you would expect.

More than anything, this announcement will drive some exciting innovation between popular CE [consumer electronics] companies that build and market phenomenal hardware and companies like Cozi that focus all their energy on creating great experiences through software. As a result of this iPad play, Apple is saying, “there is a big business around digital solutions for the home” and that is very meaningful to Cozi; we’ve known this for some time, but it is exactly the sort of affirmation we look for as we continue to build great solutions for families.

I have a rather controversial opinion about the iPad itself. Simply put: I think it is the wrong device, at the wrong price, in the right space. At the end of the day, based on early reports I’ve seen/heard (which is limited, I must admit), the device is a big iTouch and a Kindle, all in one. But hold on a second! I already have an iTouch (it happens to be an iPhone), and I can buy a phenomenal eReader from Amazon (and soon, many others) for less than $300. And you still need a phone. So why would I pay $500+ for a device that is primarily different from my phone in that it’s an eReader?

The iPad looks to be a cool personal device that Apple is targeting at a very interesting space: the home. But the home doesn’t need another personal device. The home needs a device for the WHOLE FAMILY to use. The iPad as Apple appears to have positioned it, is not the right device for the whole family to use. It isn’t the device that I think will float around the home, being used by everyone. The home needs a family device that everyone can use. That device is not a big iTouch. It’s something else.

Apple took what I think was the easy road here, and I am betting their results will show it. They took their existing iPhone experience and dropped it on top of what appears to be just a big iTouch. And they built a new eReader application with a new eBook ecosystem. The are reacting to the Kindle phenomenon. But I don’t see this device as revolutionizing how people consume digital applications and content in the home.

The great news is the Apple announcement will drive just that sort of revolutionary thinking amongst CE manufacturers and Cozi can play an important role in all of these devices, including the iPad. Ultimately, devices built for the whole family to use will need to solve core everyday family challenges like scheduling, shopping, and other information families need to coordinate.

[New] John Chuang, founder and CEO, Litl, Boston (maker of the Litl Webbook, a cloud-based home Internet appliance):

We think [the iPad] is an extension of what they already have done, in a different form factor. Ultimately, we are about a much bigger change in how operating systems work and how computers work. We are about operating-system-as-a-service, about being extremely maintenance-free, about content, about synching. [The iPad] is more of a traditional device—an extension of the mobile platform, which we’ve seen, but at the end of the day it’s still local hardware, with local storage, and that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish.

[On the absence of an expected Apple announcement on January 27 about a cloud-based, streaming music service]: That sort of service is where we see our company going. A service like that would not only benefit Apple users but it would benefit Litl users, because everyone will be able to access their information from any device. That’s the world that Litl is moving toward. They had the opportunity to transition their operating system more toward that, but that’s not what they did…We’re actually relieved to see that Apple didn’t jump head first into the cloud. That’s where computers are going, and that’s where we are now. We’re going to use our head start to keep making our product better.

[On whether Apple's entry into the tablet market could enhance consumer awareness of devices sized between phones and laptops]: They’ve introduced this easel-like concept, and our take on that is that, with the Litl Webbook, we’re giving you a device that is fully functional in laptop mode and in easel mode. It’s purposely designed to be a no-compromises experience, with a full keyboard. They obviously approched it with a tablet, and it will be interesting to see how successful that is. But at the end of the day, I think there is definitely going to be more choice for consumers between a plain old laptop and a cell phone, and all of that is good. The Litl vision of computing can really be put on all sorts of different devices with different form factors.

Todd Hooper, founder and CEO of Napera Networks, Seattle, who used to work for Apple (in the mid-1990s, he worked for the retail channel in Australia):

I was sort of underwhelmed. Between my iPod, Sony Reader, and laptop, do I really have room for another device? Apple’s a great company, they make awesome stuff. But this could be another Apple TV.

I don’t see it as an e-book platform, because of that display and [relatively short] battery life. Though it might be an interesting platform for the New York Times or the New Yorker [for shorter reading durations].

I think it’s more interesting as a gaming platform. If I was Sony or Nintendo, I’d be really worried. It could suck away their high-end users.

Steve Hall, managing director, Vulcan Capital, Seattle:

[Hall, an avid iPhone user, told me last week that he would buy the iPad sight unseen; when I pinged him today, I asked if he would still buy it:] Without a doubt! Have been listening to the [Apple iPad] event over twit live….

Mark Lowenstein, principal, Mobile Ecosystem, Brookline, MA:

Mobile seems a bit of an afterthought [on the iPad]. I believe the full strategy is still being developed. Even more than the iPhone, the mobile operator’s role is mainly as a “pipe”, as it does not appear that AT&T will be distributing the device in its stores.

But the iPad is a mobile device more than a wireless device. People won’t carry it and use it in the same way as the iPhone, since it’s not as portable. It will, proportionately, spend more time connected to a Wi-Fi network than a cellular network, given how it will be used. I’m pleased there’s a lower entry point for data use—although it doesn’t take much to blow through 250 MB on such as multimedia-centric device.

[Regarding the threat to Amazon:] This is a year when content distribution and business models are being reshaped. Add Amazon to the tectonic battle already taking place between Google and Apple.

Mike McSherry, CEO, Swype, Seattle (the company makes text-input software for mobile devices):

We’re excited that Apple launched the iPad….it’s just further demonstrating how powerful and pervasive touchscreen interfaces are becoming. We believe we have a much better text input solution than existing touchscreen tap methods and a number of OEM partners will be introducing Swype on a variety of device platforms in the coming months. We obviously haven’t played with the iPad keyboard but we believe Swype would be a fantastic component on future versions of the iPad. Thus far, Apple has not allowed 3rd party developers to replace the default Apple virtual keyboard so we have been focusing on other OS platforms and OEM partners.

Greg Raiz, founder and CEO, Raizlabs, Brookline, MA:

We’re excited, and we’re still kind of soaking in the details. How existing [iPhone] apps will be moved over is particularly interesting to us…It sounds like they will run either centered in the screen or they double the width and height, essentially stretching the app out. That’s not perfect, but for some of the apps that may not have a chance to be ported over to support the iPad. It just gives them a much larger app library right out of the gate.

I think that app developers will be quick to add tablet support, especially for the apps that make the most sense, meaning apps that are very content-rich and content-heavy. Some of they apps that they demonstrated, like the New York Times—very media-centric apps—make a lot of sense in a larger format. I suspect those will be the first to get ported over. Also data-entry apps, things like that, where you may have workers walking around taking down information will be quick to be ported over. They showed some demos of artistic applications where you are drawing directly on the screen—those also make a lot of sense. Some of that apps that were truly designed for phones may make less sense as they get ported over. So I think you are going to see a new class of apps specifically for tablets.

We were all surprised by the price point. They are definitely going hard after the Kindle and that class of tablet, with the Web browsing and the applications, including some of the more powerful desktop apps.

It’s an interesting in-between product, and we definitely going to get a couple of these in the office and see what we can do with it. In many ways, it makes me think more of a big iPod Touch than an iPhone. The GPS functionality didn’t seem to be on there, the camera. I’m not sure this device is going to be as big as the iPhone. That’s my personal take. The iPhone was a replacement for your existing phone, and the phones that everybody had were terrible. This isn’t replacing something that everybody has. This is a new class of device. They’re still going to be very successful, but I would be hesitant to say that its success will be as big.

We were kind of surprised that there was no camera, front or back. Four of the people in our office thought there would be a Skype-style camera facing the user. But it sounds like it’s not a video-conferencing-style device, which was a little surprising.

I think the Internet connectivity is really interesting, because it allows you to buy 3G carrier connectivity on an as-needed basis. If you want one month of Internet for $20 you can do that instead of buying the hotel Wi-Fi, for example. I was surprised that Verizon wasn’t named as a partner—maybe they’re still working on that.

Wade Roush contributed to the reporting of this article.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • Michael Sigler

    If the 3G model also has the ability to text message in the AT&T data plan. I am willing to bet it will become a very useful product. Especially with Baby Boomers and the hearing impaired.

  • Mark

    I was underwhelmed by the presentation and what Apple offered. I’m a big Apple fan so I had pretty high expectations. I fully expect an update at the end of summer. I really was hoping for a couple of things that would have taken this device to another level.
    1) a front facing camera (and camera/video in the back). When I heard game-changer, I envisioned a front facing camera that would allow you to perform video chatting with iChat. More importantly, I was hoping for a front facing camera that could recognize your face and change the settings on the device for the individual that was using it. The technology is there. iPHOTO already has a sorting function that recognizes faces and sorts your pictures based on the faces in the picture. I know its a stretch but this was the game-changer I had in mind.
    2) On the software side, I was looking for more innovation with old school media. I think there is plenty of opportunity there. Let me give you an example. What I’m looking for is something to replace my subscriptions. One green way of doing this is to still have the weekly subscription. Call it MagCast (magazine casting similar to PodCast). I would pay a similar one year subscription fee (maybe cheaper based the media used) and every week I’d get a new SI in my MagCast iTunes that I could download. Here, I could read my new SI every week. Now, the device is a multimedia reader for the whole family.
    3) On the media front, I do think this device offers a different opportunity. Now I think there should be dedicated teams that write specific articles with integrated video with the articles for the subscription. For example, if SI writes an article about Lebron James. The writer could write a short free article. This article would be posted on the website. Now the iPAD article would be slightly longer (prolly a little different), and have embedded video feeds from YouTUBE within the article giving exact instances where the article is talking about. If writer mentions the Larry Bird 86 championship series, the article has embedded footage from that championship team. In this case, what you have done is taken an article that is similar to the website article but enhanced with length, and enhanced the integration of the media on multiple levels with the help of the internet (youtube, nba statistic sites, etc).

    …just some thoughts.

  • Mark

    Another thing I was just thinking about, you know how Apple has that little box (Windows has it too) where you put a symbol or something that designates you before you sign on. What if the box was empty and the way the facial recognition worked, is you had to position your face so that your face fit in the box. You would position the iPad, with the camera (similar to the RedLaser functionality with your iphone) on your face. It would scan and then put the settings on the iPad device like it was yours. Should prolly patent that idea if you could…

  • http://www.yg.com aion database

    I’m not quite sure if iPad is a game changer. First, I’m quite disappointed with its name! iBrowse would have been better? :) Second, there’s no camera and lastly, it has no ability to multi-task. It’s just like an iPod Touch for the elderly.

  • http://www.gaminggalaxy.com Gaming Galaxy

    This is really a magical and revolutionary product from Apple. I love this.

  • http://jadedconsumer.blogspot.com JadedConsumer

    Apple didn’t launch the iPad to kill some specific competitor, any more than it did when launching the iPod. Apple set out to do something better, and to grow the market for people who wanted to do that. The iPad announcement is Apple’s announcement that it intends to be the premium supplier of the “paper” of the post-digital world. Apple might also draw the air out of the lungs of competitors that thought they were safe selling portable junk at the $500 price point. Apple may be doing to mobile computing what it did to MP3 players: moving down the price range to take all the high-margin business, leaving no safe price zone in which to harbor competitors.

    Apple launched the iPad so there’d be a product that did what the iMac promised to do – make it easy to get online quickly – but for people who either want to relax in a position that makes computer desks and tray-tables unworkable (or want a cheaper portable device that doesn’t suck).

    The fact that Apple might sell iPad buyers content like books is sort of like the fact that iPod buyers might also buy music from Apple. Sure, it could happen – Apple will offer it to make sure users aren’t kept away due to incompatible file formats offered by a diverse array of content vendors – but the expected payoff for Apple is in the hardware.

    The iPad wasn’t made to go head-to-head with the Kindle, which is optimized for one single task, or against any particular competing product. It was made for people who would be interested in a versatile product that addresses a broader interest in the internet and mobile computing, and maybe offers a game-pad opportunity or traveling movie-viewer.

    Apple’s list of “i” devices has grown from the original iMac. Look at the original iMac launch event, and at what Apple claimed to be doing with the iMac. Apple isn’t trying to make money selling books any more than it tried to make money selling music – it set out to sell hardware, and the other stuff is a byproduct of efforts to keep customers from being driven away by incompatible file formats.

  • http://www.tabletbucks.com Jamie

    Totally agree that the iPad is a game changer. Couch surfing around the World is about to face a huge increase as the tablet device market continues to evolve and Apple, having the first to market of this kind of tablet device will be seen as the game changer, if nothing else.

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