Sunday, March 13, 2011
iPad 2 – Approaching creator's perfection point.
The iPad 2 is ordered and on its way. Like many times before with Apple products the second version is a considerable step forward. Its rapid progress must have scared lots of people working on tablet projects around the industry, I am sure many projects got killed. What surprised me most was the massive diet it went on. I did not expect that they would be able to make such a leap. For those of you who read my original post, my main criticism was with the size and weight of the device. Having used the device more or less every day the past year, weight is my primary criticism. I am really looking forward to the lighter version.
The iPad 2 sparks very interesting thoughts on the future of tablets. I think never before has a product category matured so fast. The iPad 2 is in two generations a very mature product. Yet as we know things never stay constant in technology. Current products are simply inspiration for future products.
There are some obvious improvements; the borders between screen and device needs to shrink, but it would eventually introduce a software challenge how to hold it. The battery life could be extended maybe 30% as there are days where I can empty the battery, most days I cannot. The camera can be improved. These are all incremental and natural and will improve in due course.
The iPad has approached a concept I would like to call perfection point. This point is an imaginary point where the innovation focus moves from hygiene to luxury. This is exemplified by the smart cover. The Perfection point is different from Abernathy and Utterbacks point where innovation moves from Product Innovation to Process improvements. The Perfection point is a state many products never achieve, competition is too stiff. I was incredibly intrigued by one section of the keynote, namely that moment where Steve talks about the Rotate Lock vs. Mute key conflict. I found it very interesting that in the original SW it was used for Rotate Lock and in 4.2 the default was mute, making the Rotate Lock approach close to impossible usability by having to double tap the apps key slide all the way left. A completely unusable solution. Now in 4.3 it is a user setting, not a solution by any measure. I find it amazing that even Wall Street Journal is discussing this type of issue. The classic solution is to add a key, which I am sure the people inside of Apple has suggested, but Steve has refused to put more keys, which is exactly the right decision. More keys will turn devices into hedgehogs that no one wants to hold.
It is time to create smart keys, keys with more than a binary function. Keys that react to clicks like traditional keys, but also to touch and pressure. This kind of keys are possible to build with our Tech21 Sensor technology. One could easily keep the rotate screen lock as one key and make mute function on the volume keys with a touch swipe smart key. This kind of innovation is for most companies to insignificant, to be a first mover, but once it becomes hygiene everyone wants it. The first mover has to innovate close to the perfection point. Therefore I suspect it is only companies who are operating close to the perfection point that can lead this kind of transformation of how for example keys work. When the others have to grapple with hygiene factors such as battery life and weight, Apple can solve problems, the others have not yet encountered, or if they have, been forced to de-prioritize.
What really inspired me in the iPad 2 was the smart cover. It provides a wonderful tool for device transformation: ‘Protectivecover’, ‘Writingstand’ and ‘Video stand’. The most important feature is however in my opinion the impact it has on SW. I love the fact it powers on and off, when opened and closed. It would probably not be difficult to make power available to the cover, like the Mag-Safe connector. This sparked an idea, which is the classic problem with these electronic devices providing multiple types of utility. The fact that one needs to show a menu, as the device is used for multiple things. This is not needed in single purpose devices, like a paper notebook, one is instantly in writing mode. This 2 second time saving has not been captured in multi usage gadgets, like computers and tablets. Now one could with some type of technology, sense where the user is touching the cover and fire up a relevant app. There could be three hotzones along the first sector of the smart cover. If user opens up from top, browser is fired up, from middle a notepad and from bottom, a third app. This could be designed to live outside the password wall. So that get access to input, but not reading without entering passwords. This would speed up usage as a data collecting tool enormously. The good news with this idea, is that it could probably be patented.
The efficiency of data input has been a key problem in mobility, now the smart covers bring us few seconds faster, there are few seconds to shave off, and once we have gained them, we probably will see a demise of paper based solutions.
I think these kind of smart hardware with elements of service or software could become a big business in the future, imagine a smart cover that is an app and paid for service. This could be offered by Mount Blanc, but most likely by a start up, the incumbents are typically too conservative. I think the simple idea that HW is the service has so much legs. Let me know if anyone of you readers discovers sensors and other technologies that could trigger this.