Entelligence: Lessons from the iPad launch

Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.

It was quite the week for Apple, first with its best-ever earnings and then the launch of the iPad. While Apple didn't create this category of device, it did answer the fundamental question of why this form factor needs to exist. The meta lesson is that the story told is as important as the hardware, software and services being sold -- and while everyone may not be convinced, I do think Apple will win over the majority of a skeptical audience with high expectations. But there's also four important lessons that Apple taught the market this week, as it enters a space that's been mostly a failure.

1. Define what your product does. The first thing Apple did was answer that question immediately and then define what the product needed to do. Apple explained what capabilities need to be in the this class of device and then went on to show how each of those features not only worked but were optimized for the iPad. That's something we've seen lacking in this category to date.

2. Leverage what you've done before. I believe the iPad is likely to do well with consumers as it leverages Apple's previous successes with the iPod and the iPhone. At the base level, that's compatibility and synchronization with iTunes as well as backward compatibility with existing applications. That's important -- as a user I can use my existing content library and my application collection. It also means that iPad has 140,000-plus applications at launch. But it's more than that. Apple is not only leveraging its ecosystem of devices and software, it's leveraging the lessons it spent a decade teaching consumers. Apple taught its market about MP3 players, digital music, smartphones, capacitive multitouch screens and mobile apps. It can now go directly to selling the form factor, as well as new features such as productivity and e-books.

3. Make your product additive to your ecosystem. What separates the iPad from being just a large iPod Touch or small MacBook -- although it has clear aspects of both -- is that Apple made the product additive to the line and optimized the software for the experience. While backward compatibility is great for early adopters who can use their iPhone apps, long term it's about developers who will create optimized experiences for the device. Apple demonstrated how games, newspapers, books and productivity functions are all different than either the corresponding phone or computer experience, yet familiar at the same time. The result is that other Apple products will help sell iPad in the short term, but the iPad will likely help sell other Apple products over the long term. Users will provide context for specific use cases and decide what device is appropriate for what scenario.

4. Solve a problem, don't be a feature. I personally like Tablet PCs and what Microsoft has done with Windows in the space, but Tablet is a feature on top of Windows, not an experience designed for a new form factor. Devices like the JooJoo or even the Kindle are designed to do primarily one thing and are essentially one feature products. Apple seems to have learned to provide an out-of-the-box experience which solves specific consumer use cases for media consumption, internet use and productivity, while also providing the framework to allow others to build on top of that and provide further solutions designed for this form factor.

Apple didn't invent the MP3 player market or the smartphone market, and it's got a long way to go in the market for tablet devices. In each case, it refined the concept to make a device that appealed to the enthusiast market but was able to go beyond that space and capture the attention (and wallets) of the mass market. Vendors competing with Apple in this space are going to need to understand these lessons and in many cases change not only their current products, but the story they tell.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret, LLC. His weblog can be found at Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.