What Customer Problem Does the iPad Solve?

During my recent travels to New York, I purchased an iPad for team Brainmates. It was not a purchase bourne out of a specific need. I simply wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I have to admit the iPad is a beautiful device. Nice to hold, not too heavy, great screen resolution and it made me feel special, part of the “in-crowd”.

What’s the value proposition?

Once I brought it back to Sydney and the rose coloured glasses came off, apart from the show off factor, the team debated on the consumer problems the iPad solved. We tried long and hard to figure out what problem the iPad solves.

And this is what we came up with….

The iPad gives consumers desirability, sexiness and a portable entertainment device. As an entertainment device, it separates the personal from work.

However, if the iPad is simply a portable entertainment device, the market opportunity (if you weren’t Apple) for developing such a device is small given that there a raft of product substitutes in the market. Apple has built a brand around its cool factor. Paul Gray of Brainmates has said “Even if Apple built a toaster, it would sell like hotcakes.”

In the category of a portable entertainment device, the iPhone is just as good and offers a similar user experience. We agreed that we would prefer to use our iPhones instead of an iPad on a train or bus. Its much easier pulling out an iPhone from your jean’s pocket than fishing around for the iPad in your bag – assuming you’d brought a bag with you.

A gap in the market?

As illustrated in the diagram above, the iPad competes with netbooks, webtablets and even the humble laptop. Whilst this diagram only shows two dimensions it does show that the iPad is entering a crowded space. It’s another device that we have to carry around with us. Its not a substitute for the laptop or the phone so we’ll have to carry 3 devices as we move around during the day. It doesn’t support flash so a lot of web experiences are prohibited. Ergonomically it can’t easily be used as a mobile phone. Whilst I don’t disagree that the device offers a more natural way of consuming content (the ability to turn pages, shows off your photos beautifully), do we really need to lug around more equipment to do this?

And eeekkkkk…. the ability to multi-task is absent from the iPad. That’s a key faux pas for most of the workforce who have to write documents, check email, surf the net whilst having a conversation at the same time. Maybe team Brainmates is the wrong target market. We’re professionals with the latest computing and mobile telephone equipment. We need to make our equipment work “hard” for us.

There are other segments such as the elderly and stay at home parents who have portable entertainment needs within the home. Perhaps the iPad is not meant to leave the house.

An alternative opinion

After much tweeting with Travis Jensen (Twitter @softwaremaven Blog http://softwaremaven.innerbrane.com) his argument for the iPad is that its a lot easier to maintain than the standard computer. Here’s what Travis has to say.

I’m not convinced that the iPad is meant to not leave home, but it certainly isn’t targeted at me (at least, in the non-jailbroken state). While I have yet to partake in the iPad hysteria, I have been thinking a lot about who it is targeted at and if it has a place in my home.

My original thoughts were that it was just a more convenient media consumption tool, but I’m not as convinced of that after watching videos like The iPad DJ. There is more capability than just media consumption there, and that capability will grow over time as apps are built to leverage its strengths.

This brought me around to asking the question of why an iPad instead of a netbook or laptop? The iPad would work well for 70% of my family’s computing needs, e.g. surfing, research, building presentations, and the like. It would not replace the desktop computer, but it would reduce contention on it significantly.

Of course, adding any new computer would do that, right? Except the netbook in our home hasn’t. Its form-factor is miserable for everybody who has used it, so it sits gathering dust. We could get a PC laptop for the same price as an iPad, but, as the IT guy in our house, I refuse to do that, and not just because I’ve sworn off Windows in my home.

You see, I don’t want to add to my IT burdens. Every electronic device I bring into my home increases the amount of effort I have to spend keeping them running. The more different the devices are, the worse it gets. What I have found is that the devices like the iPhone and iPod Touch, generally speaking, just work. I have almost zero administrative overhead on them. Not even “standard” OS X can match that.

And, in the end, that’s what I want if I’m going to give everybody in my family a general purpose computing device. I want to not be worrying about viruses. I want to not be undoing the damage of a stupid application installer. I want to not be technical support. The iPhone and iPod Touch has convinced me that Apple can pull this off. I know very well the openness I’m trading for that I’m OK with that right now.

Creating an opportunity

Maybe the iPad isn’t what consumers purchase. Let me elaborate. Consumer problems are not solved through the purchase of the iPad itself but through the range of innovative applications on the iStore. Perhaps the applications are the real reasons driving consumers to buy the product.

As Nick Coster another Brainmates said “its not Apple that will make the iPad a success but other people’s inventions that will drive uptake.”

Hey if you can tell me how I can make the iPad work for us, let me know.