– By Steve Robins
Rating the Apple iPad as a Solution
iPad Series Part II
Since January, I’ve been researching the Apple iPad in order to rate it as a solution. I even took one for a test drive on Sunday (thanks Jeff Berg of Purple Shark Consulting!). The rating is actually a strategic tool that enables marketers to meet customer needs by offering a complete solution. But the Apple iPad has generated so much hype that it’s a great solution to evaluate. The iPad received a rating of 4.3 out of 5. By comparison, most other tablet offerings today would probably score 2.5 or lower on the solution rating scale. The best possible score is 5 (complete solution) while the lowest is 1 (product, not a solution). This is an independent evaluation and was not funded by Apple.
Click “Keep reading” below to see the full solution evaluation of the Apple iPad.
Solution Evaluation: Apple iPad
Following is a detailed solution evaluation on 4 criteria:
#1 Solution fit – Does the Apple iPad solve a real problem that users care about, and will be willing to spend money to fix?
#2 Solution completeness – Does the solution incorporate the target user, processes, content, technology and services?
#3 User experience – Is the solution tailored to the needs of users?
#4 Value – Does the solution represent a reasonable value?
#1: Solution Fit Score 4.5 out of 5
Does the Apple iPad solve a real problem that users care about, and will be willing to spend money to fix?
- Which users? The iPad targets “content consumers” – people who today consume rich media and web content on PC’s, laptops, eReaders, smartphones and more. This could be virtually anyone – from a high school student to an executive to a retired housewife. Its low entry price point and ease of use will make the iPad attractive to a wide range of users.
- The user problem. Today, “content consumers” are consuming more and more rich media content such as photos, video, music, books, magazines, newspapers, and games. For example, in 2008 alone, 80% of Internet users regularly watched online video, according to eMarketer. Rich media provides a deeper experience and is more engaging. But most digital devices are not optimized for the full range of rich media and/or deliver a poor experience:
- Under-powered (albeit with robust storage capacity) netbooks.
- Limited-use devices such as e-book readers Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader.
- Portable, small-screen devices like the Apple iPhone, and other smart phones that are great on the go, but too small for more frequent use.
- Hard-to-see small-screen portable music/video players like the Microsoft Zune and Apple iPod.
- Laptops designed to provide productivity apps in offices and remote locations such as airplanes.
- Windows Tablet PC’s that have not been successful to-date because of clumsy handwriting translation, slow speed and high prices (although HP and others will come out with new Microsoft Slate models later this year – for more on Microsoft tablets, check out this great post by Ina Fried.)
- The solution. The Apple iPad, a single semi-portable device designed to improve consumers’ ability to consume and navigate a variety of rich media content (video, music, photos, music, eBooks), surf the web and do email, all on a single, semi-mobile (i.e., doesn’t fit in a pocket) device. By all accounts, it appears that the iPad should be able to do exactly what it promises, although the first generation iPad has some slight limitations (more on that in #2 below).
- Will they buy? Wanting a better experience with a single multi-purpose device, consumers should be willing to pony up for iPads. We won’t really know the answer until consumers have a chance to vote with their wallets (see Wall St Journal) over time. According the Wall St Journal, Morgan Stanley is predicting that 6 million will ship this year. Earlier, analyst firm IDC predicted 4 to 5 million.
#2: Solution Completeness Score: 4 out of 5
Does the solution incorporate the user, process, content (or information), hardware and software, and all required supporting services?
The Apple iPad device itself is a part of the broader iPad solution. One of the reasons that Apple has succeeded where others failed, is that Apple has built complete ecosystems around their iPod, iTouch and iPhone devices. The iTunes/App Store ecosystem provides both content and, software (apps), enabling direct, integrated downloads from the iPad.
- User. Solutions should target a clear audience, which Apple has not really identified. That said, the iPad is easy to use (same paradigm as ubiquitous iPhones and iTouches) and priced low enough that it should have wide appeal across age groups, incomes ranges, and user types. With an audience that broad, Apple may not need a segmentation strategy.
- Process. The iPad’s integrated purchase, download and installation process makes it easy to add new apps and media to the iPad. Few if any other multi-content devices offer the breadth and depth of content types accessible on the iPad, let alone the ease of accessing content and applications.
- Content (and information). Apple iPad users can download and view a wide variety of content including iBooks (aka eBooks), newspapers and magazines (Wall Street Journal, Time etc.), music, video, games and content apps. Expect that prices will adjust over time as publishers evaluate the best pricing models. For more on content pricing, see Yahoo News and #4 below.
- Hardware and Software. The iPad includes most of the hardware and software features required for content consumption (see CNet). Notable exceptions are the lack of a USB port and camera, although you can buy adapters. On the software side, the iPad supports 150k + iPad and iPhone apps out of the box, with more to come. However, the iPad does not support Adobe Flash, which runs many video players, especially those on corporate websites. Recently, several video sites, software and service vendors announced support for the iPad-supported HTML 5 standard, but users will still see blank boxes when they hit Flash-only sites. Finally, while the iPad may be lacking some features, it’s a small form factor. As with any mobile devices, one has to expect tradeoffs. In general, Apple has made the right trade-offs.
- Services. Services complete the link between hardware/software and the user. The most significant services are iTunes and the online Apple stores. In addition, staff at the physical Apple stores can help you set up the iPad.
User Experience Score: 4.5 out of 5
Is the solution tailored to the needs of users?
User-focus. Following is an overview of the iPad user experience:
- Easy adoption: The iPad has a similar interface to the ubiquitous iPhone and iTouch, that 75 million people already use.
- Adaptable. The keyboard changes based on the use case, for example showing only numbers for certain apps. And physically rotating the iPad also rotates the screen, without additional user intervention. The iPad automatically adapts to the use case and user needs without user intervention. This literally closes the gap between man and machine, as Jonathan Ive, Apple SVP of Design, told Time,
“For us, it is all about refining and refining until it seems like there’s nothing between the user and the content they are interacting with.”
(See Time article by Stephen Fry).
- Light-weight, thin and portable. Imagine carrying a device slightly heavier than a hard-cover book but as thin as a glossy magazine. You wouldn’t use it while walking but it’s the perfect size for near-stationary use – on a couch, around the house, in a plane etc.
- Designed around the user. According to Jonathan Ive also stated, “I don’t have to change myself to fit the product. It fits me.” Product reviews have supported this.
- eReader experience. The iPad is light and thin that it may actually be easier to use the iPad than to read a bulky paper newspaper or book. But unlike Kindle and other readers, the display is bright, crisp and flexible (although Apple hasn’t said anything about the ability to read books out loud). That said, the iPad is heavier than eReaders like the Amazon Kindle.
- Easy-to-read screen. Early reports are that the screen is indeed easier to view than some other devices, depending on where it’s used. The iPad can be superior indoors but is harder to see in sunlight than eReaders.
#4 Value Score: 4 out of 5
Does the solution represent a reasonable value? Value equals total benefit less total cost. Cheap products are not always great values.
- $499 model may not be the best value. At just $499, you’d think that the entry level model was an outstanding value. And at $499, it’s certainly accessible – and it might even prove to be a netbook killer, especially for new users. Reality check: However, the entry-level model only includes a 16 gig flash drive, which will severely limit its usefulness at storing video and other storage-demanding content (translation: cheap yes, good value no). Still, for a new category of product and with the most expensive model topping out at $829, overall, the iPad series looks like a reasonable value overall.
- Augments existing PCs and laptops. The iPad is a content consumption device, not a content creation device. Some families, especially those with young children, will be content to swap PC’s for iPads, but most will require the robust content creation or productivity apps (think word processing, spreadsheet, graphics, presentation software) that a desktop or laptop provides. So most users will use Apple’s iPad productivity apps primarily for occasional editing rather than full-fledged content creation, especially since they can only open one app at a time. Net-net: whatever you spend on an iPad is likely to be in addition to what you’ll spend on other computers for your household. So you’re spending an additional $499+, not purchasing a less expensive laptop replacement. By the way, I’d probably buy an iPad before buying a netbook. Netbook keyboards and screens are already small and their processors can be slow, even though they usually carry robust hard drives.
- The cost of content. Users may want free content, but publishers will go out of business if they can’t make money. So traditional magazine and newspaper content is likely to be more expensive on the iPad where they can charge for a premium experience. That said, many traditional publishers seem more intent on porting printed formats to the iPad instead of leveraging the iPad’s interactive, user-driven controls. So the value of traditional content is on the iPad is still to be determined. Heck, you can still visit their websites using the iPad’s Safari browser, often without paying (although that’s already beginning to change as top news sites add paywalls).
Innovative new technologies, especially those hyped as much as the Apple iPad, have a way of polarizing people. You may not feel the urge to splurge on an iPad just yet and neither have I. Nonetheless, with its focus on content consumption, and its wide and integrated ecosystem and user experience, the Apple iPad is a solution that offers great lessons for any solution marketer.