Wired is running an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Fred Vogelstein, looking at how Steve Jobs made the iPad successful when no other tablet ever had been. There’s an interesting parallel with e-readers in this story. No dedicated e-reader had ever been successful before Jeff Bezos pushed the Kindle, and likewise no prior tablet had ever worked until the iPad came along.
The tablet computer was the most discredited category of consumer electronics in the world. Entrepreneurs had been trying to build tablet computers since before the invention of the PC. They had tried so many times that the conventional wisdom was that it couldn’t be done.
Vogelstein attributes the iPad’s success in large part to having the iPhone/iPod Touch platform as a basis. The extremely-popular pocket-sized devices provided the proverbial giant on whose shoulders the iPad could stand. People already had and liked the devices; they understood their interface and knew how to use them. Even if they didn’t understand at the time why they might want an iPad, they wouldn’t have any trouble understanding how it worked once they had it.
Even though some wondered why they even needed a tablet, the genius of the iPad was that, while it didn’t have the same capabilities as a full-sized laptop, it had almost all of the capabilities most people actually ended up using their laptop for, in a smaller, lighter form with better battery life. So it, and the other tablets that followed, effectively killed the laptop as people ditched the heavier, bulkier devices for lighter ones that used less battery power.
And as for media, the iPad didn’t just disrupt one medium like the iPod (music) or iPhone (cellphones).
[The] iPad was turning five industries upside down. It was changing the way consumers bought and read books, newspapers, and magazines — as well as the way they watched movies and television. Revenues from these businesses totaled about $250 billion, or about 2 percent of U.S. GDP.
Google was left scrambling to catch up. (And catch up they eventually did, judging by the current state of Android phones and tablets, but that’s outside the scope of the excerpt.)
Something else I think is interesting to consider is the way the origin of the iPad and the development of the e-book marketplace are inexorably intertwined, perhaps just as much as the Kindle is. If the Kindle created the wider e-book market, the iPad twisted it around by introducing agency pricing. The excerpt even quotes from Apple exec Eddy Cue’s testimony in the trial about how e-books were perceived as a killer app for the tablet. Perhaps that’s fitting, given that e-books are arguably responsible for the development of the technology that led to them in the first place.