Apple Ipad: The game changer?

The wait is over & its finally here. If you were expecting it to heal the world, stop global warming & bring world peace, you would be sorely disappointed. But if you were a realist and just wanted a superior tablet device, you would be more than happy with the result. In fact, if you were reading my blog and saw the “10 predicted features” entry, you would fall in the later category  since I almost hit the nail on its head  with that one (and I am not being smug about it).

However, I am sure you have checked out the keynote on the apple website and gone through the reviews on the web and already have formed a liking or disliking to the device.  So before starting out, let me call out a few not so obvious things which would perhaps provide a different perspective (in its favor):

  • The Ipad is “ALSO” a jumbo ipod touch: Of course, it can run all our ipod touch apps, but it does a lot more.
  • The Ipad is the first tablet device that has come out from Apple’s steed. Its just the first in the line of many more to come. Remember when iphone came out? There was no app store and it just ran a couple dozen apps.
  • The Ipad runs a modified version of Iphone OS 3.2. So, when iphone OS is upgraded to 4.0 (with multi tasking support, UI enhancement etc.), in all probability, so will the OS on Ipad.

Here is a high level lowdown on features:

  • “There is an app for that (Ipad)”: Yes, all your apps run on the Ipad too. All 140K of them. That’s a huge headstart for Ipad. There are so many apps (esp. text based like stanza), that would benefit from its larger form factor (screen). And games look great on it too.
  • Beyond ipod touch Apps: There is a custom SDK for Ipad and  I think Apple gave a good preview of “what can be”. The iWork App was a great example of how some of the iMac s/w will be customized to run on Ipad. The customized mail/photo & you tube apps were also great. So was the NYT app. The possibilities are endless as we saw with the explosion of apps on iphone/touch.
  • The iBook: Though, I was not overly impressed with the iBook software, Ipad is definitely a better e-book reader than iphone or standalone e readers. I will be very excited to run stanza and other 3rd party e-reader apps (that also provide Free Books).
  • The Hardware: The high-resolution, 9.7 inch LED-backlit, IPS display, .5 inch thin, 1.5 pounds, Wifi, 3G , sleek, cool, star trekkish … Need I say more ? And a keyboard with dock !!! Watch out for 3rd party h/w accessories (like a small webcam that attached to the 9-pin :)). And the screen is great for watching movies !!!
  • The variety: There are 6 models available – from as low as $499 to $829. No dearth of choice here.

But, what’s missing?

  • No multi tasking, no flash support, no in built file management: These are the things that reviewers and critics have been shouting about all day. One thing they don’t realize is that all these features will probably be slowly enabled with OS upgrades (to the iphone / ipad).
  • No Camera: This is a pretty glaring miss but I am sure Apple knew that and they did not take the decision lightly. I am assuming hardware integration complexities or deadline for TTM (time to market) and hoping that its not just a product sustainability tactic (what to  put in the next version).

The biggest nemesis of Ipad is ironically apple’s own iphone/ipod touch. There are many of you who are thinking – “I got my iphone/touch and it can do the same things. Why do I need to buy an Ipad”. Well, wether you want to admit it or not, iphone(or touch) has its limitations (blasphemy!! you say.). But things like reading a book, watching a movie with someone or plain browsing a complex structured site would be much much better experience on the 9.7 inch screen of Ipad. And for a starting price of $499, its a great alternative to e-readers / personal media devices / even ipod.

Final Verdict:

Remember reading about the first Computer ? It was perhaps as big as a room and needed rocket scientists to operate. Now compare that to the UMPCs of today or even smartphones. Get the analogy? No? Think about the first gen ipod and then think about ipod touch. Perhaps got it now?

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”  (A Chinese Proverb). The Ipad is an important step in the right direction at the right time. However, its not a small step by any means. It has already stimulated the tablet segment and compelled competitors to invest billions in trying to build a better tablet. And something will come out of that.

So, come 2050, people will look back and definitely mark the introduction of this device as the game changer.


Apple changes the Tablet PC market

If you have ever tried to buy a tablet PC in the past, you will know that the choices have been very limited (and costly).  Even today if you search amazon for tablet PC, you would be presented with few viable choices that will make you switch to a tablet PC or get one as an additional computer.  If you explore the history of tablet PC (for e.g. at Wikipedia), you will find out that the first commercialized tablet PC was released by IBM in 1993 and the next big step in its evolution was in 2001 when Microsoft released the touch screen Tablet PC run by Windows. And since then,  nothing. Yes, no notable innovation in this field (mainstream table PC) for last 9 years and Microsoft has not helped with its unimaginative software capabilities for the tablet PC.

However, if you have been following the International CES this year, where companies introduced the hot products for the next year, the big news has been the Tablet PC. There have been 9 different tablet products from 9 different companies with an evolutionary changed design – ranging from the sleek tablet PC (sans keyboard) from HP to the hybrid 2 in 1 netbook-tablet from Lenovo (Read PCWorld’s article on the same here). And of course Microsoft’s rumored Courier device is also in the queue. So what’s the driver behind so much innovation this year? Many people argue that the advanced (& cheap) hardware that’s available now has enabled this innovation in the tablet segment. Well, there hasn’t been a huge drop in prices or a huge leap in hardware capabilities in the last 2 years.  So what’s the real driver? The answer is  – “Apple”.

Apple fundamentally revolutionized the mp3 player market with their ipod line of products and then did the same to the smart phones by introducing iphone. It literally created , revived or expanded those segments. With that track record, Apple’s foray into the Tablet PC  is what has made this the hot product of 2010 & beyond. With the buzz, interest & the demand that will be created by Apple’s  Tablet device, other manufacturers have either been pre-empted in their  effort to create their own tablet PC device or have been forced to not ignore this opportunity.

So, Apple has changed the Table PC market and the irony is that they have not even released their tablet yet 🙂 or even admitted to having working on it at all !!!. Now all we need to do is wait till 27th Jan for Apple’s event where Steve Jobs will (hopefully) change our world (again).

Iphone: Enterprise Apps for the Retailers

First of all, I would start out by saying that a lot of things discussed here applies to any mobile/smartphone device. I have taken the example of iPhone since that’s the prevalent mobile device right now and is leading the way in expanding the mobile user base. And, me being an iPhone fanboy has nothing to do with it 🙂

With iPhone/iPod touch predicted to touch a user base as big as 100 million in a year or so, the retailers cannot afford to ignore the platform. Big retailers (like target,amazon, walmart, bestbuy et al.)  have already created an iPhone app and there are people out there questioning why some retailers don’t have an iPhone app. Yes, we have arrived at a point where a customer facing iPhone app is taken for granted for any big retailer and if its missing, its negatively impacting the brand image in minds of the young consumer.

There has already been considerable movement in the space of m-commerce iPhone app. There is much literature out there discussing the merits & benefits of creating an iPhone application in that space (Click Here to read an article on benefits for a retailers creating an iPhone app ). Also, people have already seen how these apps are changing consumer shopping behaviour (Click here to read the NY Times article on bargain shopping using the mobile). So I will not touch a lot on that aspect of use case of an iPhone app. I will rather discuss and make a case on how this trend will ultimately inspire internal enterprise apps.

Creating a consumer facing m-commerce app first obviously made sense since that has the fastest tangible ROI and that’s the reason that lot large retailers went for it in a big way. However, the implications of these apps are huge to retail space. These apps have implicitly made the job of selling so much more competitive in ways that one cannot measure right now. I will use few personal examples to illustrate my point:

  • I was at Best Buy and I remembered that I had to upgrade my router. I went looking and as soon as I found the one I liked, I keyed in the model number into the amazon mobile app (I like amazon :)) and the same was available for $15 less. I immediately ordered it on Amazon. Exactly same thing happened with my newborn’a car seat at BabysRUs store and Amazon won again.
  • I was heading to office when the oil indicator lighted up in my car. So I stopped and opened the “Yowza!!” iPhone app that shows coupons available at nearby retailers and found that a $10 off coupon was available for the local Oil Can Henrys. So off I went and they accepted the coupon without it being printed.

And I could go on and on. Couple of obvious observations from the examples above:

  • Previously,  retailers probably had at least a day to respond to the competition, that time window has now been shrunk to hours or even real-time or else they are at risk of lost sales.
  • Location specific Mobile Marketing will become more and more important as mobile/smartphone devices become an integral part of our lives.

This changed landscape will require the retailers to be more nimble, agile and mobile. They have to be able to respond fast and respond from anywhere. That’s where the Enterprise iPhone apps come into the picture. With the assumption that a retailer already has an m-commerce or at least an m-marketing app out there, I will present the following use cases for an enterprise iPhone app:

  • Competitive Pricing : This functionality will be used by a merchant/buyer. One use case is where the user will be able to add few (100s or 1000s) items on a price watch list. A price watch engine will then track the prices of these items every few minutes on competitors websites and if it finds a lower price, it will send a push notification to the application. The user can review the notifications, review the GM% and other KPIs and if he decides to meet/better the competitor price, he can then initiate a price change to its item from within the apps. Another use case would be when merchants’ assistants will be window shopping the competition and when they see a lower price, they will use the instant price change functionality of the application (or which could optionally be forwarded to Merchant’s app for review/approval).
  • Mobile Marketing: This a no brainer. Merchants / Buyers already publish daily deals through some desktop / server applications to the mobile apps (amazon mobile has this). But buyers / merchants / store managers can publicize an instant sale (perhaps to move merchandize late in the day to meet a sale target) by sending out push notifications. This will be even more useful if Apple starts supporting location specific push notifications. Some retailers are already doing some of this using social networking sites (like Facebook).
  • Sales / Performance Dashboards: Live Real Time Sale Reports at one’s finger tips has been the dream and pursuit of many retailers. By this time, most of them  already have the infrastructure to get this information and view it on their PC, all they need to do is plug it into an iPhone App UI and track sales/performance for their key items. If a Retailer wants to do this from scratch or if they already have a BI ERP (from Oracle or SAP or Salesforce et al.), they can use one of the existing apps out there (Click here for a list of exiting business apps). Thus they can track sales of any items (with alerts) and then take actions (price changes / promotions etc.) to meet the sales goals.
  • Quickly setup items & Write POs: As buyers go into the market and find items they like, they can immediately scan (or rather snap) UPCs from suppliers, download the item information from the cataloging sites, upload the item information into their internal systems and start writing purchase orders right away. All this from within the app.
  • The New “BlackBerry”: The list of things that iPhone can do will go on. We are at a point where iPhone has the potential to change the way we interact with the Enterprise apps, the same way blackberry changed the way we interact with our Enterprise mails & schedules. Not only can we respond to mails on the go (and all the time)  but we can now write POs, View Reports, make budgets – do actual work on-the-go.

All said, there will be many challenges that one will face while implementing enterprise apps.  Enabling the iPhone apps  to securely access enterprise data  and manipulate it will require water tight security. Many enterprises have yet to adopt iPhone for mails due to lack of confidence in its secure framework, faith in the old blackberry and existing investment in blackberry devices. So one will have to overcome that hurdle.  Also, one needs to thoroughly formulate the architecture for the services, frameworks and interface for enabling the access to enterprise transactional data.

Having made the case for enterprise iphone apps, I am still a realist. M-commerce / consumer facing apps will trump the enterprise apps any day. But if a retailer or their competitor have that out already then the next step is the enterprise iphone app.