Universal Mobile Interface

The iPad – how it may influence the mobile arena

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on April 16, 2010

Another hyped and as always well orchestrated launch by Apple. The iPad is since launch scrutinised and the comments are many. And what is really the iPad? Many views are posted on blogs like this one. All try to compare the iPad to some existing device: a laptop; a mobile device; a Kindle etc. It could be that the iPad does not really compare to any existing device but defines a new market. What need the iPad really can and will meet only the future can tell. The key difference to a laptop is probably not the lack of a real key board, missing USB ports etc. The iPad merge the large screen and usability of a laptop with the business ecosystem and the elegant UI of the iPhone/iPod touch. And as in most mergers one of the cultures may eventually be more pronounced.

Why does the iPad get all this attention? The main reason is that it is launched after the huge success of the iPhone and its app store. But is the iPad really building on the success of the iPhone? In many aspects the iPad is a lap top size iPod touch. The success factors of the iPhone/iPod are a superior UI making it very easy to find, explore, buy, access and use relevant Internet services and a working business eco-system incentivising 3rd party developers and companies to invest in the development of apps. In both these aspects the iPhone and the iPod has excelled compared to the competition and the key to the success has been a closed environment fully controlled by Apple. The competitive edge is on the other hand not so obvious anymore when doing the same for a lap top size device. A superior UI is nice to have but does not bring huge benefits and a working business eco-system is in many aspects already in place for computers.

What one may assume Apple hopes to achieve is yet another closed Apple environment where Apple guarantee the end user a superior user experience at the same time as they fully control the business eco-system within this closed environment, further driving hardware sales. The ambition is to extend the successful business model of the iPhone and its app store to more computer like devices. Many support this thinking, especially media conglomerates and publishers now see the opportunity to finally get a working business model, getting paid for digital versions of their news papers and magazines as well as new opportunities for advertising.

Sometimes we seem to forget what really made the PC and the Internet into the huge successes. And what ones almost killed the Mac in the process. It was certainly not a superior UI or a closed environment but rather the opposite. We may question the dominant position of Microsoft but getting one ubiquitous operating system, Windows, made it possible to launch services and software reaching the full market independently of device brand or ISP. The limited fragmentation and easiness by which you could address the market spurred innovation and diversity. This is unfortunately not the case within the mobile area and will not be for the foreseeable future, the mobile operating system jungle is here to stay. The success of the iPad can therefore not rely on the same criteria as the iPhone and we will most probably not accept a development where we now at this level of maturity get more closed environments within the personal computer area.

The iPad may find a niche as for instance a wireless reading device, such as the Kindle, where users are expecting a closed environment. But if the iPad becomes more of a general lap top for any media consumption the users are likely to expect more of an opened environment. Apple will, in this case, most probably be forced to open up to meet the customer expectations and not to limit the iPad to a few niche markets. With the similarities between the iPad and the iPhone it may be hard for Apple to justify a more closed environment for the iPhone. What may first have been seen as a very clever idea to expand the successful business model of the iPhone into the computer market may backfire and gradually open up the iPhone eco-system. The present willingness to pay for services in the mobile arena may be transferred to the online environment and maybe vertical approaches are a way to get there but it can’t be a general and sustainable solution.

The successes of vertical approaches such as the iPhone confirm the enormous potential of Internet services accessed through the mobile as well as the willingness to pay for useful services. To fully capitalize on this huge opportunity the answer is not to build more verticals, but rather to make services and communication platforms work across all mobile platforms unleashing the true potential. This is what the UMI concept is all about.

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