Consumers are the Apple of Our Eye

The iPad seems to turn its back on the creative classes which populate Apple's fan base. But this is the next step in a strategy from Apple which seeks to embrace a wide consumer base.

I have been watching the unfolding conversations around the new Apple iPad with disinterest. You see, I have never been a huge fan of Apple. Sure I have an iPod, and the iPhone looks great and seems to work well – but they have never been must have devices for me. And my flirtation with their computers has only ever ended in disappointment.

However, I often find myself recommending Apple products. Why? I am a firm believer that ease of use drives consumption – so if a non-tech person (such as my mother) wants a computer, I am going to suggest a Mac. If an uncle wants to get the internet on his phone, then I’m going to suggest an iPhone. It’s easier for them to use (and I get fewer questions later). This philosophy also provides a path for users of technology – who can start with a simple, relatively “dumb” device, and graduate to more powerful devices as their skill and confidence grows.

So I was wondering why there was so much noise around the iPad. It’s a poorly chosen name, certainly. And it elicited broad (and vocal) disappointment with the early adopters – but there seemed to be something more personal in the response to the iPad launch. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

At a recent Coffee Morning, I was discussing this with Tim Longhurst who seemed to nail it for me. I have paraphrased and consolidated our conversation:

The iPod transformed Apple. It gave it mass appeal. It pumped up the share price and rebuilt the company in its present shape. But there is a marked shift in the focus of the company and its products from the iPod forward. While Apple built its following and fan base by empowering the producers – the creators of content – the iPod was firmly targeted at the consumers of that content.

The iPhone is a hybrid – but the iPad boldly pushes further into the consumer space. There are no bells and whistles for the producers. No cameras. No inputs. Instead, Apple applies its design flourishes to the non-geek user – the mums and dads of the internet world. The silver surfers and retired baby boomers who can happily read their favourite websites while on extended holiday.

Why is this significant?

Alvin Toffler coined the term “prosumer” back in the 80s, and Joseph Jaffe extended this in his Join the Conversation. As Joseph explained (p 38):

The prosumers help us understand phenomena like consumer generated content, blogs, podcasting, social networking, wikis and so on. And it is only by understanding both generation i and its prosumer class that we will ever be able to figure out what to do next.

When David Armano visualised our changing sense of identity in a Web 2.0 world, it seemed obvious that we were becoming increasingly comfortable with our multi-skilled roles.

armano-jaffe-prosumer

Yet while use of social technologies continues to grow, there are a significant number of people who do not engage in social technologies – or who are limited in their use (and therefore their behaviour) of these social tools. For example, we may BUY something using eBay, but are unlikely to SELL. We are happy to look at family photos on Facebook but unwilling (or wary about) uploading our own.

In this case, the iPad may turn out to be the perfect device. It’s a device that allows people to CONSUME social technologies and services – but not contribute to them. In a way, Apple are simply targeting the largest customer niche – the non-producing consumer. And while the NY Times trumpets Apple’s elitist approach to innovation – I have a feeling that the iPad may very well be the most egalitarian of products. And if that drives greater (and deeper) interest in social technologies, then all the better.

Comments

  1. I think most of the hate/noise is coming from the freetard community anyway, which is to be expected anyway. I can’t wait to have a couple floating around the house to access/consume media without the hassle of starting up a full desktop or laptop, or pinching/fumbling around on a small iPhone screen.
    The problem is that the iPad is just a little too far ahead of the curve at the moment, and a lot of people can’t figure out where it fits into their lives. But not for long. If you believe that the future of computing is either web or device apps, then the iPad is right on the money. Even without Flash support but that’s another conversation … thanks for posting!

  2. Thanks Dennis – I think you are right. Not having to power up a PC to check email is awesome. Making life easier means more usage. Got to be good for the ISPs.

  3. I don’t think it turns its back on the creative class, I think it embraces it like never before. Just not the same bunch of creatives. Think about the producers of magazines, comics, games, apps, content etc. The iPad is the missing link for the long-tail of budding content creators, what’s more its flawless design and simple functionality mean the masses will have no problem grabbing hold of it.

  4. The iPad is an interesting prospect. No doubt it will be great for people who don’t want to use conventional computers like older generations and non-tech savvy people or for just browsing at home or on the go. It will also be good for demonstrations, pitches, portfolio presentations- nice big images (plus some touchscreen wow factor!) without having to lug around all the rest of the computer.
    But as far as creativity I’m not so sure. Yes you can visit a webpage like this and add a comment, or write on your blog, but for many other tasks it seems kind of closed off and underpowered. How easy is it to connect a camera if you are a photographer, what if you want to scan some documents or artwork you have created? Can I retouch those images on the iPad? What about connecting to a printer? Great you can get to youTube in one click but can you actually get any video off a video camera and edit it with a decent quality software? Once I’ve written my novel on the train back from work how easy is it to transfer back to my desktop computer? Can I really program and test run a game on it?
    I’m not suggesting the iPad needs to have a behemoth processor and a zillion usb ports but I wonder if it is a little too restricted to be used for content creation.
    Personally I’d like something light and portable that I can program in and test that application on when I’m out and about, but I think the iPad will be too restricted for that and many other functions. But who knows maybe “there’s an app for that too”, I hope so. But if it doesn’t then the iPad overlaps the wrong areas of laptop and iPhone, surfing on the move and bigger screen but no power and functionality and no calling capability. In that scenario I would take my iPhone and laptop for the essential functions. The iPad would just be frivolous. In the end for all the iPad’s good looks it may prove just too troublesome for higher functions than other to be released slate-like devices that are more open and powerful.
    The iPad sure is seductive (to all the right people) but might be more useful on the couch surfing the web than making content for anything. Only time will tell.

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