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.