When Apple launched the initial iPod in 2001, they made two critical strategic decisions:
- They focused on providing really great PC support on iTunes, and made the iPod a great device for PCs and Macs (remember, the Mac was not yet ascendant as a laptop); and
- They supported MP3s
People bought (and loved) the iPod because it allowed them to take music they already had (through Napster, or that they’d ripped). The iPod became a dominant force in music by embracing and supporting an existing landscape (the PC, MP3), not by trying to circumvent that landscape (or trying to create an alternate reality right off-the-bat). People forget all this now, but the iTunes Store didn’t arrive until 18 months later; and only the huge wave of initial support for the iPod assured it would be a success. Apple changed the music industry paradigm only after they got tons of people to buy iPods, and they got people to buy iPods by making a great device that worked with MP3s they had on their PCs.
Turn to today’s launch. This was Steve Jobs’ lede today at the iPad unveiling:
You can browse the Web with it. It’s the best browsing experience you’ve ever had.
Indeed, the Internet should be without doubt the killer app (initially) for the iPad. What a joy to sit on a couch, or bed, or plane, or train with an iPad, using natural touch gestures to navigate and browse the web. I would buy this thing in a heartbeat if I could do that — everything else (iBooks, movies and video, games) would be gravy.
So what gives? Well, turns out you can’t truly browse the web with the iPad.
By ignoring Flash, Apple has basically made most of the web broken, as so clearly illustrated by the screenshot of their demo of the front page of the NY Times! It’s not just 10,000s sites which provide their videos in Flash (Hulu, yes, but also CNN, MSNBC, MTV, Comedy Central, BBC, and many, many more), but it’s the millions of flash widgets and other interactive elements on the page. To get a sense, try this experiment — remove Flash from your computer, and start browsing around. If your web experience is unimpaired, maybe you’ll like the iPad. But I think most people will think: “Who broke the damn Internet?”
The iPad did, that’s who.
Now, I’ve seen some arguments today that this misses the point — that Apple isn’t just satisfied with replicating your standard web video experience, that they want to transform the entire video business. Ryan Lawler at NewTeeVee argues:
The iPad will cause ripples in multiple industries — including news, book publishing and gaming — but at the end of the day, I’m betting that what the iPad will be used for more than anything is watching video. Like the iPod, it’s only a matter of time before the iPad becomes the defining product with which to consume that type of media.
Could be. But they have to sell a ton of iPads first. And, by not embracing the existing landscape — the tens of thousands of video sites that provide hundreds of millions of videos encoded in Flash — they’ve cut off a natural, intial reason to buy and to use the device (and yes, I know all about HTML 5 video, and no the iPad is not going to cause a stampede to that overnight). If I have to choose between a lightweight, fully functional wireless enabled laptop that works well on every web site and that allows me to watch videos from Hulu and Netflix and a gazillion other places, and an iPad that doesn’t support Flash or any site that uses Flash and only lets me watch videos from iTune and YouTube, which am I gonna use?
Simple. I’ll stick with my Macbook for now, thanks.