The iPad is the Model A of the Computer Industry

You’ve seen the meme, if the auto industry were like the computer industry our cars would crash for no apparent reason, or something like that. I think there are some parallels to what’s going on in the computer industry today when you compare it to the auto industry of yesteryear. At the turn of the century cars had already been around for twenty years. They started out as toys for the rich or the technically inclined. If you were rich you had to find a mechanic to keep the thing running. If something broke, you had to find someone who could fabricate a new part for you. The Ford Motor company changed all that with the Model T. One by one they rolled off the assembly line and became known as the first affordable car. Henry Ford’s personality drove the design and allowed it to be on the market for 20 years. The Model T did not so much redefine the industry but make it accessible to the average American. There are some similarities with the Apple ][ and even the IBM PC.

When the Model A came around it was somewhat of a revolution. Much of what we expect from a modern car can be seen in this car with a 3.3 Liter engine that could get 30 mpg. It featured many technical innovations and distinguished itself in the industry. The car was simple and reliable. You no longer needed to be a mechanic just to start the engine. I see the similarity in the announced iPad.

I had this epiphany while standing in line at local big box office store. I was there to buy my office supplies and overheard a snippet of a conversation from the counter behind me under a sign that read “We Fix Computers”. The poor customer’s computer was obviously infected with that Redmond-spawn operating system. The 20-year-old tech was spouting technobabble at the customer that would make Geordi LaForge smile. The blank, accepting look on the customer looked like a kitten on the train tracks waiting for the inevitable verdict on the fate of the electronic beast that had been brought to this vet. It actually reminded me of how I feel taking my car to the mechanic but that’s another story. How do non-technical mere mortals deal with keeping their computers running and safe from viruses? The truth is that most of them don’t. They accept that computers run slower and slower over time until you eventually have to reinstall the OS or buy a new one.

What I see in the iPad is an appliance. I want it to just work. You turn it on. You use it. You set it down. You don’t have to think about viruses or system updates for the most part. You don’t have to worry about how to keep your file system in order. I would not be surprised if we looked back in 20 years and identified this as a turning point in the industry.

Like other Apple products in the past, they have introduced a product into an existing market and redefined that market. The Apple ][ wasn’t the first home computer but it was accessible in a different way. The first Mac was laughed at for its cartoon interface, small floppy and mouse. The iMac abolished the floppy and made USB mainstream. The iPod destroyed the Río market by changing the business mode, not with a spectacular piece of hardware. The iPhone does the same thing with its app store where the total is greater than the sum of its parts. Now we have the iPad, which, let’s face it, is just a big iPod touch. This new product with its simple interface, locked down OS, and vast app store is positioned to change the way we think about computers. You should not have to be a computer scientist to get your email. You should be able to turn it on have it just work. I hope that the iPad will satisfy that need.

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