Why the iPad Will Do Better Than the Segway

So I’ve complained a bit about the iPad since it was announced.

It’s really simple. I’m relatively poor by the tech-geek standard. The jobs I’ve had never left me with a large amount of disposable income, and right now I’m unemployed looking for work. So, of course, buying a new piece of technology can only be justified if I NEED it.

There are scales of need, obviously, and it’s a wee bit of stretching, but I “need” something to replace the Mac laptop that went back to its owners when I was laid off. I was hoping the iPad would be it, so I was disappointed when it wasn’t. I can’t justify purchasing something whose functions are somewhat replicated by my iPhone. Also, it’s not something that would replace my iPhone if it breaks, so even if it’s a better piece of technology I can’t “trade up” to it.

I need to point out that I realize there is a difference. It’s faster, it has a larger screen, and is (I admit) more awesome. Whether or not this is a $500-800 difference depends largely on how much you have left over after the whole food/shelter/clothing thing.

Again, many people with the benefit of hindsight have faulted those of us who were disappointed by its unveiling for “expecting the iPad to be something Apple has never intended it to be.” As I’ve stated before, we’re allowed to be disappointed. Still, I don’t think this disappoint

So I’m not one who think this product will do poorly.

There are some people who are criticizing the “invented need” of the iPhone, and comparing it to the Segway. Just as the Segway was neither a car or a bike, the iPad is neither a computer, a phone, nor a television. It won’t fully replace any of these, just as the Segway doesn’t really replace cars or bikes.

People who have used the iPad use the same glowing terms that they did the Segway. It’s magical. It’s like being in a dream. If you don’t actually hold it in your hands and use it, you’ll never understand.

The thing many people don’t know is that the Segway is actually very awesome. Talk to anyone who owns one, if you can get past the “elitist” image that’s been generated around them through popular culture. They really *could* have revolutionized the way people get around. The reason they didn’t was pretty simple. Most folks couldn’t and still can’t justify dropping $6000+ for it. So, those who get them love them, but most folks *aren’t* getting them, so they haven’t caught on yet. Perhaps they never will. Certainly, there’s a stigma around them still.

This is where the iPad can do well where the Segway didn’t. The need they’re trying to invent may catch on. Here are some of the reasons why:

The $500-$800 range doesn’t fit MY budget, but it does fit a lot of other people’s. Much more than $6000 would. So, there will be more of these in the world sooner. Rather than seeing one or two and being amazed when you see it, you’ll see them all over the place and be intrigued.

When you see someone drive by in a Segway, they’re pretty much gone once you notice them. It’s *still* cool and creepy for me, even after all of these years, but I’ve never gotten a chance to see one up close for very long, let alone use one. People will be using iPads on the bus, at coffee shops, at the airport and a lot of other public places. Folks will have a lot of time to get to see them in action, then covet.

I’m sure Segway owners would be happy to let friends and relatives take it for a spin, but there would be some training involved, I’m guessing. The iPad will, most likely, simply be able to be handed over. People may want a friend to read a portion of a book they bought from Apple and hand the device over, or check out a game. As long as they’re not selfish folks by nature, the early adopters will be better than any commercial.

In my social circle $6000 is a really nice used car. Giving someone a Segway would be huge and embarrassing and oh-my-good-what-do-they-want-from-me. An iPad, while less money, would be huge because it would be easier to accept. Again, early adopters with a lot of income may use it, think of their mom, dad, or 9-year-old niece and suddenly distribute the iPad to someone who never would have bought one. Then the “can I see it?” factor will spread even further.

As I’ve said from the beginning, the iPad as it’s being conceived at this point isn’t exactly what I need. However, if the iPhone has been any indication, there are going to be more and more cool things happening to the iPad as the new versions come out. As I’ve mentioned, I’m paranoid by nature. I don’t think they left the camera out because they couldn’t put one in. A camera, and the ability to use iChat, would be a feature that *may* get early adopters to buy the next generation iPad when it comes out. The ability to multitask would be another one. Sure, many folks are saying that these things are “against the spirit of the product” right now, but I’m positive they wouldn’t be complaining if the iPad had those features.

The Segway hasn’t evolved into an electric car yet, which is what a lot of folks were hoping. Just putting that one out there.

The Segway talked about changing the ways cities were built. Had they partnered with a small town, given its citizens Segways, and redesigned it to fit them, it would have been a huge PR stunt and, in my opinion, awesome. Instead, at the most, they changed what vehicles parking cops in Seattle use on their routes.

The iPad may change the Internet landscape as radically, with the active participation of its users.

As covered earlier, the iPad is, by and large, a device used to purchase and use things sold by Apple. Third-party apps give the device a lot more flexibility, but again, those need to be approved by Apple. The “missing openness” of the iPad will rub some the wrong way. Of course, a lot of these people will be the ones who dislike the fact that you can’t fix your own Mac that easily.

Here’s the thing, though. The iPad may be a prison, but it’s a cool prison, and as we know if it’s cool enough a large portion of the population won’t want to leave. There won’t be a lack of participants, either. Popular companies will WANT to make things for the iPad. Look how many top sites have apps for the iPhone already.

Get ready for some speculation on my part:

I think that, should the iPad catch on the way I think it will, it will be as important to have an app as a web site. Not just companies, but individuals as well.

As so many people will point out if you say, “Flash won’t run on the iPad,” Flash CAN run on the iPad, if it’s part of an app. I think this suggests the “everything is an app” culture may be the goal. This *would* have the opportunity to kick the use of non-app Flash to the curb, which so many people are suggesting Apple is trying to do. If you REALLY want to kill the open use of Flash, remove web sites from the equation entirely. Get everyone used to running apps, and keep the apps cheap.

In order for the iPad to be exactly what I want, there needs to be a version for creators. I think there will be. If this occurs, then anyone who’s staying off the train because the iPad is strictly a “consumption device” will hop aboard.

I think two things will help this happen. First, the iPad has to do well, not poorly. Once everyone has and is using one, Apple will be able to take a chance on a “creation” version. If no one buys the current version, coming out with something that’s the same but more complicated probably won’t be well received.

Two, there are creative types who will get an iPad. There are apps builders who will make apps that will allow you to make creative things. There will be no need to jailbreak the iPad in order to get a creation device out of it.

There will be a slew of web comics that are made entirely on the iPad, musicians who make albums using only iPads, and (if the camera is included in a future model) shows shot entirely on iPads.

If my dream comes true, Apple will see what these people will make, and realize that some folks actually want this kind of thing, and will give them more tools to use. If they don’t, people will continue to use it in ways it wasn’t intended. Because, if something is put in the hands of the people, that’s what will happen.

If Segway really wanted their product to take off, they would have made it so city kids could afford them. That’s not the market they were going for, though, and so they’ve found their niche: People with access to $6000+ who don’t mind the social stigma when compared to the awesome experience.

I’m not saying that Apple has made a product that is *that* affordable, but they have one that is much more affordable, and will reach the people.


About paulgude

Paul Gude writes small books, makes stupid music, draws silly pictures, and does weird things on stage.
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