Did Apple have a Secret Plan?

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A previous article here on Gadgeteer asked about the state of Android. I’d like to ponder on the state of the tablet: Here we are, almost 10 months after the iPad announcement, quickly approaching Christmas 2010, and where are our options other than the iPad? As far as I can tell, the maybe-soon to be released WiFi Samsung Galaxy with a 7″ screen might be the only option, and its release is preceded by Google saying Android is not for tablets. There’s the Dell Streak but at 5″, it’s not really in tablet territory. More like really big cellphone territory. So why aren’t any mainstream tablets on the market right now? Read on to find out what I think was Apple’s “Secret Plan”…

Here’s my opinion: Apple says the iPad was actually designed first, before the iPhone. Only after they realized it would work just as well as a phone did they release the iPhone and put the iPad on the shelf for a couple years(1). So I think this was also to give the iPad as much of a head-start in the market as they could engineer. Most big companies, like anything large and unwieldy, have a certain amount of momentum. Once a product plan is in place, thousands of people are required to implement the plan. And I think Apple used this momentum to steer everyone towards phones while they had a bigger picture in mind – And this is why it’s taking so long to get a decent iPad competitor shipping to the public.

When the iPhone was released in 2007, the whole market reacted and shifted to touchscreen. Android’s seen rapid growth, Palm came out swinging and then got bought by HP, Microsoft Kin was around for a week and now Win 7 is about to be released. We also can’t forget the marketplaces created within these ecosystems, with many additional companies developing applications, cases, and whatnot. All of this concentration on Phone OS’s and Phone apps created serious momentum. People were hired, schedules developed, budgets solidified, everything focused on making some great phones. Then, all of a sudden, while everyone’s attention is on the iPhone, Apple comes out with a tablet that fits right into the existing iOS ecosystem and uses this as a bridge towards the Tablet market. And sells millions.

Apple’s little mis-direction with the iPhone took alot of the R&D dollars that could be spent on a light & powerful tablets was spent on creating light & powerful cell phones. Sure, many of the components can be used in either device, but I bet things like manufacturing efficiency  focused on 4″ screens – not 10″. And the software market too: Google’s announcement that Android wasn’t designed for the tablet form factor made me wonder ‘why not?’. What about Google’s Marketplace; Where do tablet apps get distributed? This is a serious chunk of the marketplace that Apple seems to have effectively diffused for the immediate future.  ( Note: I’m not counting Windows7 or Linux tablets, nobody is buying them right now. That might change in the future like everything else )

So… If Apple really had a plan to release the iPhone first to get everyone going in one direction and then release their iPad a couple years later in another direction… It seems to be working. Of course, it only puts off the inevitable: A marketplace full of choice… coming soon.

( The image is from here )

20 thoughts on “Did Apple have a Secret Plan?”

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  2. I think Apple knew that they iPhone would be a more palatable option at the beginning than a tablet. Now that the OS and the reputation was built up to such a degree, then people would bite the apple (no pun intended) on the tablet. There aren’t any real competition because other manufacturers aren’t sure about tablets because they are still trying to chase the iPhone. They only recently began to get real competition for the iPhone. Now with the holiday season coming up, the only way other Tablets have a chance at winning is beating Apple by Volume. Which means they can’t bring a 700.00 tablet thinking people will buy it. Because whatever comes out, it will not be better than the iPad. So, keep the price low even if that mean sacrificing on some specs, keep the price low, you may get more sales…. maybe.

  3. Exactly: The iPhone paved the way for the iPad even though the iPad was developed first, and the market’s attention towards phones opened the way for the iPad to have the market to itself for a while.

  4. I don’t think misdirection was their main purpose, but it probably did serve them well. Apple knows the value of shutting up about a product that isn’t ready yet, so of course it wouldn’t benefit them to talk about the iPad in its infancy. They figured the market would accept a phone more easily, and then when the iPad was debuted, it was just one more step along that path.

  5. Hmm, this tablet I bought in 2005 must have somehow come through a portal from the future, because, of course, there is absolutely no tablet options other than the ipad and the galaxy.

    Oh, no wait. Tablets have been available for ages in like ten different form factors with a couple of different OS options from maybe a dozen different companies.

    Oh, what you’re saying is you want something new that doesn’t do anything that your phone doesn’t do? Yeah, get an ipad or a galaxy then. It’s your money.

  6. @billzilla Yes tablets have been around for years. But most people didnt care about them til now. There was not much use for them for the average person. The OS on those tablets where not for better for Touch User Interfaces, they were expensive and heavy and got really hot when used for a while.

    They sucked.

  7. I think they released iPhone first in 2007 because they might have been tipped off that Nokia has already a smartphone prototype back in 2004. Though Nokia made a mistake on trashing the proposal, it doesn’t mean they won’t be launching the product before Apple did.

  8. We are with Jeff H…

    A laptop without a keyboard running a crappy OS does not a useful mass market tablet make. Those tablets do have a niche…for those who MUST use them, but not for others who have a choice.

    Then came the iPad… a total game changer….something which we have been saying since that first day it became available.

    We drone on endless about it here:

  9. I think Steve Jobs realized some time ago that the race is to he who brings the ecosystem, not the appliance. He has since nailed the user experience within that ecosystem. AT & T mucked that up a bit, but by and large, putting the user experience first has paid off in spades, and now Apple is poised to be the largest consumer company. I agree with the author that Apple took advantage of a strategic moment when attention was focused on the phone. But, I believe Apple obviously works its iterative process beyond the device level to the experiential level. While everyone else is trying to build the better mpusetrap, Jobs has moved on to new platforms, retail operations, ad models, media forms, and consumer experience integration. Platforms that will sustain the ios, will monetize in terms of development of apps, and now taken to the next extreme, to monetize ad revenue via iAds. Jobs differentiates by making polished, high end products that are well made. Not because he has a fetish for high end, but because that is the niche that dazzles and if integrated successfully, brings market share. Google realizes this dimly, and is trying to jump ahead by trying to anticipate Apple’s next moves. Thus, the Google TV. But, Google’s business model is about ad revenue. That is just one of Apple’s models.

  10. Could also be that Apple didn’t have a processor that would properly power a tablet in 2007 or the cost of a 10-inch screen would have made an iPad prohibitively expensive. The phone market was also stagnant as Palm hadn’t really made any substantive changes in years, RIM was going after a different marketplace and WinCE was just a mess.
    Actually, that’s a bit unfair, Palm had made a great move and then gave up on it…they were called PQAs…what many people call “apps” today.

  11. I think this is a pretty possible scenario. In fact had they not prepared the market with the iphone the ipad would maybe have been a total flop. I mean, a lot of people buy it because of the hype, only few have a “real”, practical use for it.
    If you want to sell “surplus” you need a much more solid strategy then when you sell something people actually need. And I can’t think of anything more “surplus” than the iPad.

  12. @ Jeff – what android means by not designed for tablets is that they have v3 around the corner which will take the tablet options more into account.

    Currently the UK has a couple of different android tablet options including a couple of cheap ones under £100.

    Haven’t bought one and am unlikely as really don’t see the point and find them unnecessary (only favourability of them is the quick start up time to laptop – but then for a quick query I always tend to use my phone)

  13. @jaamgans I am aware of that. I mean they have no choice but to make that happen. That is where the market is moving. For those who say there are no practical uses for a tablet… Well lets just say that a hot laptop with a fan blowing hot air on you while you lie in the bed trying to watch an episode of 30 Rock isn’t all that great. Plus what are most people doing on a Laptop these days anyway? If you use one for work then thats why you have a laptop. i understand people are afraid of change or just don’t like it. I’m pretty sure iPads will outsell laptops this holiday season. I don’t think any android tablet that will make to the market in time will be even close to it in sales. Android is not yet a proven platform for tablets yet. But I am sure people when shopping will be looking at tablets more than laptops. (Dare I say it)

  14. @Jeff Hollaway: you realize you just proved me right by saying this, do you? 🙂
    I don’t think people disinterested or skeptical towards the iPad are afraid of change, I think it’s more that we start to be a bit bored with being bombarded with technological advances we don’t really need.

    I don’t think the real problems we have with out lives are fans heating our bed while we watch a movie, maybe it’s something else…
    So yeah, Apple is great in selling us stuff we didn’t need, and making it something we suddenly can’t live without… which is, to be fair, the main idea behind what our world is today and how economy works. Only now it’s getting more and more into the hands of single companies, and that’s the frightening aspect of it.
    I’m sure Apple had a precise, long term strategy, because that’s how business works, trying to predict the future, and helping it a bit so the future works out like you need it to. But as all the others Apple is not your friend, they don’t do stuff to make this a better world, they do stuff to make money, and possibly to make a lot of it, while keeping the expenses low. That makes the investors happy. While Apple tries really hard to convince us that they’re our buddy, that putting an Apple logo on your car will make you be part of a big family where everybody loves each other, what they actually want us is just to buy the latest product, possibly all of them and while we do it to invest some of our time and energy into advertising them. Because ads cost a lot, so why not have the clients do it for you, means double revenue!
    Nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t start to question the whole system and realize Apple is just the perfect incarnation of it.

    We’re living in a time where amazing things are happening, but it’s not the big corporations making them happen, it’s coming from underneath, from people with great new ideas… companies like Apple just put the pieces together and find a good marketing strategy.

    Now if you think about it what did Apple actuallt do with the iPhone and them with the iPad: they though: what is one the biggest growing market in the electronics field: cell phones. Cell phones were already merging with computers, you had apps, you had internet and all that. And you had touchscreens. Just it didn’t really work well. So they made one that worked (more or less). But that would not have been the success it was, they needed something more: games, social network apps, fart apps and a way to sell them. So they invented the App Store. Nothing new either, centralized repositories for applications had been already invented and used for a long time by the opensource community. Apple just made them into a business.
    They just took everything that was around and cobined it.

  15. @hanzo First I want to say again, I don’t own a single apple product. I hate itunes being probably the main reason. But I have used and tested apple’s major products, and I must say that they are good. Apple didn’t trick people into thinking that their product is good. IT IS GOOD. not perfect but they have set the bar. Now if you don’t believe me then ask Google, HTC, Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Palm, HP, Dell etc.. they are all following the innovation.
    You mean to tell me people dont buy Droids because of hype? Or any other Android, because of the relentless ads you see. Its hyped for a reason. It may be because the product is actually that good. You can have all the ads you want, if the product stinks, people won’t buy it. If they don’t spend millions in advertising then a lot of people dont get paid. Even your favorite websites have ads. Its a consumer based society, who are we to blame for that? The company because they want to make money or the people who spend money on the things they sell? Doesn’t matter.
    My whole point is Laptops are about to be replace in certain instances, but not all. You don’t need a tablet, no. You don’t need a smartphone either. You dont need a lot of things. But the innovation has shifted to smartphones and tablets. A lot credit should go to Apple.

  16. There still isn’t even a decent iPhone competitor.

    So I guess its up to Apple to set the direction for the rest of the industry to copy, er, follow? Nothing was stopping any other company from making their own version of the iPad years ago, except their own lack of ability to do so.

  17. Of course apple’s products are good. I never stated the contrary. But there is also a lot of hype going on. Maybe I’m wrong in seeing innovation as something positive and relevant for society, but that’s how I see it, and touchscreens, and tablet devices to me are more to be placed under fashion not innovation.

  18. @Nalkose You said it! Exactly my point! Apple made the iphone, suddenly everybody making touchscreens. Apple made ipad suddenly every company’s making tablets. Its not coincidence! Sure there were these things around before apple made them but were they as intuitive? Hanzo I dont think touch and tablets are a fad or fashion. its a revolution! LOL

  19. Until I can see what use I have for a tablet that doesn’t have USB or a camera, can’t sit upright without a stand, needs a keyboard to do any kind of useful typing I’m stick with my Netbook 🙂

  20. I don’t consider it an either/or situation. I have a desktop, netbook and iPad.

    What do I use the iPad for…situations where carrying a netbook and setting it up would be difficult. The iPad is pretty limited both in not having a physical keyboard, extremely limited connectivity and an OS (no printing, multitasking, folders, etc.) that was meant for a phone.

    Couple of examples…
    1. Use in a car
    2. Use where I have to troubleshoot/setup network connections/routers, etc.
    3. Use where I want to be with my kids
    4. Use at a construction project
    5. Use at the opera (just kidding)

    Until very recently the hardware necessary to sell a device light enough and with enough battery power to be sub 2lbs at the $500 price point didn’t exist. The Newton cost $1,000 and in ’95…that really made it a hard sell.

    Apple needed screen, battery and processor technology at a point where the device would work. It was easier to make an iPhone and sell it a consumer friendly price, especially since they were able to get a carrier (BellSouth/Cingular/AT&T) involved.

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