Friday, April 9, 2010

We in libraries can learn some lessons from the iPad(TM)

Watching the debate over the new iPad(TM) is fascinating. Analyzing the discussions one quickly sees traditional viewpoints being expressed and applied to this new piece of technology. These take the form of:

“It’s a controlled environment. You can’t get into the guts, Apple makes all the choices for you.”
“It doesn’t replace anything. Why do I want to carry another device around?”
“I can’t figure out what I’m really going to do with it”
“It doesn’t have a very good keyboard.”
“It has bugs. WiFi doesn’t work reliably, there are problems with USB recharging, apps crash…”

These are understandably true from the point of view of those who say them. But at the base of all this, I see some rather predictable human behavior, i.e. that change doesn't come easy for any of us. When encountering something new, we take our human experience and try to apply it. So we take this new device and try to shoehorn it into a slot we know, something we understand and can easily classify. But I think in doing that, we miss the point of the iPad.

To me, the iPad represents brilliant marketing (no surprise, given it comes from Apple). It isn't trying to replace anything. At least not yet. It's opening up a new market. I strongly agree with those that say this device is primarily intended for the consumption of content and not nearly as much for those who create that content . (For instance, after doing the product comparisons, I just bought a new MacBook Air, because I like the portability factor, but I lean far more towards the content creation side).

One of my favorite marketers is Geoffrey Moore, author of “Crossing the Chasm”. He points out in his books that when you introduce a new product, many companies make the mistake of trying to make it appeal to a very broad audience. On the other hand, he points out, those organizations that are wildly successful understand that you need to identify a single type of customer and develop a product to meet 100 percent of their needs. You win the heart, soul and majority of those customers. Everything else is to be left aside until the market begins maturing and then you begin addressing those segments.

I think what Apple has done here is look at the market, the technology and obviously they're seeing the rapid growth in a broad range of digital content and they understand that people will want and need to consume that content. So they've built a device that is focused on allowing customers to do that exceedingly easy and well. It's a new market representing a new need and they've created a new device to address it. That's why it doesn't replace anything and that's why many don't yet understand what to do with it.

Will it eventually replace the laptop? Maybe, but not in the early versions and maybe never for those of us who actively create content. Can you modify the contents of the device? Not easily, but then that doesn't interest the pure consumer of content. They want a device, that works reliably, easily and well and that essentially becomes transparent in the act of their consuming content. Is it full of bugs? Of course, it's version one. Anybody who buys an iPad right now is going to help Apple perfect the device. That's the role of the early-adopter. Version two will be be much better and will allow it reach even more people thus will result in market expansion. Look at what has happened (and continues to happen) with the iPhone(tm).

Librarians should see this device as a natural extension of our libraries and for far more than just e-books. We house all types of content. Massive amounts of it. Making it easily accessible, usable and enjoyable on these type of devices will provide us access to what will clearly become a new market that is already reaching hundreds of thousands and what will ultimately be millions of users. We need to embrace this device and recognize the opportunity it affords us to put our libraries and all of their rich and diverse content in the hands of users.

The iPad is brilliant marketing in action. Look at trends. Look at emerging user needs to be addressed. Focus. Leverage what you know and have in order to create new demand for new tools and ways to address those needs. Make it happen.

Yes, we in libraries can learn some valuable lessons from what is happening with the iPad.