2010 may very well go down in history as the year Apple started to take over the mobile space. The year started with the Cupertino-based company revealing the much rumored and anticipated Apple tablet computer; the iPad. Who knew the iPad would come to dominate the tech industry in the first half of the year. Not to be outdone by even themselves, next up for Apple is the iPhone 4G / HD. Eagerly anticipated in its own right, the new iPhone should reestablish Apple’s mobile phone dominance.
As the iPhone 4G and iPad become publicly available, some may wonder whether these devices are competiting for the same consumer dollars in the same space. Should someone think of the iPad and iPhone as being in competition with each other or as complementary services? Could a consumer get away with buying one device and enjoying the benefits of either? Let’s look at what we can expect of both the iPad and the next iPhone and try to determine if they’re competitors with each other or complements to each other.
You could be excused for thinking the iPad and iPhone are two sides of the same coin. Both use the same operating system, operate on the same multitouch interface, and have many of the same design elements. Indeed, one of the primary criticisms of the iPad after it was first announced was that it was a “big iPod Touch”. The larger screen led many to believe the Apple iPad was simply a cynical attempt by Apple to cash in on the successful iPhone product line by jamming the iPhone innards into a larger device with a larger screen. What this criticism fails to recognize is the larger screen introduces a whole different dynamic to usage. Screens are larger, more easily touched, and applications have the space to become more complex. On the other end of the spectrum, the iPhone and its smaller screen leaves it well suited to perform other tasks. Sure you can watch video on it, send e-mails on it, and run apps on it just like the iPad. Could you imagine holding an iPad to your ear to make a phone call though? Or trying to tuck an iPad into your pants pocket? Despite the overlap in certain functional areas, the iPad and iPhone are really more complementary devices than competitive ones.
If Apple had wanted the iPad and iPhone to be competitive devices they would have aligned feature sets much more closely. Giving the iPad a five or seven inch screen like some of its competitors would have made it much more similar to an iPhone. You could almost imagine holding a five inch tablet device to your ear to make a call. It might look like Maxwell Smart’s shoephone but it isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility. There are a hundred different ways Apple could have aligned their two premier consumer electronics lines to more closely resemble each other. The fact they didn’t is an obvious indication they want these two devices to co-exist and not replace each other in different circumstances. Apple realizes the dream of convergent devices can only come so far and past that point product lines need to split into complementary areas. The iPhone represents Apple’s idea (be it ever evolving) of the converged, ultra portable device. You enjoy the iPhone in small doses of ultra functionality. The iPad lies at the other end of the continuum. It converges several jobs as well; content consumption, eReader, video display. Jobs the iPhone is capable of doing but doesn’t do very well for long periods of time. You can imagine yourself owning an iPhone for a finite set of circumstances and an iPad for a finite set of circumstances. Some of those circumstances may overlap but neither device will do all the jobs of the other well.
And in the end I think that’s part of Apple’s strategy. While its competitors trip over themselves trying to come up with something that doesn’t operate like an oversized phone or an undersized computer with a phone stuck to it, Apple has quietly developed useful technology for both ends of the spectrum. I would own both in a minute and be fully happy knowing each complements the other in a well designed fashion.
What do you think? Do the iPhone and iPad represent overlapping platforms? Would it be foolish to own both? Are the iPhone and iPad competitive products in your mind or complementary? Leave your thoughts in the comments section. I’m always interested in reading what you think.