Saturday, November 2, 2013
How Steve Jobs and The Ipad Succeeded Where Others Failed
Steve Jobs’s solution to Google’s Android-everywhere strategy was simple and audacious: he unveiled the iPad. Many knew Jobs was going to unveil a tablet despite what he had told Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal seven years before. “It turns out people want keyboards . . . We look at the tablet and we think it is going to fail,” Jobs had said.
If Google was going to try to win the mobile-platform war on breadth, Jobs was going to win it on depth.
But he’d clearly reconsidered this. If Google was going to try to win the mobile-platform war on breadth, Jobs was going to win it on depth. All then-Android chief Andy Rubin had to do to expand Android was to get it on more and more machines; like Bill Gates with Windows, Rubin didn’t care which products were hits and which were not as long as in the aggregate the Android platform was growing. For Jobs to make Apple’s strategy work — to grow the iOS platform vertically — he needed to hit it out of the park every time.
When executives inside and outside Apple wondered if Jobs was making the same mistake against Android that he made against Microsoft — if he was keeping his platform too rigid — it seemed that, if anything, Jobs was increasingits rigidity. Starting in 2010, Jobs had more and more Apple products assembled with special screws to make it difficult for anyone with typical screwdriver heads to open the cases of his machines. (It seemed like a small thing, but to those inside Silicon Valley its symbolism was large: One of Android’s pitches to consumers was the flexibility of the software and the devices.)
Maybe more people in the world would own Android phones than iPhones. But the people who owned iPhones would also own iPads, iPod Touches, and a slew of other Apple products that all ran the same software, that all connected to the same online store, and that all generated much bigger profits for everyone involved. Only someone with the self-confidence of Jobs would have the guts to set such a high bar.
Jobs laid out his new invention for the world as if he were helping his audience complete a vast jigsaw puzzle.
Is There Room for a Third Category?
Minutes after Jobs unveiled the iPad on January 27, 2010, it appeared as if he’d cleared the bar he’d set for Apple by a mile. He laid out his new invention for the world more slowly than usual, as if he were helping his audience complete a vast jigsaw puzzle. He put up a slide with picture of an iPhone and a Macbook laptop, put a question mark between them, and asked a simple question: “Is there room for a third category of device in the middle?”
Jobs then raised what had become the usual answer to this question: “Some people have thought that’s a netbook. The problem is that a netbook isn’t better atanything. They’re slow. They have low-quality displays. And they run clunky, old PC software [Windows]. They’re not better than a laptop at anything. They’re just cheaper.”
The foundation of Jobs’s iPad pitch was counterintuitive. Most people don’t buy a laptop for the tasks they were originally designed for — heavy office work, such as writing, crafting presentations, or financial analysis with spreadsheets. They use it mostly to communicate via email, text, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook; to browse the Internet; and to consume media such as books, movies, TV shows, music, photos, games, and videos. Jobs said that you could do all this on an iPhone, but the screen was too small to make it comfortable. You could also do it all on a laptop, but the keyboard and the trackpad made it too bulky, and the short battery life often left you tethered to a power outlet.
What the world needed was a device in the middle that combined the best of both — something that was “more intimate than a laptop, and so much more capable than a smartphone,” he said.
Only after more buildup did Jobs say what the world was waiting for: “We think we have the answer.” A picture of the iPad dropped nicely into place between the iPhone and the Macbook on the slide.
In a Long Line of Tablets, How Did the iPad Succeed Where Others Failed?
It wasn’t the iPad’s looks that had everyone rapt. Many wondered if they were watching the world’s greatest entrepreneur make a huge mistake.
Fred Vogelstein is a contributing editor at WIRED. He has been a staff writer at Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News & World Report; his work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post.
The tablet computer was the most discredited category of consumer electronics in the world. Entrepreneurs had been trying to build tablet computers since before the invention of the PC. They had tried so many times that the conventional wisdom was that it couldn’t be done.
Alan Kay of Xerox PARC — who is to certain geeks what Neil Armstrong is to the space program — drew up plans for theDynabook in 1968 and laid out those plans in a 1972 paper titled “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages.” Apple prototyped something it called the Bashful in 1983 but never released it. The first tablet to get any consumer traction came from Jeff Hawkins, the entrepreneur behind the PalmPilot in the late 1990s. He built the GRiDPad from Tandy, which was released in 1989. GO Corp. took the next whack at tablet computing with the EO in 1993. (GO Corp.’s early employees included Omid Kordestani, Google’s first business executive, and Bill Campbell, Apple’s vice president of marketing in the 1980s.)
Apple unveiled the Newton in 1994. This groundbreaking PDA turned out to be Silicon Valley’s Edsel: a one-word explanation for why tablets could never sell. It also became emblematic of Apple’s Jobs-less era, when the company was run by a series of increasingly unsuccessful executives until it nearly went into bankruptcy; it was, fittingly, one of the first projects Jobs killed when he returned in 1997. By then, if you wanted computing power that was portable, you could buy a laptop. Everything else involved too much compromise. Indeed, the PalmPilot and devices like it became so popular for the next half decade because they didn’t try to do too much.
They were watching the world’s greatest entrepreneur make a huge mistake. The tablet computer was the most discredited category of consumer electronics.
The most recent effort in tablets had been made by Gates and Microsoft in 2002. By 2009 — even though tablet PCs were still being sold — it felt as if the Amazon Kindle were the only thing available that even resembled a tablet. But it wasn’t really a tablet. You could download books and the text of newspapers and magazines and read them on its black- and-white screen. But that’s all it effectively did.
All of this made doing a tablet risky for Jobs, especially with Google breathing down his neck. Some wondered if it didn’t make it too risky. But it also made a tablet the perfect project for Jobs to tackle. He had already reimagined the personal computer, the portable music player, and the cell phone. And he truly reimagined the tablet with the iPad. It did almost everything a laptop did. In addition, it was a quarter the weight; had three times the battery life; had a touchscreen like the iPhone and turned on without booting up too; and was always connected to the Internet.
And there was no learning curve for consumers because it came with almost the same software (plus apps) on an iPhone.
Technically, one navigated an iPad the same way as an iPhone, but the difference in user expectations was vast. Cellphones were always designed to fit in a pocket and be navigated with fingers. But navigating something like the iPad with a screen the size of a laptop’s had always required either a stylus or a trackpad/mouse and a keyboard. In a video shown at the unveiling, Apple’s former head of iOS software Scott Forstall said “If you see something, you just reach out and tap it. It’s completely natural. You don’t even think about it. You just . . . do.”
The immediate reaction to the iPad was full of oohs and aahs. The Economist famously put a picture on its cover of Jobs in religious garb holding the device – “The Book of Jobs: Hope, Hype, and Apple’s iPad” said the headline.
‘If you see something, you just reach out and tap it. It’s completely natural. You don’t even think about it. You just . . . do.’
But Why Were People So Skeptical at First?
As the father of the Macintosh, Jobs had more credibility than anyone else to reimagine the PC and challenge the conventional wisdom about tablets. “Steve hated the fact that the Macintosh wasn’t mainstream right away — that everyone wasn’t just fucking sweating to get one,” a Jobs confidant said. “So we talked a lot about how we could make sure the iPad caught on right away.”
Yet the reaction to it in the days and weeks thereafter was, remarkably, tepid. There were widespread gripes about the iPad’s lack of a camera, its lack of multitasking, and the images of feminine protection some said its name conjured. It looked like an iPhone, only four times bigger.
Amid his standard “I won’t comment on a competitor’s products,” competitors such as Google’s Eric Schmidt said snidely, “You might want to tell me the difference between a large phone and a tablet.” Gates said, “I still think some mixture of voice, the pen, and a real keyboard will be the mainstream. It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.’”
The biggest criticism, however, was the one Jobs thought he had answered in his presentation: What do I need it for?
The skeptical public reaction had a simple explanation. No one had ever seen a device like the iPad before, and the first ones would not go on sale for two months. While consumers knew instinctively that they needed a phone and a laptop because they had been around for a long time, the only tablets they had ever seen were devices they didn’t want.
If you wanted computing power that was portable, you could buy a laptop. Everything else involved too much compromise.
Even those who worked on the iPad at Apple were dubious about it at first, like former Apple engineer Jeremy Wyld, who worked on the software for it and the iPhone: “I remember when I first saw it, I thought it was a rock fetch [a pointless endeavor], to tell the truth,” he said. “I thought, ‘This thing is ridiculous.’ ” Wyld wasn’t just shooting his mouth off. He was one of the earliest engineers on the Newton in the 1990s, before leaving Apple for engineering jobs at Excite and Pixo.
When he looked at the first iPad, all Wyld saw was a bigger iPhone that now no longer fit in your pocket. “I saw that when we made things bigger, people didn’t like it.” What Wyld discovered was that the iPad looked like an overgrown iPhone because it ran the same software and had a touchscreen, but it was really a new kind of laptop.
You’d never give up a smartphone to own an iPad, but you would certainly dump your laptop to own one. That it looked like a large iPhone was initially something to be criticized. It turned out that the bigger screen, as simple a tweak as this was, was exactly what made it such a new and powerful device.
The importance of screen size seemed so obvious to Joe Hewitt — who had written the Facebook iPhone app in 2007 and had helped conceive and build the Firefox Internet browser in 2002 — that the day after the iPad’s unveiling, he wrote a nine-hundred-word blog post saying the iPad was the most important thing Apple had ever done. The year before, Hewitt had been fiercely critical of Apple for its restrictive app store policies. But his years of developing software for many different devices and platforms told him that the iPad had solved a fundamental problem.
“I spent a year and a half attempting to reduce a massive, complex social-networking website into a handheld, touchscreen form factor. My goal was initially just to make a mobile companion for the facebook.com mother ship, but once I got comfortable with the platform I became convinced it was possible to create a version of Facebook that was actually better than the website! Of all the platforms I’ve developed on in my career, from the desktop to the web, the iPhone OS gave me the greatest sense of empowerment and had the highest ceiling for raising the art of UI design. Except there was one thing keeping me from reaching that ceiling: the screen was too small.
iPad is an incredible opportunity for developers to re-imagine every single category of desktop and web software there is. … The bottom line is, many apps which were cute toys on iPhone can become full-featured power tools on the iPad, making you forget about their desktop/laptop predecessors. We just have to invent them.”
Journey to the Center of the Mobile Universe
Unlike the iPhone, which got developed faster than it should have been, the iPad’s journey through Apple’s hardware, software, and design teams was long. (Jobs told Isaacson that it started in 2002.)
Perversely, the work that seemed technically hardest — building the multitouch display that is now on every tablet and smartphone — got the furthest, while seemingly the most straightforward work — figuring out a way to build the rest of the device — quickly ran aground.
Part of what gave the multitouch work traction was that one of the engineers on the project, Josh Strickon, had built a crude multitouch display for his MIT master’s thesis. And by 2003 he had, with Steve Hotelling and Brian Huppi (both still at Apple) figured out a way to show off a much more refined version of the technology to Tony Fadell (now at Nest). The point of the demonstration was to position the multitouch team, known then only as the Q79 group, to get $2 million in Apple funding.
The Q79 group needed to turn the big circuit board that would tell the screen to respond to finger inputs — it currently sat on a separate two-by- two-foot circuit board that was hardwired to the screen — into a single chip that could go inside a device. The demo went well. The team showed off the virtual keyboard and the pinch and spread features that are so strongly associated with the technology today, and got Fadell’s approval.
The problem was that the tablet hardware was unusable. The energy-efficient processors that would eventually drive the iPhone and the iPad were not yet powerful enough to run software that would appeal to consumers. The tablet needed a hard drive, which took up too much room in the case because flash storage was still too expensive in the capacities they needed. What that left was a machine without a keyboard that was not much lighter, cheaper, or better powered than a laptop.
Apple shelved the project before Jobs revived it to build the iPhone. Only after the iPhone came out in 2007 did Jobs start to reconsider a tablet.
The iPad wouldn’t have been possible without the iPhone. It would have been too expensive to build and sell for $600 in 2007. The required low-power ARM chips weren’t fast enough to run something with a screen that big. And without all the content in the app store, consumers would not have known what to do with it.
But by 2009 the technology was ready: There was finally enough bandwidth, powerful enough processors, and strong enough batteries to make a tablet useful. Multitouch had proved to be hugely popular in the iPhone, so the idea of using a virtual screen to write emails or type in web addresses was no longer foreign. Because Apple was selling so many iPhones, it had driven the price of components for a tablet down to affordable levels.
The question that remained unanswered when Jobs returned to Apple from liver transplant surgery in the summer of 2009 was what kind of device the tablet would be. Would it be just an iPhone with a bigger screen or would it have its own set of apps that set it apart? Initially Jobs was leaning toward its being just a bigger iPhone. Jobs thought of it purely as a consumption device, a confidant said. You wouldn’t be able to edit documents or spreadsheets on it. And he was leery of having it become an e-book reader like the Kindle, which had been out for nearly two years. Jobs thought people were reading less and less anyway, and that those who still did read books would prefer the physical over the electronic versions.
What do I need it for? While consumers knew instinctively that they needed a phone and a laptop, the only tablets they had ever seen were devices they didn’t want.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s iTunes boss, and Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of global marketing, were among those who made it their mission to help Jobs clarify his point of view. Schiller pushed Jobs to modify his view of what a “consumption device” really meant. If someone sent a document or a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint presentation, iPad users needed to be able to edit it. Cue, meanwhile, made it his mission to get Jobs to rethink his view about e-books. Amazon’s Kindle was getting much more traction than they expected; readers were downloading e-books at an astonishing rate.
In testimony during the Department of Justice’s antitrust trial against Apple in June 2013, Cue explained the evolution of the e-books on the iPad this way: “When I got my first chance to touch the iPad, I became completely convinced that this was a huge opportunity for us to build the best e-reader that the market had ever seen. And so I went to Steve and told him why I thought [the iPad] was going to be a great device for e-books . . . and after some discussions he came back and said, you know, I think you’re right… He started coming up with ideas himself about what he wanted to do with it and how it would be even better as a reader and store.”
Because Apple was selling so many iPhones, it had driven the price of components for a tablet down to affordable levels.
Cue said the “page curls” in the iBooks app, which show up when you flip an iBook’s page, was Jobs’s idea. It also was Jobs’s idea to pick Winnie-the-Pooh as the freebie book that came with every iBooks app. He thought it best showed off iBooks’s capabilities. “It had beautiful color drawings that had never been seen before in a digital book,” Cue said.
When the first iPads went on sale in early April 2010, it became clear that the initial tepid public reaction to the device had been misleading. Apple sold 450,000 in the first week, 1 million in the first month, and 19 million in the first year. It took Apple six months to catch up with how fast consumers were buying them, and by 2011 the iPad had overtaken the DVD player to become the hottest-selling consumer electronics device of all time.
Within a year of the iPad’s release it seemed remarkable that Jobs had spent a moment worrying about Android’s rise in 2009 and 2010. Android continued its astonishing growth, but iPhone sales accelerated just as fast. In 2011 Apple made $33 billion, as much as Google and Microsoft combined; it had already passed Microsoft in 2010 to become the biggest technology company in stock market valuation. In 2011 it had passed Exxon to become the biggest company, period, in stock market valuation. By the end of 2011 it was sitting on so much cash — $100 billion — that if it had wanted to use that money to become a bank, it would have ranked among the top ten in the world.
Would the iPad be just an iPhone with a bigger screen, or would it have its own set of apps that set it apart?
Most notably, by the middle of 2011, the iPad was proving to be a more revolutionary product than even the iPhone and the iPod. The iPod and iTunes changed the way people bought and listened to music. The iPhone changed what people could expect from their cellphones.
But the iPad was turning five industries upside down. It was changing the way consumers bought and read books, newspapers, and magazines — as well as the way they watched movies and television. Revenues from these businesses totaled about $250 billion, or about 2 percent of U.S. GDP.
The Android team at Google scrambled to keep up with the relentless pace of Apple’s innovations. But in 2011 they were being outflanked on almost every front. Yes, there were more Android devices in use than iPhones or iPads combined. But platform size was turning out to be just one, not the only, measurement of dominance in the Apple/Google fight. With the iPhone and the iPad, Apple still had the coolest, most cutting-edge devices. It had the best content for those devices. It had the easiest-to-use software. And it had the best platform for making content owners and software developers money.
Platform size was turning out to be just one, not the only, measurement of dominance in the Apple/Google fight.
On top of all that, the iPad was also upending the personal computer business. It was eating into PC sales the same way that in the 1980s PCs ate into sales of minicomputers and mainframes from such companies as Digital Equipment and IBM. Some iPad buyers did indeed make the iPad their third device, as Jobs had predicted. But many others decided they now needed only two, and they started ditching their Microsoft-run HP, Toshiba, Acer, and Lenovo laptops at an accelerating clip. The shift hit Dell so hard that by the beginning of 2013 Michael Dell, its founder, was trying to take the company private to retrench.
It’s fitting that Dell has been hit among the hardest: When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, Michael Dell declared he had so little faith in an Apple recovery that if he were Jobs, he’d “shut Apple down and give the money back to the shareholders.” Dell, with founder Michael Dell at the helm, began its journey as a private company this week.
Adapted and excerpted from Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution (to be released November 12). Copyright 2013 by Fred Vogelstein. Reprinted by permission of Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.