With Apples reveal of the long-rumored iPad touch tablet, tech pundits and mainstream press alike shift from predictions to post-announcement reaction. Skepticism abounds regarding the need for this “third category” device.
The iPad is a perfect solution to an unknown problem. It is likely to spark the next revolution in personal computing and user interface. But it could just as easily turn out to be summarized by Moses Hadas’ famous phrase; “It fills a much needed gap.”
Tablet computers have been around for years, but have mostly been repackaged versions of the existing Microsoft Windows user experience. All have failed to capture the mass interest or imagination of the public in general. Apple’s approach brings fresh thought to the space by defining the use (some might say dictating), and refining the user experience.
Apple has a history of success in taking over existing markets with innovation in these areas. The iPod captured virtually the entire portable music player industry from successful predecessors, none of whom names come to mind. The iPhone brought smart phones to a wide consumer audience that had no interest in the devices … until they did.
Creating a new industry from scratch is another order of magnitude in difficulty and expense. But history shows that innovations in User Experience Design (UX) can open new markets, as well as create them.
John Dessauer struggled for years to build a working prototype of his plain paper copier. Without funds to manufacture and market the device, in 1956 he took it to IBM. But rather than build units or user test the never-before-seen product, they commissioned an 18-month viability study. The study conclusively proved that there was no market for a plain paper copier.
Two main issues; there was no volume market for copies, and the mimeograph process, which the study chose for comparison, was 10 times less expensive.
Mimeograph copies required the user to first “cut a stencil.” Waxed paper mounted on stiff cardboard was inserted into a with a ribbon-less typewriter. Forceful typing created the stencil holes. The resulting stencil would be affixed to an ink-filled drum which was hand cranked to turn out fuzzy purple copies; a process that Gutenberg himself would have found familiar.
Long story short: Dessaur and Chester Carlson, the inventor of electrostatic photography later called xerography, founded their own company. Changing the user experience of inexpensive printing from an ink-stained hand-cranking to push button simplicity sparked a multi-billion dollar industry.