Apple, the Boomer Tablet and the Matrix

iphone0.pngI have written here, here and here about Apple’s
inevitable assault on the Tablet market. What I hadn’t factored until
recently is how symbiotic such a device would be for Baby Boomers.

Why Baby Boomers? Well, for the same two reasons
that this demographic is unlikely to
embrace the palm-sized iPhone en masse.

One, such a bookish-sized tablet device – I’ll call
it the Boomer Tablet – would be tailor-made for home Wi-Fi setups, thereby
obviating the mobile access costs associated with iPhone, a significant barrier
for a generation that is programmed to keep mobile bills within a tight
spending range.

oldhippies.pngTwo, because a larger-form factor device would offer Boomers a bigger
viewing screen and “lifestyle” settings, like fatter keys and a more forgiving
keyboard to ease input, and wizard-like shortcuts to simplify recurring tasks.

This is key, because with the onset of age, Boomers’
motor skills have become less precise; their vision has become poorer; and
their eyes get tired easier.

As such, the premise of them plugging away on tiny keys
and peering into the tiny screen of a mobile device like iPhone/iPod touch is a

By contrast, the Boomer Tablet offers a superior input, viewing
and playback environment for accessing your iTunes library, personal media,
syndicated content services, iPhone Apps and presumably, Mac Apps; something
that the 70M+ Baby Boomers in the US who
are aged 53-73 would likely find compelling.

Moreover, if Apple put a video camera in the device –
not a stretch since they are doing it in the iPhone GS – it could make
video conferencing and VOIP ubiquitous in a relatively short time (Skype
already has a client for the iPhone/iPod touch). What better way to stay connected to distant loved ones?

As alluded to above, it seems logical that the Boomer
Tablet would either run legacy Macintosh applications in an unmodified fashion,
or perhaps support a new kind of ‘port-able’ Mac App built around the Cocoa programming framework and
powered by Apple’s forthcoming OS X upgrade, Snow Leopard.

What I am envisioning is a runtime layer designed to
offer formal convergence and partitioning paths between iPhone and Mac systems,
enabling application builders to make runtime design tradeoffs relative to a
coming Hardware Matrix of Apple device form-factors, a topic which I will get
to in a bit.

Contenders to the Boomer Tablet Throne

Before I ponder the Hardware Matrix, let’s first look at
the contenders to the Boomer Tablet market segment. It really underscores the
richness and fertile nature of this market, while providing a window into the
strategies of three really great companies (if interested, check out my post ‘Built to Thrive – The Standard Bearers
on Google, Apple and Amazon):

kindle.pngAmazon Kindle Wireless Reading Device: Amazon has built a physical device
that is focused on doing one job really well – reading e-books.
Moreover, Kindle leverages their strong position with print publishers, and of
note, Amazon has shown device-neutrality by coming out with a software-only
version of the Kindle. (I am currently
reading ‘Married to the Mouse
on my iPod touch. It delivers a solid user experience.)

This Switzerland-like positioning suggests that in the
long run, the hardware version of Kindle may be more about Amazon jump-starting
the e-book market than aspiring to be a hardware player.

That said, Amazon certainly has the assets (Marketplace,
Media Relationships, Cloud Services, Associates) and market credibility if they
ever wanted to position themselves as the more open alternative to the iPhone

android.pngGoogle Android Netbook: In Android, Google has
built an open source OS, Middleware stack and SDK for building next-generation
mobile devices.

Moreover, Google has a decent track record of cultivating
ecosystems through open APIs, product evolution and stick-to-itiveness.

While a primary thrust of Android is outflanking the
iPhone gauntlet, a logical fork is the high volume, low-margin Netbook segment,
where Google assets like Search, Maps, Apps, Analytics and the forthcoming Wave
unified messaging platform could leverage their Chrome browser to collapse the
boundaries between desktop, web and mobile realms.

Moreover, as an open platform, Android has the potential
to nurture a hobbyist device market around robotics, information devices and
kit builders (see my post on Maker Faire
for more detail on this topic).

iPhone/iPod touch: The numbers speak for themselves (40M devices, 1B
downloads, 50K apps). But, beyond
the numbers, iPhone Platform is a game-changing system from a development,
distribution, monetization and user perspective, a conclusion supported by my
own direct experience – having written 20+ articles on the iPhone
Platform; owning an iPod touch; talking to a ton of iPhone App developers;
building an iPhone optimized web application ( and working
with another iPhone based startup (SquareConnect).

As noted earlier, the main downside to the current
iPhone/iPod touch, relative to the Boomer segment is the relatively small

iphone2.pngNeedless to say, a bigger form-factor would obviate these
limitations, while having the built in leverage of the iPhone Ecosystem.

The Hardware Matrix: LCD v. HCD

matrix.pngTake this one to the bank: the Hardware Matrix is coming.

What is the Matrix? Envision a world where the Mac, Apple
TV, iPhone, iPod touch, Boomer Tablet and iPhone Nano (rumored), respectively,
all leverage a common SDK, plug into the App Store and integrate with Mobile Me
(in addition to iTunes), and you understand that this implies all sorts of
hardware abstraction decisions.

No less, this implies Apple partitioning the platform
that supports these form-factors between device-specific functions, open
Mac-like layers (i.e., download apps from anywhere, build any kind of apps),
and managed/closed iPhone-like runtime layers (App Store is THE marketplace
with a singular SDK, formal APIs, and Apple GOVERNANCE policies).

Simply put, the Matrix presents a potential hornet’s nest
of technical, user experience and ecosystem decision, and as such this is Apple’s biggest Achilles heel in the next few
; namely,
how they execute forking (and no less important, de-forking) between

Connecting the dots, I believe that Snow Leopard is the
conduit OS where these things converge, but that’s a total guess, based on the
assumption that derivative form-factors are a given; that App Store and iPhone
SDK are the best practices approach with the biggest developer ecosystem; and
that Apple’s best way to win in the Mobile Broadband Era is by making their
products work together in a more than the sum of the parts fashion around a
common Mac OS X.

And as Cocoa has won out as the programming and human
interface model for Apple going forward, they have to already be preparing for
this fork.

Why not then grease the skids for all of those iPhone App
developers to suddenly wake up one morning and realize that they can sell into
the Mac market with very little extra work? Wouldn’t that be a nice upside surprise?

At the same time, you can see how realization of this
path brings with it all sorts of lowest common denominator vs. highest common
divisor trade-offs, which is why it’s such an Achilles Heel; albeit one with
tremendous upside.

Case in point, a recent post by The
Silicon Alley Insider looks at how hardware differences between 3G and 3GS will
potentially splinter the App Store.

This is why I would say to anyone who wonders why Apple
hasn’t jumped into the Tablet/Netbook market yet that it’s because there is a
LOT of work to get it right in terms of navigating the Matrix, let alone
getting the user experience right.

As to the end game, John Gruber of Daring Fireball
described it best in his ‘WWDC 2009 Wrap-Up‘:

The technical keynote has for as long as I can
remember been titled "Mac OS X State of the Union." This year
the title changed to "Core OS State of the Union."

Hence the symbiosis: Apple now has two full-fledged
developer platforms, Mac OS X and iPhone OS, derived from one core system…But
look at their vectors — their relative rates of growth — and ponder
how much longer until WWDC begins to feel like an iPhone developer conference
with a Mac developer track. My answer: next year.

With Apple, once exclusively the Mac Company, the only
constant is change.

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