Thursday, March 03, 2011

Situations Vacant

During a recent viewing of The Bourne Ultimatum I lost count of the number of times somebody in CIA collar-and-tie barked out the phrase: "People, we have a situation here". Each utterance prompted deskbound underlings to look up from the keyboards they'd hitherto been furiously stabbing away at.

Quite why, in the 21st century, people in thrillers are still typing anything baffles me: the computer mouse has been around for 47 years, but apparently the only way to demonstrate Really Important Stuff Being Done Really Urgently On A Computer is by typing stuff frantically.

But I digress: in the last 24 hours, no doubt, "situations"have been declared in the boardrooms and business development meetings of Samsung, Google, Motorola and the unfortunately initialled RIM. For Steve Jobs - no less - has finally announced the iPad 2. It is, as people in this business are inclined to say, a "gamechanger". Much like its predecessor.

At his press conference yesterday, Jobs let the figures do the talking: 15 million iPads sold in the nine months from its launch last April, pulling in a handsome $10 billion in revenue. Not bad for one product category alone. You just have to look across the aisle on your next flight or your next rail journey to see  how much the iPad took off. It does seem like everyone has got one.

At Mobile World Congress recently, Ben Verwaayen, CEO of my new company, noted that during a panel discussion at January's World Economic Forum, he looked down onto the front row of the audience, and eight out of the 10 fellow CEOs he saw were nursing iPads. That might say more about CEO remuneration, but Verwaayen's point was important: this was a product that didn't even exist 12 months previously.

The challenge facing Google Android and all the other tablet manufacturers is breaking Apple's 90% market share in the tablet business, especially now the bar has been set higher still. Featurewise, iPad 2 doesn't offer any real surprises: front and back FaceTime cameras bring it up to par with the Samsung Galaxy device, and the addition of more horsepower to run memory-heavy multi-tasked applications was always on the cards.

The improved performance, in particular, will enable the iPad 2 to run dedicated versions of iMovie and Garageband. This, in itself, is big: the idea of shooting and editing a high(ish) quality resolution movie, or recording an entire album on the iPad is a delicious extension of the so-called 'digital lifestyle' Apple and Microsoft coined in the heady early days of convergence.

As usual, however, the talk is quite rightly about Apple's design: thinner than a magazine and weighing just over a pound, the iPad 2 is a marvel of minimalisation. Having recently taken ownership of an 11-inch MacBook Air, I've struggled to go back to any portable computing device which can't fit into an A4 envelope. The iPad 2's thin design completes this transformation, taking the tablet tantalisingly close to a laptop or netbook in what it can do.

The one genuine surprise during yesterday's press event was the appearance of Steve Jobs himself. Barely days after Apple investors were nervously circling vulture-like over the company's succession plans while Jobs was undergoing further treatment for cancer, he bounded (relatively speaking) onto the Moscone Center stage in San Francisco declaring "I wasn't going to miss this one."

The enthusiasm and the drive was there for all to see. And therein lies the concern about Apple's future: Apple IS Steve Jobs. The passion with which this ├╝bergeek rattled off the iPad 2's statistics and then cheekily declared that its competitors were "flumoxed" about what to do next was a huge statement of vitality - even if it was contrived. Whether he didn't personally want to miss the event, or whether his investor relations team didn't want him to, this was vintage Jobs. And you can see why some people really you have a situation.

No comments:

Post a Comment