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Michael Boland

Michael Boland

Posted: April 1, 2010 01:15 PM

iPad: Is it a Computer or Mobile Device?

What's Your Reaction:

We're days from the awaited iPad release and the reviews are in from tech review titans Walt Mossberg and David Pogue. Reactions are mostly positive -- not a big surprise from the traditionally Mac-friendly Mossberg.

Not a product reviewer myself, I'm happy to defer to the experts to handle that discussion. What's more interesting to me is the iPad's content delivery implications first speculated here after its January unveiling.

We can be fairly sure that lots of use cases will evolve from the way consumers decide to adopt the device (see the "air harp"). Just like the iPhone, this will lead (and be led by) legions of third party app developers that get creative with these use cases.

Along these lines, I'm anxious about whether the content and advertising served on the iPad will fall under the designation "mobile" or "online." This is important for market forecasting: Will iPad content and ads be "counted" in mobile market projections?

It's also important because mobile advertising is evolving towards actionable components like placing calls, scanning bar codes, or redeeming coupons. This is based on the premise that on-the-go users have more immediacy than PC users. But where does the iPad fall?

If going by the hardware itself, it probably falls closer to laptop than iPhone, and therefore its connected experiences would be counted as "online." But the case could also be made that this designation isn't a function of the device but its mode of connectivity.

In other words, will we access iPad content via wi-fi or 3G network? Though this depends on the model, generally speaking it could be equally used as a living room "lean-back" device as it's used to play games and read news on a park bench, bus, train or tugboat.

Another mobile vs. online distinction occurs with the operating system. The iPad will run a version of the iPhone OS rather than the Mac OS. So at the software level, think of it more like a big iPhone (or iPod Touch) than a small Macbook.

Apps could therefore be the main dish of the user experience and the front door to connected experiences. That being the case, content and ads will be ruled more by mobile app developers and ad networks than their online counterparts.

These include Quattro Wireless which Apple acquired in January, and which will be the foundation of the speculated iAd program. The list also includes Google's AdMob, and there are lots of moving parts (an entirely different post).

Put differently, the iPad will accelerate the moving target of innovation that has defined the iPhone era thus far. But in addition to keeping up with that innovation, the tech media and analyst corps will have to establish Vatican Council-like definitions of what is "mobile."

If we get stuck on definitions, maybe we'll just defer to calling the iPad a mobile device. After all, COO Tim Cook last month claimed publicly that Apple is no longer a computer company but a mobile device company.

Going back further, let's not forget the 2007 quiet but official shedding of "Computer" from its corporate name -- foreshadowing this debate and the company's metamorphosis into simply Apple.

 

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