The iPad effect: Expect delays and unintended consequences

Apple's most anticipated device since its last anticipated device

Apple's most anticipated device since its last anticipated device

The amount of buzz surrounding Apple’s impending iPad release is reaching a crescendo. Anticipation is high and speculation is rampant, with pundits spewing predictions about the impact it will have on personal and mobile computing. We’ve got at least two coming to our studio, and people are excited. For gadget geeks, experience designers, and people who just love Apple products, Christmas is coming early this year.

Sure it will sell like hotcakes covered in awesome sauce. Sales figures will probably surpass the iPhone, which created a massive splash when it was released. But what will it all really mean? Will it replace the old paradigm of computing?

Only time will tell.

In his seminal paper on the Information Age and the Printing Press (“Looking backward to see ahead”), James Dewar argues three parallels between the printing press and what’s happening in the Information Age, and a few have relevance for the iPad:

  • The future of computing (and the Information Age in general) will be dominated by unintended consequences
  • It will take time before the consequences become clear (years, if not decades)
  • Their impact will run deep, perhaps even rivaling the impact of the printing press (which has been directly or indirectly linked to the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the scientific revolution)

Naysayers will be quick to dismiss suggestions that the iPad could have this kind of impact. But how could anyone predict what will really happen when emergent behvior is what will likely dominate the iPad’s impact? If there’s anything we have learned over the last decade on the Web, it’s that network effects are massive at the scale of the modern Web (see Metcalfe’s Law for the math), and devices like the iPad and iPhone serve to network and amplify.

The iPhone itself is probably a good bellwether for the iPad. It had phenomenal initial sales, but its true impact didn’t surface for at least 18 months. One reason for the delay was in the App Store, where it took 6-12 months to gain momentum.

App store statistics (Source:

App store statistics (Source:

As of this writing, there are roughly 160,000 applications from nearly 35,000 publishers available for download in the App Store, with an accelerating growth rate. Whether or not this is sustainable is unclear, but at the very least, it was unexpected. And do you think AT&T expected the way the iPhone would strain their networks? And how about the rise in mobile web traffic and 400% jump in mobile video uploads after the 3GS launch? The changes keep coming, and they will continue for a long time.

So when the iPad is released, watch the massive sales, listen to all the buzz and the shrugs and the predictions, buy one (or not), and then sit back and wait. It’s going to be awhile before the true magic (or false promise) of the iPad is revealed.

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