iPad Crossed the Chasm. Is It a Disruptive Innovation?
Apple’s iPad has clearly crossed Geoffrey Moore’s famous chasm. Great product, great buzz, great demand, a classic example of Moore’s tornado. With all the hype we may forget that the iPad is the first iteration of a new (or at least reincarnated) product category – tablet computing.
Is the iPad a disruptive innovation? And if it is, what product markets and companies will it disrupt?
We should refresh our memory on the definition of disruptive technologies (according to Clayton Christensen). They are a technologies and/or products whose performance do not satisfy the needs of mainstream customers. Disruptive products find a foothold in an under-served market, and over a relatively short time frame performance improves to the point where they invade (or disrupt) mainstream technologies. Flash memory versus rotating memory is a contemporary example of a disruptive technology. Several laptops are available that offer only flash memory.
iPad seems to satisfy the first part of the definition of disruption – it is lacking in performance that laptop users take for granted. It can not run multiple applications at the same time. It does not support flash (Aside: despite Steve Jobs claim that this is because flash in unstable the real reason is probably greed: iPad applications must be purchased only from the iTunes store). iPad has no camera, webcam, or phone. There’s no separate keyboard (it is available as an option), no USB port, and no printer connection.
The iPad probably is not a direct replacement for most user’s laptop or netbook. So, to be a disruptive technology it must establish a foothold in an under-served market. What might that market be?
Given iPad’s considerable strengths (size, weight, screen brightness, user interface, etc.) two foothold markets jump to mind. First are applications requiring access to the web. The iPad is a terrific web browsing appliance. The second is related to the first – the iPad is an outstanding e-reader. It is better than the similarly priced Amazon Kindle DX. The iPad displays content in color, the iBook app opens books and turns pages quickly, and content on the iPad’s display can be seen in dark rooms. To be fair, battery life is much better on the Kindle.
One problem with the iPad is that it is a “third thing.” It doesn’t fully replace a laptop, and it does not have the functionality of a smart phone. Will customers carry an additional electronic thing around with them just so they can access the iPad’s cool features?
So is the iPad disruptive in a classic Clayton Christensen sense? The answer is probably yes. The iPad is the first of many tablet computers that will be introduced by a variety of vendors. What markets will be disrupted? Perhaps printed magazines to start – there are media reports of advertisers changing their creative approach to take advantage of iPod’s disruption of magazines. Another potential disruption the text book publishing industry. Students would love to read course material on a bright 10″ iPad color screen rather than in a dull, heavy, and expensive printed textbook.
iPad is a canary in the coal mine of traditional magazine and book publishers. Disruption happen.
By the way, iPad is also an excellent example of “digital disruption” that we discussed in many of our courses. It is the result of “the confluence of sustaining technology enhancements in multiple digital technologies.”