There’s Room for a Third Device

By  |  Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm

The debate about Apple products never ends, but it always involves distinct phases. Consider the iPad. People began expressing heated opinions about it before anyone knew anything. Then they continue to do so once they know something but not everything.

For the iPad, the best phase begins on Saturday, when all of us who weren’t among the first reviewers to get their hands on the thing get the opportunity to express opinions based on extended real-world use. The “Why the iPad Will Fail” stories will dwindle away, because it’s pointless to speculate once the darn thing is in the market. It’ll be a huge hit or a modest success or a flop, and nobody’s take will matter except the aggregate opinion of people who buy gadgets.

But I wanna get something off my chest during the remaining time we have to talk about the iPad without much in the way of cold, hard facts. Here’s something I don’t get: The single most common argument made by folks who think the iPad will fail is that people don’t want a “third device” to supplement their PC and their phone. One more device, the theory goes, is clearly one too many.


We know that many people can be comfortable with the notion of buying and using three devices, because so many have used a desktop PC, a laptop, and a phone. That’s…three devices! And today, lots of us have ditched the desktop in favor of a notebook as primary PC, leaving us with two devices and room for a third.

Come to think of it, I know more than a handful of people who have had desktops at work and home, plus a laptop for everywhere else, plus a phone. That’s four devices. Then there are TVs–they surely compete with PCs for our attention, and almost all of us have at least one. Five devices.

If you buy an iPad, you might end up canceling newspaper and magazine subscriptions which can run you hundreds of dollars in aggregate. So I’m counting dead trees as a sixth device.

How do we count the Kindle in here? TiVo? Portable DVD players? The iPad has the potential to replace aspects of all of them. Nine devices.

Related anti-iPad argument: It’s bigger than a smartphone, and therefore you can’t take it with you everywhere without giving it some thought. Which is true enough. But it’s also true of most of our devices–in most cases more so than with the iPad.

Some have bought a netbook as their “third device.” Some will get an iPad. Many–the majority, actually–will stick with the devices they’ve got. But the argument that there aren’t large quantities of consumers who are willing to own three or more computing/communications devices of various sizes strikes me as utterly specious.

Or do you disagree?


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Mike Cerm Says:

    A few thoughts:

    Desktop, Netbook, Smartphone: Those are my 3 devices, and the iPad doesn’t really appeal to me as a fourth. To some people it will, and I get that.

    iPad as a TiVo replacement? Um… how many tuners does it have? Portable DVD replacement? When you get the DVDs from Redbox, how does your 8-year old kid get the disc into the iPad?

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, as you allude to in your final paragraph, I don’t think that the iPad is a viable replacement for the products that people know and use now, unless they’re willing to sacrifice and adapt to the iPad way of doing things.

  2. Jindo Fox Says:

    My Kindle is in serious danger of getting forgotten in the wake of the iPad. I suppose now it can pull duty as the “cheap and light” device I can carry around and wouldn’t be devastated if I lost it. And it’s still going to be better for reading in bright light.

    The iPhone already all but killed my interest in my DS, PSP, GBA, and Dingoo. Now here comes another Apple device to steal my attention away from the iPhone itself.

  3. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    I definitely agree there’s room for a device between notebook and smartphone and that iPad is a great choice there.

    > So I’m counting dead trees as a sixth device.

    That is what a lot of people aren’t getting. I would bet you many of the people who wrote “why iPad will fail” articles were doing so while sitting at a PC with a “Learn HTML in 21 Days” or similar book sitting nearby. The iPad doesn’t replace their PC, it replaces that book. It lets you take your whole reference bookshelf with you on a trip in the same way a notebook let you take your PC.

    iPad also replaces a printer. It used to be a PC without a printer was a doorstop. Now, instead of printing an 8×10 photo you send it to your iPad. Instead of printing a full-size map, you look at it on iPad. Instead of printing a document and then signing it, you can send it to iPad and sign it right on the screen.

    Another obvious one is a pad of paper. For example, user interface designers sketch ideas on a pad of paper even though they have Photoshop and a high-end Mac and drawing tablet. The idea is to get away from your tools and make quick throwaway sketches one after the other to hash out ideas. You can do this on iPad with a finger and a $5 drawing app using almost exactly the same motions.

    An artist canvas is another. The theme of the iPad launch was paint-and-canvas.

    > iPad as a TiVo replacement? Um… how many tuners does it have?

    It has one iTuner. Buying a TV episode from iTunes is the same as telling your TiVo to record it from cable TV. iTunes is easier, and has been cheaper for me than a cable bill.

    > When you get the DVDs from Redbox

    What is a DVD?

    > I don’t think that the iPad is a viable replacement for
    > the products that people know and use now, unless they’re
    > willing to sacrifice and adapt to the iPad way of doing things.

    That was certainly a great anti-iPod argument back in 2001.

    > My Kindle is in serious danger of getting forgotten
    > in the wake of the iPad

    What is a Kindle?

  4. timjones17 Says:

    Desktop, Netbook, Smartphone, a device more versatile, more capable. There’s no use for a, not versatile, not very capable iPad. There aren’t large quantities of consumers who are willing to own the iPad because instead of getting it, they’d rather get a more versatile, more capable Android or Windows 7 slate.

  5. S Says:

    It’s not that people don’t want to have three devices, it’s that they don’t want to carry three devices at the same time.

  6. Dude Says:

    Our family has three desktops and two iphones. We also have one laptop. We are looking at the iPad as a potential replacement for the laptop. It’s basically been relegated to the kitchen island where it is used to look up recipes or browse the net while food cooks. Kids use it to look things up on the net.

    The iPad would do all of that without being so slow to boot up. It would also cost a lot less than a new laptop, and it would be easier for the woman of the house, who is not a geek, to use. She loves her iPhone and is already begging for an iPad.

  7. IcyFog Says:

    I agree with you Harry; I think you’re right.
    The Dude nailed it as well. The iPad could truly be the first home computer. People could use it in the kitchen, like the Dude’s family. It could be taken to any room in the house, even the bathroom. It could easily be passed from person to person and from room to room.
    Young children will be all about it. They instinctively get it, just like they do with an iPod touch or iPhone. Older adults will also take to it as well because its ease of use and larger-than-a-netbook screen.

  8. Chris Says:

    I’m afraid I don’t get the iPad, or indeed the iPhone much. All I can see with both of the Apple devices is a continued requirement for me to pay Apple whenever I find a new use for it which is not built in.

    My travelling and ’round the home’ companions these days are a relatively simple phone with USB connectivity (and better reception than the Mrs’ iPhone in the house) to be a modem and a netbook with a 9hr battery, wifi and a touchscreen.

    This combination gives me (with slight additional hassles with cables sometimes) pretty much everything I can see the iPad/iPhone giving me plus the ability to add more stuff whenever I want through new software. And unlike a lot of stuff on the Apple ‘stores’ I can get most of the stuff I would need for free.

    It is this flexibility in the PC (or indeed Mac) platform which unltimately kills off the competition – an example of the ‘silicon beast’ in action. An e-book reader can be a book reader and (perhaps) an internet browser and, well, thats it. A PC/Mac can be anything the software makes it into. And if the software is limited, you can upgrade it usually also for free.

  9. Brandon Backlin Says:

    I used to joke about buying a physically bigger iPod for my dad, with the punchline being exactly the same as those huge remote controls. Now he’s expecting one from me.

    Anyway, the question I ask in relation to a “third device” is “How big is the ‘gap’ between devices?” What I mean by “gap” is, how much duplicate functionality does this device share with other devices, and how much easier is this duplicate functionality compared to your other devices? I can already tell you it will be easier to make small edits to documents using the iPad, as it’s easier to wake up the iPad compared to waking up a laptop or netbook from standby. But, how easy is it to begin a new document? That all depends on the user, but I can’t see myself typing out an entire essay on a touchscreen keyboard.

    Productivity aside, the iPad is clearly an entertainment/communications device (as noted in the article), and when my iPod goes out, I have given serious consideration to getting an iPad as a replacement, when they come out with multitasking and a 16:9 version. My main question; why offer HD content on a 4:3 device? The bezel is big enough, there’s no need for more black on the device 😉 .

  10. punditius Says:

    “Related anti-iPad argument: It’s bigger than a smartphone, and therefore you can’t take it with you everywhere without giving it some thought.”

    No problem, if your smartphone is a miniPad…uh, I mean, iPhone.

    It’s really all about ecology. In the Apple ecological system, your desktop/laptop is your actual full scope computer. The iPad is a satellite computer, which you can comfortably use anywhere, but doesn’t do much heavy duty work. Your iPod/iPhone is your pocket computer, which you can take anywhere, but mainly serves to keep you in touch when you are outside.

    The ecosystem is adjustable – some people might use a laptop as their satellite. And some people might take the laptop/iPad outside the home. Minimalists will have a laptop and an iPhone. As I look around my family unit (2 parents, two teenagers) I see one desktop, three laptops, four iPhones, one Touch (got it free with a college computer,) and two Nanos. And now, an iPad. When the kids move out, we’ll see one desktop, one laptop, one iPad, two iPhones, and a Nano.

    None of these things exactly replace the others. They overlap, and you get to mix & match to meet your own needs.

    BTW, the iPad is MINE! It’s already knocked my own laptop and my ebook reader out of the ecosystem.

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