The general public doesn’t need an iPad

iPad - evolution by Steve JobsSteve Jobs’ powers of presentation and salesmanship have been well remarked upon. However, one statement in his recent keynote address launching the iPad jarred for me.

All of us use laptops and smartphones now

Who is this “us”? The people in the audience? The people in Apple’s target market? Because it certainly isn’t everyone.

Data from Brandheld indicates 24% of UK mobile phone owners aged 16 or over think they have a smartphone (given our consumer-friendly definition of one), while 59% say that they have a laptop with wireless broadband. 17% say that they have access to both.

To an extent, this is just me being pedantic. Of course everyone doesn’t have a smartphone or laptop. Not everyone has a phone of any kind, let alone food, clothing or shelter.

A device doesn’t necessarily need 95% penetration to be ubiquitous; it merely needs to be the most desirable. Look at the iPhone. While sales are still increasing, probably no more than 1 in 20 people in the UK currently own one. Yet it has defined the category.

But I think the turn of phrase is interesting because it indicates the scope of the iPad. It is not a mainstream device. Not yet, anyway.

More so than the iPod and iPhone, the iPad is a disruptive technology. The market for tablet computers isn’t yet fully defined. There is no well established pre-cursor like the Walkman or Nokia series to create consumer expectation, for Apple to then surpass. The Kindle, the e-reader et al are nothing more than niche.

Unlike the iPod and iPhone, there is no obvious unique selling point to differentiate the device. Certainly, nothing to rival “1,000 songs in your pocket” or touch screen mobile web browsing. It will be a tough sell.

The five (original) steps in Everett Rogers diffusion of innovations model are

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Trial
  • Evaluation
  • Adoption

With disruptive technologies, the challenge is getting beyond the second stage. Aside from going to the Apple store on Regent Street in London, the only opportunity people in the UK will have to trial the technology is by testing an iPad that a friend or associate purchased. The path to adoption will be very slow.

Additionally, interest piques if, in general terms, a device is able to demonstrably save someone time, money or effort. The iPad appears to be a jack of all trades, but is it a master of any?

  • Web browsing: Web browsers themselves are optimised for mouse and keyboard navigation. Nevertheless, touch-screen specific web applications can modify and improve the experience
  • Video: Video is passive, so a touch screen isn’t really relevant. For lengthy programmes, the iPad will also become uncomfortable unless some sort of docking station is purchased in addition
  • Reading: This is where the potential lies. Somewhat unfairly, the iPad is essentially a glorified Kindle. But as with the Kindle, the high outlay and the ongoing costs render it worthwhile to only the most avid readers
  • Music: There seems to be little discernable additional benefit
  • Gaming: There is some real opportunity for multi-touch gaming but there is also a danger the iPad gets caught between the more portable iPhone and the more immersive Project Natal/Motion sensitive in-home gaming
  • Photos: There are certainly advantages to storing and displaying photos, but the lack of camera on the iPad is a startling omission
  • Brushes – an application that could be genuinely useful, but it is not a deal-breaker. Unless you want to pay $500 for a glorified etch-a-sketch.

Admittedly, the first generation iPod (bulky, mac only) and iPhone (2G, no GPS or cut, copy & paste) were relatively poor. A killer feature could emerge on the 2nd or 3rd generation iPad. But at this stage, it appears to be little more than a status symbol for a small niche of technology enthusiasts to store next to their minidisc, neo geo and em@iler.

sk

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The selective truth

There are two sides to every coin, but nuance is difficult to convey in a headline or summary. A clear and decisive statement is far likelier to catch the eye. It is important to question the motives of both the source of information and the reporting when making a decision as to the veracity.

I’ve noted this during my experiment to alternate my news sources. Similarly, I’ve tracked the early responses to a recent project I’ve worked on with interest.

SIDENOTE: The project is Brandheld – an extended study into consumer perceptions of the mobile internet, and both their current and intended behaviour. The press release is here and a topline slide deck will be released shortly. If you want more information about the report, contact me at [firstname]@essentialresearch.co.uk [/sales pitch]

The press release for the project can basically be split into two sections. The first section is a reality check, noting that adoption of the technology is perhaps lower than those in the London-centric media sector might think. The second section is a call to arms, suggesting a pathway to make the mobile internet seem more relevant to the mainstream.

SIDENOTE: The comments on The Register article nicely illustrate the reason for our first section. Most comments seem to fall into the “I do this, therefore everyone else must be doing it as well” category.

Several of the outlets picking up the story (to date) are only reporting or emphasising one of these sections. The reality check grabs the attention, and the call to arms supports the relevant sectors.

There’s nothing wrong with this – reporting a single side makes it easier for readers to digest, while many of us have an agenda we seek to push and any supporting evidence we can get is gratefully received and promoted.

This is fine for external communications and reporting. But for internal knowledge, it can be dangerous to be reliant on one side of the story.

The best clients I have worked with are those that recognise that while research may be commissioned in the hope of proving something, it is necessary to start with the unbiased and unvarnished truth, even if that might be difficult to hear. Even if only half the findings are externally reported, the other half should still be included in internal briefings.

This requires a strength of conviction if there is pressure coming down the chain of command for a particular result but there is clearly a need to avoid self-delusion. If the results are “bad”, it should be made clear why. If the desired outcome is achieved, it is unlikely that there won’t be a single caveat. And these caveats are important to understand when designing or promoting a strategy.

A similar principle is required when collating secondary research. Even if the findings are sourced or quoted as evidence in external communications, it is important to understand the biases or reliability of the data for your own internal knowledge. Recognising the nuances or limitations of something can only assist your efforts to improve it.

News articles remain a fantastic way to distribute information, and are often the first place that research or data is discovered. Nevertheless, it is vital to go back to the original source if you plan to do something with the findings. That way, an informed decision can be made about the accuracy or reliability of the information (for what it’s worth, Brandheld is an independent study conducted with no prior agenda aside from us thinking the mobile internet would be an interesting area to research). Even if this doesn’t affect the way the information is collated, it is still an important facet to consider.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/colin-c/200867665/

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Bigger isn’t always better

As part of my ongoing Diploma, I have to write several assignments based on the company I work for.

This is pretty good in that it means my studying ultimately has some practical benefit. But the reading literature isn’t making it easy.

Leaving aside the fact I’m not a marketer (and that Essential doesn’t even have a marketing department), the textbooks all carry the implicit assumption that the reader is working in a large consumer-facing organisation. Which is silly.

Obviously a lot of marketing theory surrounding processes becomes redundant in small companies, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

According to government statistics recently published, “Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) together accounted for 99.9 per cent of all enterprises, 59.4 per cent of private sector employment and 50.1 per cent of private sector turnover.”

Another constant theme in the literature is that companies should strive for “bigness”. Growth is the engine of the economy, and thus organisations should aim to grow.

Fine, but growth doesn’t have to be in unit sales. If there is an excess demand, basic economics states that the price should be increased. Growth can be maintained through higher profitability.

And for the service industry, bigger isn’t always better. Quality should be prioritised over quantity. A company is built on the vision of the founder(s) – the larger the company gets, the harder it is to maintain that vision and the more reliant the company becomes on work delegated to colleagues. Careful training and recruitment (“Always hire someone smarter than you”) are one thing, but they don’t compensate for that experience or existing relationship.

A restaurant is a good example of this. I enjoyed reading this article about the Great Lake Pizza shop. The founders insists on making each pizza by hand, and are unwilling to compromise. In their words:

Ms. Esparza: [Expansion] would change our values. That is the American way — to expand without really thinking.

Mr. Lessins: We really enjoy the work that we’re doing and we don’t want to cheapen it. Consciously or unconsciously — probably both — we’re trying to create a manageable way to earn a living and still maintain our sanity. We value time as much, if not more so, than money.

I believe Franco Manca, in Brixton, operates on a similar principle.

It might seem painful, but putting a notice outside of the restaurant saying it is fully booked can often be the best thing it can do. It must be busy for a reason, and so people are prepared to queue, and even pay a premium for it. A restaurant relies on its good reviews, and for this it needs to have satisfied patrons.

Being small isn’t a hurdle, or a restriction. In many ways, it is a benefit.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeryjl/2676435494/

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Escaping the echo chamber

Echoes of war image

Elizabeth Kolbert’s recent New Yorker article The Things People Say – a review of Cass R. Sunstein’s “On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done“- brought up some fascinating examples of group polarisation.

The brief summary is that in the internet age, we are increasingly associating ourselves with likeminded people and opinions. This not only reinforces our original views, but strengthens them – whether through hearing an argument repeated back, feeling vindicated by hearing others in agreement, listening to alternative reasons for a viewpoint or simply competing with others to lead the line.

My favourite quote from the article is:

At the same time that [the internet] makes more news available, it also makes more news avoidable

The most nebulous effects of group polarisation are extremism and misinformation. One such example being the – ridiculous if it weren’t real – “birther movement” in the United States, regarding Barack Obama’s birth certificate (and nationality, and eligibility to hold office).

However, the effect I’m more interested in is an unwillingness to engage with alternative viewpoints. Through our emails, RSS feeds, Twitter streams and selections of articles to click through, we are self-selecting the news and views we read. We lack balance and nuance in our understanding of issues. This can in turn lead to close mindedness.

In 2006, Sunstein performed his own study of fifty political sites. He found that more than four-fifths linked to like-minded sites but only a third linked to sites with an opposing viewpoint. Moreover, many of the links to the opposing side’s sites were offered only to illustrate how “dangerous, dumb, or contemptible the views of the adversary really are.”

Reading the article has led me to consider the effect of group polarisation on me both personally and professionally.

On a personal level:

I feel that my job as a market researcher gives me an understanding of the mood of the general public on certain issues and this grounding (plus my natural cynicism) prevents me getting too carried away with certain thoughts or concepts. I note, for instance, that television is far from dead and that businesses without a presence in Second Life continue to thrive.

However, I do tend to source my news/opinion pieces from the same places. Therefore, I’m going to try a little experiment.

For around half an hour a day, I’m going to spend some time browsing the online edition of a newspaper. A different newspaper, each day of the week. The Sun, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mirror and The Independent. I’ll keep this up for a couple of months.

It will hard to gauge the effects this experiment has on me, since there is no “control” to measure how my views have been influenced or changed. Nevertheless, I do expect to experience different levels of agreement, anger, sympathy and incredulity depending on the source and the tone. Of course, the challenge will not be to skip the stories that appear to hold little interest to me. I’ll update on progress in a couple of months

On a professional level:

Tthe idea of group polarisation calls into question the suitability of focus groups as an accurate gauge of opinion. They are fine to pull out exaggerated opinions or caricatures to make a point, but for issues where nuance and balance are required?

This is where the strengths of the internet come back to the fore. Group discussions can be held online. But there is no reason for group participants to be mutually exclusive. Rather than a number of separate groups each recruited to a specific demographic or attitude but covering the same topics, different combinations can be recruited from a “parent group” for specific breakout discussions. For instance, if a discussion guide had five sections, different combinations of groups could be created for each sector.

This is only a thought at the moment, and there are multiple practical obstacles that would need to be overcome. But I like the idea of moving away from reciprocal relationships within research to asymmetrical connections. Moving from a Facebook relationship to a Twitter relationship, if you will.

Compartmentalising facets of our personality and emphasising elements for different audiences is much more akin to real-world interactions, and can also marginalise the threat of group polarisation.

I shall be spending more time mulling this over, but any thoughts on the subject are welcome.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paopix/3882291940/

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