The Case of the iPad: Why Experts Don’t Always Get It

Let’s take a short trip back to January, 2010. This wasn’t forever ago, but it was a turning point in the personal tech world that now seems almost inevitable. It was in this month that Apple announced the original iPad. Even though it was far from being the first modern tablet computer, it might as well have been, considering the attention that the gadget attracted and the lack of popular alternatives on the market.

At the time, its success was nowhere near guaranteed. Looking back, it’s easy to say that this was a bold product that was destined to find success. That, however, is revisionism talking. Here’s what people were thinking back in 2010 when the iPad was first announced.

The experts were mixed on the device before they even got their hands on it. The biggest question was “Why?” The device was essentially just a big version of the then-popular iPod Touch without the cellular functionality of the iPhone. What exactly is the need? Is there even a market for it?

The gaming blog Kotaku summed this up in their write-up of the announcement event by asking Apple: “If your consumers still need a computer and a phone, needs which you already can fill, what room in their wallet, their bag, and their life is there for a semi-portable, semi-desk-ready tablet computer? For gaming or otherwise?”

A pessimistic prediction came from an analyst. Here’s what was said in the New York Times.

“’I think this will appeal to the Apple acolytes, but this is essentially just a really big iPod Touch,’ said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research, adding that he expected the iPad to mostly cannibalize the sales of other Apple products.”

The above opinions aren’t shared to single out any of these early predictions and concerns, as these experts were hardly alone in their questions about the iPad.

The market may not have existed right before the release, but it certainly came into existence when the product was released. Not only were sales exceptional, but also an entire new type of product became a commodity. The biggest players in consumer tech (Samsung, Amazon, Google, and others) all released their own products to fulfill consumers’ demand. Embarrassingly, Microsoft was caught flat-footed when it came to this new market, despite releasing their own tablet back in 2002, a full eight years before the iPad made its debut.

It’s almost silly to believe that people questioned if a product like the tablet would be useful to people in light of the overwhelming success. Yet, that’s the reality.

Every product announcement, from the Oculus Rift, the Apple Watch, or whatever will come next, always elicits strong opinions and plenty of editorial space about how consumers will respond and what kind of impact will be made. The iPad launch from 2010 shows us just how much can change in five years.

This just goes to show that lots of people make predictions. Lots of people publish bold claims about what they think is going to happen. The reality is that some things are hard to predict, even if someone is an authority. Everyone from tech writers to marketing executives can be caught unawares of the next trends and industry disruptions.

When something catches fire like the iPad did, everyone will say it was obvious that it was going to be a success. When this happens, take a moment to realize how many times we had to get over our pessimism first.

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