The iPad: Apple's Trojan Horse

Something struck me about Apple’s handling of the iPad launch this week. Instead of countless nerds spouting off in early reviews, only a few major tech press folks got early samples. Instead, the iPad showed up in a show the missus and I watch, Modern Family.*

That’s right: instead of an overfed talking-head tech reporter pawing over the iPad on morning TV, the iPad got prime-time coverage in a sitcom. Think about the last computer company to get that kind of screen time. Only Microsoft, in their abysmal product placement in Family Guy comes to mind. But in Modern Family the iPad was a major plot point. While I’m sure Apple paid a pretty penny for the exposure, I don’t doubt the folks at ABC would have put the product in for free had Apple asked.

But this shows a very important turning point in Apple marketing. The company, in short, sees the iPad as a mass market phenomenon without peer and is treating it as such. And the iPad, in turn, will become the tool that pushes Apple even deeper into the home.

The iPhone convinced millions of people that Apple makes nice phones. The iPad, in turn, will convince millions of people that Apple makes nice computers. Whereas the “halo effect” that the iPhone was supposed to have on the rest of Apple’s wares – laptops and iMacs and the line – isn’t quite apparent except in Apple’s impressive revenues, I suspect the iPad is going to push people over the hump. While you can get away with booting up craggy old Windows on your craggy old Dell while mucking about in iPhone’s sylvan glades, you’re less likely to appreciate your old laptop when its sitting alongside a device that looks like a cross between a robotic communion wafer and something out of Star Trek.

To describe this metaphorically, (and this is a horrible metaphor) think of the iPhone as a bicycle made by BMW. No one is going to upgrade to a Ford car if you’re only used to their bikes but if Ford starts to sell, say, something like an inexpensive Smart car or nice motorcycle with a little more power and all that BMW “magic,” there’s a good chance they’ll buy a Z-Series next time they’re looking at cars.

So the reason you’re not seeing geeks like us with iPads this week is simple – the iPad isn’t for geeks like us. While time will tell if this is a correct assessment, I’m almost betting on it.

UPDATE – I found some things to add. First, Apple has 91% market share in “premium PCs,” which is huge. But in lower-end PCs Windows still rules. Now what happens when a sub-$700 Apple ends up in millions of homes. Much more market share and a real halo effect across the market.

*It’s seriously a really good program. Christopher LLoyd (Frasier and Wings) produces it. I thought it would be dumb at first too. Try it.