Tell me what surprised you: iPad Edition
If someone is about to tell you a long story about a trip they were on, you should make just one request: "Tell me what surprised you." That simple query changes the whole nature of the conversation.
For example, we all know the basic stuff about Paris. It has French people. The food is good. It's pretty. But what surprised you about Paris? Now there's something we can talk about.1
So. Yes, I got an iPad. And I'll do you a favour: I'll tell you my surprise.
What surprised me was iBooks.
No, no, iBooks looks and works exactly like in the pictures and ads. It really is just like that, for better and for worse. That's not the surprise.
The surprise was that it wasn't installed by default.
Think about that. I had to go to the app store, painfully convince it I was a U.S. resident, search for "iBooks" ("books" is definitely not good enough), and download it, all just to get started.
Meanwhile, I downloaded a bunch of other apps. Some of them had ads. Many of those ads were for the Amazon Kindle app, which is also in the app store, and also free, and doesn't require me to be American. And I could click on any of those ads and get straight to app store. Two more taps, and I'm done.
There weren't any ads for the iBooks app. Anywhere. Thus it was harder to find out about iBooks, and as hard or harder to download it, than the Kindle app.
I've been in the computer world for a long time. I've observed Microsoft and how they do things. Heck, I've observed Apple and how they do things. And one thing I've seen for sure: bundling and cross-selling work. If this were Microsoft, they wouldn't have hesitated for a second to give iBooks a boost by including it with the OS.
But Apple deliberately left it out. iBooks has to compete with Kindle in the very same app store, with no free publicity (other than being a "featured" app in some iPad ads and PR).
I can imagine the iBooks team being told that this is it, yes, you can do your bookstore however you want, but we're not going to make it any easier on you. You have to be the best bookstore in the world all by yourself, not just because you tagged along with something that was already great without you.
Now that is surprising.
For the record, iBooks is doing pretty well so far: it absolutely beats the snot out of Kindle for the iPhone/iPad in pretty much every way (except book prices, which are much higher than Amazon's).2
Also interesting to consider is why they allowed this competition with books, but not with music, movies, and phone calls. Have they had a change of heart? A secret contractual obligation? Does Steve Jobs really just not care about books, as he previously claimed?
You might also ask why their Pages, Numbers, and Presentations (or whatever it's called) apps aren't bundled or cross-sold either; anybody making a word processor is on equal footing with Apple's iWork team. And there's no Weather, Stocks, Voice Memos, Clock, or Calculator app included on an iPad either, even though they were all on the iPhone. The iPad has less bundled stuff than ever before - the diametric opposite of what Microsoft has done in any version of Windows, ever.
The rest of the iPad? It's pretty much as expected. I'll spare you.
1 What surprised me about Paris was that, at their fruit stands, every fruit is arranged with absolute care and precision. Compare to a typical grocery store in Canada, where fruit is typically dumped into a bin so you can sort through it yourself. When I think about how much more time it must take to do it the hard way, yes, it surprises me. How can they afford to do that? It's magic. (I also had other related observations at the time.)
2 I won't bother describing the Kindle app's failings in detail. To get you started, I have just two words for you: page numbers. Compare them in Kindle vs. iBooks. Someone at Amazon needs to be shot.
Update 2010/05/18: Hmm, jordanlev wrote to tell me that on his iPad, it popped up a message right away asking whether he wanted to download iBooks. So maybe they're not playing all that nice after all. He also linked to an interesting article about the ebook market by Charlie Stross.