The iPad turns 10 and the father of Disruption Theory passes away

A personal journey with a truly disruptive product and person

The iPad has turned 10 years old; here’s a personal relationship with the product. Additionally, Clayton Christensen died recently. His influence will be felt for years to come.

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Photo: Apple

This week a phenomenally successful product turned ten years old. In January 2010, on the stage of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in California, Steve Jobs announced the iPad in what is oft-regarded as one of the best product introductions by a company in years. It doesn't quite top the iPhone introduction (“… an iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator, get it”) but it is not far off. Just to give you an idea why I called it successful when virtually the entire media set doesn’t, is that currently, the iPad represents around 20 billion $ per year in revenue for Apple. It’s the same size as its Mac business, the same business that put Apple on the map all those years ago. Because we see revenues from the iPhone dwarfing this, we lose track of just how significant the other components in the Apple ecosystem are. (/rant).

It's such a good introduction and presentation of a product for the same reasons I recently wrote about the new MacBook Pro. It almost perfectly answers the jobs to be done questions and provides a simple solution to basic questions. Interestingly, I and many others feel that Apple have recently gone a little off the rails lately. I'll discuss that later in this article.

My personal iPad story

In some ways, my iPad story starts with the iPhone. The moment I saw the iPhone, I knew that this device, as limited as it was then, was to take over the world of mobile telephones. It was so evident to me that during a trip back to my native island, I had to get hold of an iPhone from the one Apple Store that existed at the time, in central London.

Immediately on getting back to my brother’s flat, I embarked on the witchcraft necessary to make the phone usable on my phone companies network despite it not being authorised for such use. A process that was known as jail-breaking — evoking the old westerns where then unjustifiably locked up villain is bust out of jail by explosives, horses pulling bars, any means necessary — that unlocked the phone from the shackles of its native network in the U.K.

It was a perilous process and one not without risk. If I remember correctly, it took two or three attempts and a sinking feeling that I’d “bricked” £500 worth of telecoms equipment. When it did boot and then connect via roaming to the network I was ecstatic, I had an original iPhone in working condition and was one of the first in my adopted island at the time. I still have that phone today... and it still works.

But back to the iPad. Having been completely smitten with the iPhone and many of Apple’s products since the original Macintoshes, I kept a close eye on the announcements and demos of their products. I’d created time in my calendar to watch what was, and then turned out to be, a seminal event. I encourage you to watch the demo for yourselves. If you have to present products and services in your day job, you could do no worse than learn from a master like Jobs.

The iPad was announced, and the world of tech was stunned. Not only did the device ticks the boxes for multiple use cases, but it was at a price that was almost derisory, $499 sans tax.

Through a stroke of good fortune and not the only one as you’ll learn, I was invited to a large conference for one of the most advanced and respected software companies in business software at the time. The conference was to take place in Las Vegas, a place I’d never visited and one I wanted to see for myself at some point. So I was excited from the bat.

Apple’s announcement of availability coincided perfectly with my upcoming trip, so fate was sealed. I would grab one from the store whilst travelling, done! It turned out to be a little more complicated than that. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one in the world that wanted an iPad.

The journey from Martinique to Las Vegas at that time was not fast. Leaving the island at around 8 am arriving in Las Vegas at roughly 9 pm local time, I had previously studied where the Apple Store was — there was only two close by in 2010 — and how long it took to get there, what time it closed and the estimated time of arrival of my plane. It was possible but by the skin of my teeth.

I arrived in Las Vegas, tired and wanting to sleep after a laborious journey, but something in the air (Oxygen?) whilst walking through the Casino woke me up. The MGM Grand forces you to walk through the Casino to get to your room, like most hotels in Las Vegas I subsequently discovered. I checked in dropped my bags, ran downstairs jumped in a cab and hot-footed it to Ceaser’s Palace with around 10 minutes to spare before closing time at 11 pm.

I found a salesperson and requested an iPad, but to my dismay, they had all sold out that morning. It was back-ordered, but delivery was unknown. I gave up. But the salesman suggested I put my name on a waiting list. He suggested that even if I had left the country, it wouldn’t matter as it would get reallocated to the next one on the list.

I’m not a gambler, not even for 1 cent. WTF was I doing in Las Vegas? I was definitely out of my comfort zone to be fair. I thought it was a gamble and hence not worth it as I would lose, but something said to do it regardless. I guess the fact that it was free and had no harmful consequences I thought why not. So Sunday night at nearly 11 pm I added my name to a list of people waiting for an iPad, a list that was already more than 20 people long. It was a long shot and one I was convinced I’d never have a chance. So I promptly forgot about it and quickly mourned on what could have been.

The conference started Monday morning, and I was learning lots of great stuff. It will go down as one of the best conferences I have ever attended. Then on Tuesday morning, I received an email from Apple letting me know there was an iPad waiting for me if I wanted it, and that I had 24 hours to recover it. It didn’t take me 24 hours.

I got back to the hotel where the conference was staged, unboxed and booted up the iPad. Logged in through my Apple ID and went back downstairs to the conference, iPad in tow. That day, I took more notes than I had previously taken in all the conferences I’d attended. Something about the device was perfect for the way I worked at conferences and in meetings.

I have never been without my iPad in a meeting or a conference in 10 years.


The father of Jobs to be Done Theory (and others) dies

Clayton Christensen died last Thursday the 23rd January 2020.

From the FT:

Clayton Christensen, the management thinker who conceived and developed the idea of “disruptive innovation” and influenced generations of business students and entrepreneurs, has died, aged 67. Universally known as “Clay”, he passed away on Thursday as a result of complications from leukaemia.

Christensen was best known for the ideas he laid out in his seminal book The Innovator’s Dilemma, published in 1997, which described how incumbents who neglected the lower end of their market could be disrupted by new and innovative products. One core example was how “mini-mills” sprang up to challenge traditional steel companies.

This central idea — including the suggestion that companies should disrupt themselves to escape the fate of complacent incumbents — inspired Silicon Valley’s innovators.

I was introduced to his work through several sources at the same time, so I can’t credit one person in particular with the exposure. However, one person has been particularly influential in my ongoing discovery of his work, Ben Thompson (Stratechery). It was through his writing that I first discovered the Jobs to be Done theory that has been and continues to be so successful in helping businesses create value from products and services. I wrote about some of the subject matter in one of Christensen’s books, The Innovators Dilemma, in March last year:

This is a common threat when you are dealing with digital products and services. By definition, digital goods are easier to distribute and copy but more importantly, if your clients see a new product or service and that their sunk costs are sufficiently low as to avoid the sunk cost fallacy.

In that issue, I was trying to explain the democratisation of innovation and the reduction in risk in innovating with digital-only products and services. It’s worth reading if you haven’t as yet.

Jobs to be Done Theory is the starting point to innovation and something I use virtually daily to understand how well processes are working and develop innovative suggestions for my clients. Thinking about how something works starting from the “use” point provides insights that are so often lost when we overthink about the desired result.

Clayton Christensen concluded that Apple didn’t focus on profits when developing products such as the iPad, iPhone and others. Let’s not kid ourselves; profits are a big part of the desired outcomes for Apple. What is different from other companies is their restraint in releasing technology only when it is ready and when it can address the JTBD adequately enough to disrupt the early vendors. Apple is generally one of the last to use technology in its products, but when it does, they are so well-conceived that you feel it has always been this way.

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