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Jan 28, 2010: No use case necessary

Given that it's now the official national craze, I too will ruminate on the iPad...

I don't think that there's a clear use case for something that's small but not as small as a phone, and useful but not as useful as a laptop. (Best effort in a weak field to define the use case so far comes from Luke Wroblewski: "a digital version of your leisure time activities".)

But that doesn't matter.

It's relatively easy for Apple to create a new platform. There are already plenty of apps out there that will run on it, and the developer community will soon provide us with many, many more. It's what they do. And although only a small subset of those apps will provide any compelling value, only a small subset of those eventual thousands of apps needs to work. All Apple has to do is provide the platform, and make sure that it works well enough to support all those apps.

They're essentially leaving it to the developer community to figure out a mind-blowingly large number of micro use cases. There will be enough to make the iPad attractive to enough consumers for the venture to be profitable for Apple. Apple can ignore the traditional keystone requirement for product design—the need for a broad use case—and simply deliver a well-designed and sufficiently open platform.

PS As a publisher, I am very happy that Apple's ebooks will use EPUB, the open ebook format that we've invested ourselves in at Rosenfeld Media. I'm hopeful that those EPUBs will also be DRM-free, though considering Apple's past record here, I'm pessimistic. Does anyone know if they will be?

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Comment: Andy Polaine (Jan 28, 2010)

Isn't the whole thing with the ePub format that the publisher chooses whether or not to add DRM?

Comment: Lou (Jan 28, 2010)

That's not my understanding. I think it's possible that Apple won't allow EPUBs purchase from their store to be played on other readers, such as Stanza (which runs on Sony Reader and Nook, as well as the iPhone, interestingly). This would parallel how Apple has been with music purchased via their store.

But I make no claims to be an expert here...

Comment: Andy Polaine (Jan 28, 2010)

Ah, okay. But there's a difference between requiring some format tweak that keeps it in the family and DRM that prevents you passing the book to a friend who also has an iPad, etc., etc. I'll be interested to see which way Apple goes given their mixed history with DRM. But I can't imagine all those traditional publishers came on board without some promise of it, but then maybe that's what the ePub format offers. Incidentally, is it EPUB, epub or an Apple-style ePub?

Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Jan 28, 2010)

That's why I find it maddening when people reject out if hand the answer "it's for everyone" when designing an application, site or product.

Sometimes what you're building *is* a platform and the whole point is that it *doesn't* have a single micro use case. The aspiration to be "for everyone" may be overused to the point of delusion by 99% of inventors and designers but, by definition, the most widely adopted products are the ones for which it's really true.

Micro use cases and micro audiences may be crucial for marketing, especially in the early stages, but there are categories of products in which designing for them is self-defeating.

Comment: Lou (Jan 28, 2010)

Prentiss, that's a really good point. Probably why many of the successful use-case-less inventions come directly from the inventors themselves; who else would take the risk?

Comment: Marcus (Feb 13, 2010)

Cool blog you got here. I'd like to read a bit more concerning that theme. Thanks for sharing that information.

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