Piers Fawkes: What Commuting Taught Me About How To Compete With The iPad

Observations about what works when it comes to personal technology from the 6.30am To Grand Central.

Over the last couple of weeks I have commuted to work from a summer-house I have rented with my young family about 60 miles up the Hudson Valley from New York City. For most of the year I have a 25 minute walk to work but this summer-time exodus has meant a lengthier travel time for me as my children enjoy an escape from the concrete and heat.

As I have traveled on the early morning train out of Beacon, I have become fascinated about the use of technology to occupy one’s time. In the mornings, while I use my iPad to scroll through my RSS feeds for research, my fellow commuters use their tablets mainly to read books. Occasionally someone will watch a preloaded tv show from a device and there will be a few workers on laptops preparing slides and stats for their next meeting.

When it comes to tablets, there are two devices that are popular on the train: the iPad and the Kindle. For someone who spends his NYC life surrounded by Apple tech, the prevalence of the latter is striking. For many daily travelers along the Hudson River, Amazon has offered a real alternative to Apple – and this demand might help us understand why Apple may be thinking of selling a tablet which is closer in size to the Kindle.

From what I can make out, the Kindle seems to be a worthy alternative to the iPad because it has a point of view that is lacking in so many other electronic brands products.

For many, the Kindle is for reading electronic books. The iPad is for everything. How do you compete with something that offers everything? Most other electronics brands seem to offer tablets that offer to do as much as the iPad (some argue even more) with a little design spin. But the product and messaging by many of the other electronic manufacturers aren’t good enough to compete for attention of the suits on the 630am from Beacon. It’s either the Kindle or the iPad.

Amazon’s Kindle works for my fellow commuters because it makes it easy to find and read books. The size fits the hand, its kinda like what they were used to before (in paper form), and the electronic ink is legible, not to mention the price being great.

I was given a Google Nexus 7 to review last week. This wifi-only tablet can’t compete with all my 4g iPad offers but when I finally get it out of the box (not the best sign), I hope it supports a specific element of my life better. I guess I like the idea of another Google product – the Chromebook – because at the end of the day it’s a computer to use the web. I’m hoping that the Nexus 7 isn’t an all singing and dancing tablet and offers me something that is different – something specific that would get me to pull it out on the train out of Grand Central.

It seems that in order for Apple competitors to really make a mark, they have to stop competing with the iPad on everything and follow Amazon’s lead by doing one thing the iPad already does in a way that makes it easy for the user. Why aren’t electronic manufacturers offering tablets that are really good at one aspect of the mobile experience? For example, I’ve seen enough people watch shows and movies from their computers and phones on this train, can’t a big brand put out the tablet for film to really cut into the market?

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