One year ago today, Steve Jobs announced the iPad. It came into the world with incredibly high expectations, and it exceeded them by every measure.
It is a beautiful machine -- perfectly designed, finely crafted and an indispensable tool that adapts to a user's needs with incredible dexterity, as anyone who uses an iPad will attest. It proved to be a truly disruptive technology instantly impacting netbooks, laptops, ereaders and the entire print publishing industry.
As with any great innovation, there were detractors, but most of them have fallen silent as the iPad raced to success. And there are imitators. Allegedly, there are many -- just waiting in the wings, prepared to imitate, because they have been left with so little room to innovate or differentiate.
After a year of predictions, only a scant few opponents have made it to market. Of those that made it out, most seem like second string quarterbacks -- they function similarly but are not quite able to perform on the same level. HP, Dell, Samsung, Toshiba Motorola and others will find competing head to head with this machine impossible unless they miraculously find a way to change the playing field in a meaningful way.
Those who have studied Michael Porter's activity maps might understand that this machine's perfect integration creates an inherent competitive advantage and a steep, if not insurmountable, barrier to entry. No other company can match the iPad's evolution from the vision of a genius, its unique processor, its long-life battery, an optimized mobile operating system, a well-conceived and robust app store, a true understanding of user interface and manufacturing and assembly processes intended to sell the iPad at a price that offers more value than any other digital device on the market. Those were derived from choices -- at times hard and controversial choices such as abandoning Flash video and making a wholesale commitment to HTML.
But they were choices made without compromise, and that is the essence of the iPad's brilliance -- there are no compromises in this machine.
Love or hate Apple, the concept of innovation mated to use, craft and value is what seems to be missing in business today. The idea that a brilliant mind committed to continuous innovation, flawless design and value that is enhanced rather than cheapened by its manufacturing process seems beyond the philosophical -- if not the operational -- reach of many companies.
So, happy birthday, iPad. You changed the way we think of computing. Maybe the courage and commitment that led to your design can also change the way we approach innovation.