What the iPad means to developers

Developers who want to leverage the Apple iPad to drive additional application downloads should read these key considerations.


It's been hard to miss the iPad buzz over the last few days. Some analysts and tech bloggers are disappointed in it for a variety of reasons (10 reasons why I'll be passing on the iPad and iPass on the Apple iPad: It's no netbook killer); other folks are treating it like it's sliced bread's best successor.

Regardless of your thoughts on the device, given Apple's momentum in the mobile market, it's hard to deny that the iPad will have some effect on the development landscape. Today I had a great discussion with Scott Schwarzhoff, VP of Marketing at Appcelerator (don't let the title fool you -- he knows his stuff) to get some details on iPad development. Appcelerator has had a lot of experience working with the iPhone and have been all over the iPad, so he was a great resource to learn more about it.

We discussed where the iPad fits into the market; developers need to understand this when choosing their projects. The iPhone ecosystem is huge, and we've seen a shift in how developers monetize iPhone apps. In the beginning, developers made money by delivering novel apps and selling them for a few dollars. Then there was the 99 cent bloodletting, as developers scrambled to stay on the Top 100 list. That was followed by the free app giveaways. Now, making money from directly selling apps in the App Store... Scott called it "looking for the pot of gold," which jives with what I've been hearing. Instead, what we are seeing is that developers are using non-App Store channels to drive free iPhone app downloads, and the iPhone apps are enabling some sort of other monetization. Don't expect the iPad to change this formula; if anything, its enhanced functionality will make this even more of a trend.

What does the iPad offer that the iPhone doesn't (other than a larger form factor)?

The iPad has a much faster CPU and a docking station that provides a real keyboard (but apparently, no mouse) experience. There isn't enough storage space (64 GB on the top-end model) to really enable the kind of giant, local application that some folks might want to put on it. The storage situation screams cloud computing for the time being. In addition, there is no multitasking yet, so applications that need to be running in the background (email, instant messaging, etc.) to have always-on functionality still won't happen. While no one that I have talked to says that multitasking is coming, I cannot believe that it won't be here sooner rather than later. The iPad also lacks a camera; while you aren't going to use it as a camera, it would be nice for video conferencing applications.

In terms of the software, the iPad uses the iPhone SDK, not OS X. Scott could not go into details due to NDA obligations, but he did tell me that applications will have some mechanism to provide a different UI experience to iPhone/iPod Touch devices and iPads. Applications can scale up their UIs to look the same but bigger (which I would imagine is the default) like we're seeing in early demos; applications can also take advantage of the larger iPad screen to show more options and functionality. Smart developers will leverage this to create applications that offer better functionality on the iPad as a differentiating factor against their competition.

What about the iPad's capabilities and marketing?

The iPad is not a laptop replacement for business users or a smartphone replacement. While a business user might bring the iPad on, say, a long weekend vacation in lieu of the laptop, they aren't going to do a lot of real work with it. As soon as the user drags the docking station along, he'll end up being happier just bringing along his laptop.

In addition, the iPad is too large to replace smartphones; you aren't going to bring it to a meeting just to see when your next appointment is or to check your email while waiting in line for a hamburger.

The iPad is really aimed at consumers, not as a primary device, but as a secondary one. For example, you might bring it to the kitchen to look at a recipe and play music while you cook, or glance at a Web site during commercial breaks while watching TV. It will definitely be an effective boredom buster for kids in the backseat of the car on a long drive.

How developers can leverage the iPad

The conclusion here is that if you want to leverage the iPad to drive additional application downloads (both paid and free), keep in mind the following points:

  • Consumers are the main users.
  • This is not a laptop or a smartphone replacement.
  • Entertainment is the key thrust: games, multimedia, and "time waster" apps will be successful.
  • Take advantage of the extra screen real estate, but be sure to gracefully degrade on the iPhone.
  • The extra CPU power can enable new types of apps.
  • The lack of multitasking still makes certain classes of apps significantly less desirable.

Developers, what are your first impressions of the iPad?


Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides; he has a contract with OpenAmplify, which is owned by Hapax, to write a series of blogs, tutorials, and articles; and he has a contract with OutSystems to write articles, sample code, etc.


Get weekly development tips in your inbox Keep your developer skills sharp by signing up for TechRepublic's free Web Developer newsletter, delivered each Tuesday. Automatically subscribe today!