iPad’s Climb Up the Disruptive Innovation Cycle

Blockbuster’s recent bankruptcy filing was yet another chapter in the Clayton Christensen annals of disruptive innovation. A major brand with convenient locations that got disrupted by a website and the U.S. Mail. Note that we’re seeing the backend of the disruption, when it all seems so clear.

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How easy is it to see such a disruption beforehand? “Not very” would be the honest answer. What distinguishes a truly disruptive technology or business model from a flash-in-the-pan idea? Keep in mind the basis of a disruptive innovation:

A technology initially addressing low-end market needs that slowly moves upstream as its capabilities evolve.

From that perspective, think of all the things out there that have stayed low level and did not disrupt industries. Disruptive innovation is like a Category 5 hurricane: powerful, slow-moving and rare.

Which brings me to the Apple iPad. Are we witnessing a disruptive tropical depression?


The graphic below (via wikipedia reproduced on the TouchDraw iPad app) describes the levels of usage for disruptive technologies.

Disruptive Innovation Cycle

The target of the iPad here is the global laptop market. In that context, the beautiful, sublime, innovative iPad is solidly…in the low quality usage band of the chart above.

What represents the iPad’s “low quality use”?

  • Email
  • Surfing the web
  • Facebooking
  • Tweeting
  • Playing music

“Low quality” is not a pejorative term here. It’s a reflection of the computing power needed for the listed activities. This is the iPad’s entre into the laptop market. Consider how much of your own digital activity is covered by those items listed above. IPad already offers a great experience here.

Indeed, the Best Buy CMO recently confirmed the iPad’s move into this end of the market.


When you see those low quality uses, they’re primarily consumption oriented. If they are production oriented, they’re pretty basic. But there are things that can be done at the next level, medium quality use.

Games are well done on the iPad. They take advantage of the touch aspect of the device. In my opinion, games on the iPad are quickly moving up the quality ladder.

For the office, there are Apple’s apps. The Pages word processing app looks like a winner. For document production, Pages appears to fill the bill. Especially without a Microsoft Word app on the iPad. The other major office apps – spreadsheets and presentations – are available as well.

I really like the graphics program TouchDraw on the iPad. You can create very nice graphics, for business use, with just your finger. The simple graphic above was done with TouchDraw.

While I couldn’t possibly survey all apps that address different activities, I get the sense that a number of them qualify for medium or high quality uses. The question is the breadth of apps addressing the “power use cases” of laptop owners.

Finally, a word about the keyboard. I love it. I find it very easy to type out this post. It’s not without its imperfections, but generally I’m flying around it as I type. One disclaimer: I hunt-n-peck to type. I’ve never learned real typing.


In my experimenting to see how much I could do with an iPad instead of a laptop, I’ve found several areas that need to be shored up to move the overall experience to the medium quality use level.

Safari usage: Safari is the browser used for the web on the iPad. It is surprising how many sites aren’t built for usage via Safari. For example, wordpress.com, surprisingly in my view, doesn’t work well with Safari. Google Docs? Similar issue. Doesn’t work well, or at all, with Safari. I’m embedding HTML tags in this post-by-email blog post.

I cannot accept an event into my Google Calendar via Safari. I cannot create a WebEx meeting from Safari, and the WebEx iPad app doesn’t allow you to create an event. In short, doing business via iPad is tough.

As the iPad continues to gain market share, expect better support by websites for Safari. Which will dramatically improve the end user experience with the iPad.

Graphics uploads: Want to add a graphic to a document, presentation, wiki, blog or email? Hard to do. We’re used to having graphics on our local drive, and a simple button to upload/embed that graphic.

Where’s my master upload button on the iPad?!!

Answer: there isn’t one. The graphic above is one that I emailed to Flickr, grabbed the embed code and pasted it into this post. Which works fine for publicly accessible graphics. But not so much in the work context.

I’d like to see the native Photos app become a universal location for accessing graphics in any app.

Stuff at my fingertips: The ability to easily click around different apps on the PC tray at the bottom of my screen, and to click quickly among different websites via tabs, is a great productivity benefit. If you’re like me, you’re zipping around easily.

With iPad, it’s slower going back-n-forth. A lot of clicking the home button to get to other apps, or clicking the button on Safari to view other sites. Which is a pain, reducing the pace of work.


So the iPad is still fundamentally in the low quality usage band, but with some clear indications of moving up. I’ve taken to using my iPad for my non-work hours computing needs.

My full expectation is that slowly, but surely, Apple and the third party app developers will improve the utility of the iPad experience. It will take some time.

But the key observation is this: Apple has the time to enhance the iPad. Two points:

That’s why I expect iPad to get better over time: market momentum. How about you? Are you thinking the iPad, and even the new crop of competitor tablets, will disrupt the laptop industry?

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Sent from my iPad


About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

15 Responses to iPad’s Climb Up the Disruptive Innovation Cycle

  1. Rick Ladd says:

    Excellent perspective , Hutch. I agree . . . with most of what you’ve written here (I’m a touch typist and the iPad’s keyboard has forced me to switch to a moderated hunt-and-peck style). I wrote about my early experiences with the iPad at http://wp.me/paiNK-4a, but didn’t have much to say about the apps and the possibility of the device being disruptive; at least not directly.

    It does seem clear to me, however, that the iPad has nowhere to go but up! I’ve experienced all the shortcomings you mentioned, but it hasn’t dissuaded me in the least from using mine. In fact, some of them have deepened my resolve to become more proficient using what power it does provide. I’m currently experimenting with the Bento app for organizing myself. I’m also looking forward to the upcoming OS upgrade.

    • Thanks Rick. One other thought. Seeing Android taking a bigger market share than iPhone makes me wonder if there will be a tablet that overtakes iPad one day. Either way, it’s the tablet experience that is disrupting the laptop market.

      • Rick Ladd says:

        Unless you’re an investor or work for one or another of the companies involved, I suspect it really doesn’t matter who’s providing the platform. What is important – and disruptive – is the ubiquity, the connectivity, the availability of information and applications that make one’s interactions with the world easier, more organized, more complete, etc. I can’t wait ’til someone makes one that interfaces directly with my brain! Probably won’t live that long, though .

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  5. digiredo says:

    Hi Hutch,

    Great piece which I fully agree with. Yet another thing the iPad has done is really open the door for innovation in theis space. Why? Because for some reason IT people ‘just get it’ and buying iPads themselves. Heck, even CEO’s are getting excited when they see an iPad. Half of the Fortune 100 companies are ‘experimenting’ in some way with the iPad , and that is very, very significant. When I see my daughter of 2 years old playing with the iPad as if it was nothing I can clearly see the disruption with my own two eyes.

    I’m into geek-stuff for almost 25 years now, but it’s only now that I’m starting to believe that the future has arrived. These are indeed exciting times for companies.

    I wrote another blogpost about how we use of iPads within our organization. It’s indeed rudimentary but it works (blogpost here: http://digiredo.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/how-to-use-an-ipad-in-business-right-now/). We had the intention to give a group of sales reps an iPad so they could use it to promote a campaign and to test it. After the campaign they should returmn it so that also other groups could use it for their campaigns. Not so. There are already several people who refuse to return their iPad. “You can pry it from my cold dead fingers…” 😉

  6. Rick Ladd says:

    Hi Hutch:

    After meeting with two Elementary School Principals this past week, I wanted to add one more observation. Without my prompting, both of them – upon seeing I had an iPad – averred it was the future of education. I agree, at least insofar as the concept of personal devices like the iPad are going to revolutionize the way we learn. It’s already changing, and definitely enhancing, the way I learn and the way I interact with my various constituencies.

    • My first grade son now has “homework”. One thing is to do math so he can add/subtract up to 20 before heading to second grade. Rather than do flash cards or some other traditional method, I’ve downloaded a couple educational games. He loves ’em. He’s learning math and having at the same time.

      I see the iPad becoming a very important educational tool.

      • Rick Ladd says:

        I’ve done the same for my youngest, who’s also in the first grade, and now she won’t leave me alone. I’m looking forward to being able to justify purchasing one (or whatever makes sense at the time) for both of my kids. At least then they’ll leave me in peace to use mine.

  7. Lance says:

    Hey Hutch,

    Good article. Have you used DropBox? It may help to address your issue with having access to graphic files. Not a perfect solution, but perhaps better than using Flickr?



  8. Moeck says:

    Nice article…..Just curious when will you use your deep insights to make Spigit products easy to use, superior user experience?

  9. Good article. Have you used DropBox? It may help to address your issue with having access to graphic files. Not a perfect solution, but perhaps better than using Flickr?

  10. I think that , you have a great article here. I really like your blog.

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