Achieving Steve Jobs' long-held dream of creating a tablet device as cool and useful as the one we've seen for years on science fiction shows now appears to be a dream realized, in the form of the iPad. Ironically, the iPad makes the iPhone -- Apple's game-changing technology of 2007, whose impact still reverberates through the wireless, mobile, and computing industries -- obsolete. And as the iPhone fades away as a short-lived marvel, so too will disappear the mobile Web.
Think about it: The iPad does all the neat stuff of the iPhone (OK, except for the camera), and it does so with a big screen that allows even richer applications and more compelling media experiences. It also works as a laptop replacement for the kind of basic work we do most of the time when we're on the road: working with email, Web pages, and Web forms; creating and editing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; catching up on our reading; and handling work tasks like order entry that today's iPhone apps only hint at.
The iPhone is a bad phone and a brilliant but now-old-school media device
The iPad doesn't make or receive calls. So what? Face it: As cool as it is to use an iPhone to surf the Web, check e-mail, play games, and run apps, it'll be cooler and more productive on an iPad. And since everyone seems to hate AT&T's phone coverage (it's always sucked in San Francisco, where I live, years before AT&T began blaming the iPhone users for its inadequate network) and have been frustrated with the iPhone's own phone-calling flaws -- everyone will be able to have their cake and eat it too: reliable phone service from someone else, and compelling data services over Wi-Fi and maybe one day even over AT&T's 3G network on the iPad.
So you'll gravitate very quickly away from the iPhone's once-groundbreaking capabilities and do them on your iPad. That turns your iPhone into just a phone -- but you won't pay AT&T $30 per month for that soon-to-be-occasional usage once you're paying $15 or $30 per month for 3G connectivity for your iPad.
I suspect most iPhone users won't renew their current data service plans with AT&T when they expire. They will instead get a cheap, reliable regular phone -- and won't miss the iPhone. The good news: That iPhone then becomes an iPod Touch with a camera, probably taking the place of one of your iPods. After all, there are some occasions when the smaller form factor is handy, such as on a crowded train or bus, for a quick check of your tip calculation at a restaurant, or checking your grocery list at the store. And if you have an iPod Touch, you'll likely keep using it as an über-iPod supplement to your iPad -- and be relieved it was a lot cheaper than an iPhone would have been.
You may think I'm nuts to expect such a dramatic change in the iPhone's position. But I'm serious. It was only three years ago that the iPhone up-ended the mobile market, making once-vaunted devices like the BlackBerry suddenly look like creaky old DOS systems.
Why there's no longer a need for the mobile Web
But consider how quickly the iPhone changed the paradigm for the Web and for smartphones. I believe the iPad will have just as dramatic and short-term effects. Only this time, it's the iPhone that will look out of date. And forget about the wannabes like the Palm Pre and the various Android devices. They're walking dead now.