iPad... who stands to lose the most if Apple wins

I promise this will be nothing like my previous, rambling post about the iPad. In fact, I plan on keeping it short and sweet simply because what just occurred to me should be really obvious to you once I state it.

I’ve argued, as have many others, that the main competitor to what Apple is trying to do is not Microsoft but Google. Everyone keeps framing the argument in terms of to what use the device will be put and what software (OS and apps) will prove to be the best approach for the most amount of people. But something had been bothering me about all this discussion; a feeling that there was another angle no one was talking about. It took a while, but the epiphany just struck…

Printing companies. The iPhone OS has never had a printing subsystem (at least not one that could be accessed) and the few apps out there that allow printing are severely hampered by the lack of multitasking. But really, how often would someone really want to print something out from their phone? The only thing that I could think of is if your phone is set up to read your office email, you are in a meeting without a laptop but you do have access to a printer. Not in any way is this a common scenario, thus why most people don’t even think about printing from their phone.

But pause for a moment and think about what Apple says they’re trying to do… create a new market segment in which the iPad is the only real (and thus dominant) player. In most ways, Apple is setting the standard for what will happen in this market for years to come (supposing they succeed, of course). Imagine if this takes off to such an extent that people begin to use these devices in business (I’m stretching, I know, but it could happen) as a way to travel light within the office building or as a way to keep a powerful desktop but not lose mobility.

What you would have is a bunch of people with highly connected hardware who can easily share documents either through iWork.com or through Google Docs or maybe even Windows Live Office (unlikely). Because documents can be viewed and modified, the need to print can be reduced to a large extent.

If Apple were to have built in printing to the device, what would be the point in having a dedicated reading device? Apple *wants* people to read on this thing, not read using dead trees. Of course, this would only apply to non-Microsoft devices as I can never see MSFT ditching the printing subsystem on any device for fear of losing the 1% of users who would actually use that function. Despite the progress Win7 has made in being more touch friendly, its still a desktop OS dressed up so that it can function passably for a night out on the town in some sleek little black case. (See most of their OS for examples of this behavior, which isn’t totally bad because it did win them a monopoly.) Devices that run a highly customized Linux variant ::coughChromeOScoughAndroidcough:: or Windows Mobile could do away with printing entirely and not miss it at all.

All that said, I think the release of the iPad will just put yet another nail into the coffin of on demand printing. It won’t kill it right away, but we’re talking about cultural shift here, not technological breakthrough. It won’t happen right away, it may not even be soon, but think about how the iPhone has changed your web browsing habits in just 3 years. What can the iPad do to your printing habits in exactly the same amount of time? Call me in 3 years and we’ll find out. Just don’t print this out to show me I am wrong.

Edit: Then again, if ArsTechnica is right, Apple might just destroy this argument themselves.