As some of you might be aware, Apple just recently released the iPad 2. Most people would agree that it was an incremental upgrade as opposed to any sort of revolutionary change. In his keynote speech, Steve Jobs did an excellent job of both emphasizing the advancements (thinner, faster, lighter, cameras) while minimizing the importance of the lack of dramatic improvements. In fact, one could say he was able to spin that as a strength. One key concept he mentioned was that he claimed Apple makes “Post-PC” devices. Engadget wrote an interesting article discussing this distinction and how it’s not entirely marketing. What the article hints at is that Apple believes that people no longer want devices or “tools”, they want experiences. In their view, those of us who focus on megahertz, RAM or graphical power are missing the point. Those are all simply vehicles for delivering a compelling experience. If one looks at Apple’s products, it can be seen that they consistently try their best to cause the device to disappear and be somewhat of an invisible vehicle for an experience. Millions of people seem to agree with this approach, and it has taken something eminently geeky like the concept of a “tablet” and made it cool and mainstream.
What does this have to do with OnLive? We would argue that OnLive has a very similar vision of the future. Apple is doing everything they can to make the device disappear, to be a vehicle for an experience. They are betting that people don’t want new gadgets, they want new experiences. And yet, Apple’s bread and butter is in selling gadgets, so they have to consistently release new devices that promise to get one closer and closer to that pure blissful experience. OnLive has taken the path of going straight to the source. They intend to make the device irrelevant.
Apple touted for its iPad 2 that they were able to increase the power of the CPU 2X and the graphics 9X, shrink the form factor and still maintain the same battery life. But still, they have to design the device in service of the components inside. It’s a manufacturing and technical feat that they can increase the power and still make the device disappear even more. What OnLive promises is that, technology, graphics, user interfaces, whatever can continue to improve, and it has no bearing on the method you use to consume the device. Imagine if Apple’s UI engineers and hardware stylists were given completely free reign to design a device that was entirely beholden to the providing an immersive user experience with no restrictions other than it has to have a fast internet connection. That’s the future that OnLive promises.
We can see they’re moving in this direction already. When OnLive was originally announced, it was greeted with skepticism by hardcore gamers and technical pundits. “That’s neat technology, but why do hardcore gamers need another system?”, they said. It may have been OnLive’s plan all along to test the service with PCs, Mac’s, and then in living rooms, to test the viability of the technology to deliver high quality content. But now what’s gotten most people excited is that OnLive promises to allow people to play the same games on tablets or smartphones. They have truly presented a service that presents an experience which can be consumed on nearly any device. Thus, OnLive is a perfect example of a “Post-PC” future. A future in which the “tool” or the device becomes inconsequential.
However, if OnLive is going to capture its potential place in this future, the company needs to begin thinking with experience in mind. The technology is relatively proven, now they need to focus all their energy on user experience. It is that delivery of experience that has allowed Apple to reach its position in the smartphone and tablet space. OnLive is currently too “Gamey”. Its design is functional, but definitely geeky. They need to begin envisioning alternate designs that conform to the device and which, as we’ve mentioned before, allow them flexibility to add on features like movies or whatever other content they want to provide. They need an artistic vision to the experience they want to deliver. Then, and only then, will they be able to solidify their position in the “Post-PC” space.
What do you think? Can OnLive improve its offering to provide a more user friendly and pleasant experience? Should they, or should they continue to focus on the hardcore? What potentials do you see for the service in a future where the design of the device is largely irrelevant to the visual quality of the experience being presented?