Rarely has a product announcement been as anticipated, hyped, and speculated upon as much as Apple’s launch of the iPad last week. One would have thought the device had the potential to cure world hunger and put an astronaut on Mars at the same time.
While the iPad met with many oohs-and-ahhhs, some yawns, and some derision over the name, it is likely a harbinger not just of the path of future devices but also our interaction with data, particularly visual data. Kevin Paul Yapjoco has written about this eloquently on his blog, Analytics Bits:
“How can a consumer-oriented device such as the iPad be used for analyzing business data?”, you might ask. If you haven’t seen the Numbers app being demoed by Phil Schiller during the unveling of the iPad (it’s at 1h 6m), go see it first and come back here.
Not long ago, I’ve written about how tablet computing can usher in a new generation of applications for visually interactive Business Intelligence. I wrote that one of the missing pieces was not just a tablet computer such as the iPad but software designed for a tablet platform from the ground-up.
Apple, with its iPad, has set the stage for the next-generation method of interacting and consuming business data.
Well, that may be stretching things just a bit. I think that the stage was set by CNN during the last election cycle when its reporters, John King in particular, could take multiple dives into reams of data with a few touches and drags of his fingers on an interactive screen (here he is more recently analyzing State of the Union address tweets). Want to know how left-handed women were voting in DeKalb County at 7 p.m.? It seemed that King could give you the answer in a nano-second.
What the iPad has done, as Apple has done so well before with the iPod, iTouch, and iPhone, is bring forward a technology packaged in such a way that it fires the popular imagination. Apple is exceptional at making technology both accessible and limitless. They democratize the spectacular. They let us all hold the magic wand. Watch someone who, even now, gets their first iPhone: they can’t put it down. They want to show you all of the apps your other iPhone addicted friends and colleagues have already shown you months earlier. They want to do everything with it.
It is somewhat reminiscent of what the spreadsheet did a couple of decades ago (albeit in frumpy school marm fashion rather than with Lady Gaga-ish glitz): it let lots of people play with calculations and data. The iPad and the applications that are developed for it will do the same for visual data.
What does this mean for analytics pros? First it means you need to ramp up your ability to visualize data (several previous posts on this topic are a great place to start). Second, you need to manage the expectations as what you can, and cannot, deliver. If your CEO or other senior business leader gets their hand on an iPad and begins to see data (any data) beautifully displayed, you had best be ready. You might want to find some resources that can help you visualize data as appropriate and talk to your software vendors to see if they are planning any iApps of which you can take advantage. Third, keep your eyes on this topic as it evolves.
Are you finding more requests for visual data? Have you already signed up to get an iPad? Are you already deploying data and analysis through apps for the iPhone, Blackberry or other device?