Skip to content

How The iPad [Did or Didn’t] Transform Marketing: Part 1 – Customer Empowerment

What device are you reading this on, right now? Mobile? Tablet? Laptop? Desktop?

If you answered tablet, then perhaps you’re using one of the 300 million iPads that has been sold since its release in 2010. In fact, the Apple iPad Air 2 and Apple iPad Mini were among the top five best-selling consumer electronics during the 2015 holiday season.

There’s no doubt that the iPad has been a consumer adoption success of unprecedented proportion, reaching its sales peak after the release of the iPad Air model in 2013. But the future isn’t looking too bright: tablet sales started declining, down 8% in the last two years.

Enter the hybrid.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), hybrid tablets, like the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro, are expected to boost the steadily declining tablet market – a boon for Apple AND Microsoft.

Are we at the cusp of another market transformation? 

This question inspired me to look back at an article I wrote with two colleagues following Apple’s launch of the first iPad in early 2010: “iPad, The Killer Platform.”

We had originally set out to forecast the impact that the device would have on business. Our hypothesis: The iPad was more than just another consumer electronics fad. We believed that the iPad would signal the beginning of a transformative era for marketing and business computing.

As such, we made a series of predictions that the iPad would create entirely new customer experiences that no one envisioned, that it would allow companies to monetize their assets in new ways never thought of before, and that it would enable people to solve complex, intractable business problems.

In short, as the title implies, we said the iPad and other tablet technologies would become “Killer Platforms” (as defined by Chunka Mui in his 2006 paper entitled “Killer Platforms and Emergent Knowledge: The Spark for Information Advantage”).

Were our predictions accurate?

How applicable are they to the future of tablets? It’s time to revisit our predictions for the iPad to see if it has lived up to our expectations or failed. This 5-part series will review the business application areas that we identified as being ripe for transformation back in 2010: 

  1. Customer Empowerment
  2. Complex Sales
  3. Talent Development and Training
  4. Entertainment and Edutainment
  5. Value Chain Optimization

Along the way, I’ll also make some new predictions as to where the iPad and tablet technologies may be headed and highlight transformational opportunities on the horizon to help companies #MoveTopRight.

1. Customer Empowerment

Let’s get started going over the predictions about the iPad being a vehicle for the customer to “take the reins,” literally. We considered that the iPad could be customized to provide a more personalized, convenient and immersive experience, enabling a unique brand-to-customer bond and allowing the customer to feel empowered and more likely to behave in a manner desired by the brand. We predicted that the convergence of visualization, self-guided experiences and payment processing enable the customer empowerment scenario.

VISUALIZATION: Fact or Fiction?

Tablet technology allows the consumer to have a virtual dressing room, so that she can see how an article of clothing would look on her. It also allows for consumers to view how a piece or furtniture might look in his living room. It also gives the customer a chance to visualize choices in context, changing colors, accessories and many other variables.

Here are a few retail categories where we believed iPad apps or other tablet technologies would start popping up to empower customers:

• Apparel –business suits to couture to wedding gowns and formal wear

• Accessories and watches

• Furniture

• Home improvement/renovation – kitchens, bathrooms, flooring

• High-end luxury products

Fact or Fiction?

FACT. Tablets have become a key component to the customer experience, encouraging interactivity and engagement, through visualization and customization of products. Check out below some real examples in retail categories that were part of our predictions:

Mercedes-Benz developed iPad apps that enable customers to explore the models through exclusive virtual tours, interactive galleries, vehicle customization tools and a library of videos that bring the innovations to life. The AMG GT app, for example, takes customer to a compelling experience through a ride around the demanding Laguna Seca Raceway in California in full HD. It allows customers to get closer than ever to some of the brand’s most significant models.

Rooms To Go uses the tablet technology to place a particular furniture chosen by the customer into a real home-environment. It allows comparing different colors and accessories to facilitate the purchase decision.

Acustom Apparel, a custom menswear store, customizes clothing with the help of a 3-D body scanner. The store uses a digital measuring technology to gather 200,000 data points and make a 3-D body model that feeds algorithms to create truly customized clothing.


In 2010, we had suggested that the iPad would offer potential for leveraging emergent knowledge, presenting special messages or offers, educational information and recommendations… all based on the user’s location and profile or preferences. It could be a highly efficient engagement opportunity for the merchant and a compelling shopping experience for the customer. We had also considered the need to focus on thoughtful, relevant and integrated messaging to not only enhance the customer experience but also build loyalty and advocacy.

Retail, restaurants, hospitality and education venues were among our assumptions with reference to the types of businesses where iPad apps could enable self-guided customer experiences.

Fact or Fiction?

FACT. The iconic Atlanta steakhouse mentioned in the original article, Bone’s, is not the only best practice case for how the iPad can enable immersive, relevant experiences that strengthen the bond between brand and customer. Many other businesses leveraged the tablet technology to enable customers’ self-guided experiences and generate incremental revenue, considering that consumers are less interested in having a sales associate interrupt them and more willing to serve themselves as needed.

Nordstrom plans to spend $1.2 billion on tech by 2018, including e-commerce, fulfillment centers, and in-store service enhancements. The upscale retailer created smart fitting rooms equipped with tablet technology for barcode scanning, so if the customer needs an item in another size or color, she can see for herself if it is in stock and ask for an associate to bring it. The app was designed to offer a simple, fast and intuitive way to browse and buy merchandise on the iPad.

Mayo Clinic uses ipads to empower patients of adult cardiac surgery, by providing detailed descriptions of their treatment plans and clinical milestones, educational materials and a daily “To Do” list. Patients can also report their progress and share any problems with their providers. This standardized practice model significantly reduced variation and improved predictability of care in adult cardiac surgery.


The use of iPads enable associates (or even customers themselves) to perform price and inventory checks or take payment anywhere in the store. The “Square,” which allows merchants to take payment wherever there’s an Internet connection, creates not only an enhanced customer experience but also notable improvements in efficiencies. We suggested that specialty retailers could loan iPads to their customers in the store as a means of further empowering them and extending their in-store experience beyond kiosks and self-serve checkout stations.

Fact or Fiction?

FACT. Payment processing not only enables mobility but also self-guided experiences.  The “Square” has evolved and now offers different platforms or ways for you to process customer payments. No more clunky register.

The Delta terminal in New York City’s LaGuardia airport went through a $50 million renovation project, adding upscale features including ipads at every table across all restaurants and lounges.  Passengers use the iPad mounted on the table to order the meal, check e-mails, play games and pay the bill. With the iPads, travelers can still sit near the gate but order food or products from their seats and have them delivered. According to the Airport Revenue News, sales per passenger are well above other airports ($3 to $5 above the $5.80 spent on average).

Kate Spade clients use the iPads to check product pricing, instead of looking for the price tags. It allows the store to quickly change the price of products depending on demand conditions.  Moreover, shoppers can check stock availability, receive recommendations based on previous purchases or even for adding features to the product they’re considering that day.



The businesses cases shared in this article validate our predictions made in 2010 for the customer empowerment application. Many businesses use the tablet technology to enable visualization, self-guided experiences and payment processing, creating a compelling customer experience.

In part 2 of our series, we’ll review the use of iPads for complex sales, such as luxury products, real state and technology. Were our predictions fact or fiction?  Stay tuned to find out.

If you enjoyed this post, please share and comment below. Signup for blog updates here and follow us @TopRightPartner for ideas on how to #MoveTopRight.

Connect with Dave Sutton:

Leave a Comment