For months, we have reported rumors of an Apple tablet computer. Our rumors were confirmed last week during a major press conference, when CEO Steve Jobs showed off the iPad. Since that time, the reaction to the iPad has been lukewarm at best.
One of the main criticisms that the iPad is facing is not its price tag, but its practicality for consumers. For those looking for a laptop, will they be satisfied by an iPad? Probably not. Will students pick an iPad over a netbook that runs Windows 7? Probably not. Will Apple enthusiasts who already have an iPhone or iPod Touch be buying this unit to add to their household? Probably not. There are a lot of groups that Apple is aiming for with this unit that are probably going to pass on paying a minimum of $499 to get the latest “cool gadget” from Apple.
The overwhelming perspective of the bloggers at the press conference was that it simply looks like a giant iPhone. Other immediate on-site negative vibes from bloggers included that the apps for the iPad seem poorly optimized for the new screen size. Another critique of the iPad was its thickness. While the Kindle DX is a third of an inch thick, the iPad is a half-inch thick, which makes it heavier and less portable. Others mentioned that having a full QWERTY keyboard with the iPad is a nice touch, but will be murder on hands and wrists in ergonomic terms. A big miss was also the lack of any SD storage slot to add pictures or data.
Nobody is claiming that the iPad is a revolutionary device that will help redefine the portable computing market. Apple has simply presented it as something to sit in between the iPhone and the low-end MacBook laptop. What Apple failed to do was tell us exactly why we needed something in between those spaces. The iPhone has it all; you can use it as a phone and as a computer to do tasks such as e-mail and web browsing. Since it’s ultra-portable by being able to fit easily in your pocket or purse, what’s the incentive to buy an iPad?
That’s precisely the question that everyone is trying to answer at this point. All of us in the industry were so busy asking, “Will Apple come out with a tablet?” that we forgot to ask, “Should Apple come out with a tablet?” Clearly, the iPad will not have mass-market appeal. There’s simply no reason for everyday users to invest their money in one. If they want a laptop, there are plenty of choices out there. If they want a portable smart device, they can get an iPod Touch or iPhone. If they want a killer e-book reader, the Amazon Kindle is down to $259 and won’t kill their eyes with a backlit LED screen.
There’s obvious potential in the iPad for specialized industries like the medical field. It’s very easy to see medical apps making their way for the device and having doctors use it while treating patients. However, this type of specialized application is far removed from the target demographics that have made Apple successful in educational and general home consumer sales.
Also, there’s one more important thing to consider with the iPad. Apple consumers are keenly aware that first generation devices are never the ones to buy. Like we saw with the iPhone, in less than a year, a newer and faster model was offered at a lower price. With glaring holes in the first generation iPad of no webcam, no Adobe Flash support, and no simultaneous application support, the device seems almost designed to be upgraded in early 2011.
All things considered, there is the wow factor that the iPad certainly brings with it. Apple will certainly sell its share of them, but will it be the next big thing for Apple or just another small specialty device with a devoted following? In the coming months, consumers will answer that question with their pocketbooks.