Apple iPad: what it could be is more promising than what it is

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And so the iPad has been announced. And the sun still rises in the east.

I was glued to my Macbook,  following the various live blogs. I also managed to catch the live television coverage on CNBC’s US feed. The last time a similar thing happened in 2007, during the iPhone launch, I was elated. It was a high. Did I get the same elated feeling this time around? No. Like several tech watchers and bloggers have said, the iPad is not a revolutionary product. But it certainly isn’t a bummer like some Apple bashers and WinMo fanboys claim.

I think there is a concerted effort from Apple to create a market. As Sir Steve put it, Apple wants to be in the intersection of technology and liberal arts. Does Apple have a winner? That’s anybody’s guess. I think the chances are good. Damn good. There are enough and more naysayers (as was the case with the iPhone – Al Ries predicted that it would be a disaster) who think the iPad serves no purpose or has serious shortcomings to make any headway.

Who is it meant for?: ‘why would I carry this when I already have a phone and have a computer?’ is the common question. The simple answer is: it’s not meant for everybody. If you already have a laptop (which gives mobile connectivity and takes care of your computing need) and a smartphone (for calls and basic internet surfing and gaming) you will be hard pressed to justify an iPad. If you also have an Amazon Kindle, you are unlikely to see merit in such a device. The sweet spot which Apple refers to – in between a smart phone and a Netbook – doesn’t exisit today in my opinion. Steve Jobs should have included this slide in his presentation, but since he didn’t here’s my version of it:

The likely reaction to iPad from the 3 groups:

Bottom: ‘I want’!

Middle: ‘I don’t need an iPad! But I think I wan’t it! Wait, no…I don’t. Maybe I will check it out’.

Top: ‘WinMo and Win 7 rock! I am happy with my mobile and PC. What’s an iPad?’

Essentially, if you are sold on Apple products already  – especially the iPod Touch or the iPhone, you make a great candidate for iPad. I think the UI of the iPod Touch/iPhone would already be familiar and the promised user experience of the iPad would be a smooth transition. As Milind (an iPhone fan) of Smoking Apples, puts it:

I’ve never really liked notebooks. All I’ve ever used the MacBook for was surf the internet, and when forced to, a little bit of coding is as far as I’ll go. I’ve been waiting for an Apple tablet, and now that I see it, it fits in totally with what I’ve wanted. It’s cheap, does internet really well, and will be an awesome media consumption device. I don’t expect to use it to play games (I don’t even use my iPhone for that), nor would I think of doing heavy graphics work on it. As of right now, the iPhone is more of an internet communicator to me than a phone. Given the iPad, the iPhone will act as a backup for when I can’t carry my iPad along. To read up on my Instapaper queue, weed through my feeds with a slick RSS reader, and reply to email, is just what the iPad was made for, and I want that.

There are scores like Milind for whom the iPhone/iPod is inseparable and for them this is a great backup option. For Macbook users like me, this could be great hybrid device – bringing in the best of the Macbook (web surfing experience, keyboard, productivity) and the extras like the iBook Store, App Store on steroid, music and video. Some have dubbed the iPad ‘an oversized iPod Touch’ dismissively. So what? The great looks, superb web surfing experience and the enhancements – all promise a great user experience.Those who own a Blackberry or high end smartphone and/or Windows laptop would probably be the fence sitters. The naysayers with little chance of buying the iPad would be mid-priced/popular mobile phone users and Windows users would probably be the hardest to convert.

I think the iPad has good chances of being a success (especially in the West), because:

– Captive initial audience : there are 75 million units of iPhone and iPod touch worldwide. Anyone who has used one of those will know how intuitive the user experience is.

– Unique content: when the iPhone App Store was announced, who would have imagined that it would have an app for bird watchers, so many genuinely useful apps? That it woud make the iPhone useful even in the field of telemedicine? Similarly, content specially made for the iPad from periodicials, journals, text books, gamers could make it far more appealing than a smart phone, Netbook or iPad touch.

When it comes to India, I predict it to be a non-starter – if Apple ever chooses to officially launch here, that is. Why?

– No iPhone halo or Apple halo

– We want the comfort of a device that claims to do everything rather than a device that actually does few things extremely well

– pricing: base price of $499 means at least 35k in India. Laptops start at that price here.

My biggest gripe with the iPad is the lack of multi-tasking. Not being able to check your Twitter feed while say, working on a document on an iPad, is a huge let down. One hopes that future versions have this option along with others like a camera. But what the hell, the bloody thing looks great. Drool.

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  1. that is a great point of view… I am one of the people who loves the ipad and doesn't see the point in it… I mean we have laptops and iphones and gaming consoles. it could be alot better than it is as you said… but still its so cool that you dont care and you still want to have one.

  2. I think to predict the success of the ipad in a given country, you need to look at the media it is going to carry.

    Early last year, Silicon Insider calculated that the New York Times could halve their subscription costs by giving each subscriber a Kindle, rather than delivering hard copies. Newspapers around the world are failing every week as people stop buying papers and the ad money which covers much of their costs gets spread more thinly.

    India doesn’t have these problems. Newspapers cost a couple of rupees and are available on your doorstep or every second street corner, and the readership of most papers is increasing, or at least not nose diving. After the costs of purchasing a digital reader, switching to a digital format of newspapers wouldn’t save me money or time. Another advantage of a paper format is that it can be shared among many people. Can you imagine someone on a train passing their ipad around so that strangers can read the sports section?

    Similarly with books. If every new, popular book is available at traffic signals at low cost, then the only advantage of a digital book reader is the ability to order unpopular books that aren’t carried by Indian bookstores, which is obviously a small market.

    Same again with music/video. Until the low cost and ready availability of pirate media is removed, there is limited reason for people to own a device that is focused on the purchase and management of these media.

    • Chris, agree totally. It is also tied in to what the newspaper properties are doing to build their online versions. The ‘web exclusives’ of major Indian publications are nothing to write home about. Coupled with low cover prices it is going to be a huge road block for iPad in India.

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