|iPad versus the World
||[Apr. 12th, 2010|06:00 pm]
Well, I've decided to join the masses of media writers who put out reviews, previews, and predictions of a device none of them own (or hadn't owned, at least, until about a week ago). I can have an opinion too, right? I will state right now there is a great deal of speculation and assumptions in this opinion, so please don't take anything as fact. These are just my thoughts.
Anyway, before we can discuss the iPad, first we need to touch upon the netbook -- this is a category the iPad is intended to overlap and replace. The netbook is essentially a small, lightweight, long-lasting machine that's intended to be portable enough to take to town without breaking the bank (or one's back). They're for the connected traveller, and are designed to fulfill basic tasks such as e-mail, light web browsing, and even lighter word processing. They're bigger than blackberry devices and are therefore much more comfortable to use, and fill a gulf between smartphone and laptop.
However, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of netbook buyers are not actually looking for an ultra-portable work machine -- rather, they're people who're just looking for the cheapest laptops they can buy (and to be clear, most people don't need CPUs and GPUs capable of rendering the universe at whim). Alternately, and coming from the other direction, the economical prices of netbooks have allowed people who otherwise wouldn't invest in portable machines the opportunity to purchase one. That said, netbooks have already leapt in size once, and manufacturers are looking at another size increase to 11.6" - the margins are more favourable, and this lets them escape artificial limitations which were put in place to protect other segments of the markets (though really, whether these limitations are still beneficial are up to debate).
What the iPad seems to do is target the high end of the compact device market - one that's already home to both netbooks and e-readers. Apple gets to release a premium product (can we say 'cachet?') without having to crouch down into the margin wars of the netbook market. It's sexy, it's unique, and although it may not have the utility of a netbook, I doubt it is intended to. It does exactly what it was designed to do -- conveniently deliver media (hello, wifi, howdy, 3G) no matter where you go, in a body that's streamlined and boiled down to essential features. It allows for a rich web browsing experience, delivers various forms of media, and allows for e-mail access and [very?] light word processing on the go.
Furthermore, it does not cannibalize Apple's laptop products, can't challenge the iPhone, and although you can make a case where there may be some overlap with Apple's iPod products, I suggest that its sheer size and price premium ensures that different buyers will be looking at different devices. I think what we're looking at is a case where Apple is attempting to create a new need for a new device, similar to Sony's walkman in the previous century. Of course, as these are still pioneering times, most people - users, developers, pop culture artists - are still thinking about how the iPad can fulfill other needs and replicate other devices rather than standing on its own. Being the jack-of-all-trades isn't necessarily a poor position to be in at present, though I do feel that until it can truly carve its own niche, desire for the product may be limited.
Moving on, here's where the netbook aspect becomes important -- assuming I'm correct that many people who're after netbooks just want cheap laptops, how appealing will the iPad be to this particular market? My guess is that any overlap will be limited, and that Apple will consume a different audience. The question then becomes whether or not this other audience will bite.