Amidst a flurry of hype and expectations, Apple recently announced its next big idea in the form of a touch-screen, media-centred tablet computer, the iPad. Reactions to the device have been mixed: some see a stylish but expensive netbook computer that lacks a keyboard and basic features. Others see the tablet as creating a new market niche, with an emphasis on convenience over versatility.
The most obvious competition the iPad faces is from the established market segment of netbooks: the small, inexpensive PCs that perform most tasks of a full size laptop, albeit with limited processing speeds.
Unlike the iPad, most netbooks have USB ports, replaceable batteries, the ability to run multiple programs simultaneously, built-in webcams and keyboards, and freedom to install programs of all types.
However, in the media release, Steve Jobs made a key distinction: the iPad is not intended to replace a netbook. Instead, he positions the device between smart phones and laptops; the next step in Apple’s desire to be seen as a maker of mobile devices, not just computers. The iPad is to be a convenient media portal; a device that resides on your kitchen or coffee table, or perhaps in your briefcase, that allows you to enjoy shows, e-books, photos and the Internet (via Wi-Fi or AT&T 3G data plan).
In this light, the iPad appears as an indulgence but also a device aimed at those with only a casual interest in technology. It is important to note that the successful iPhone was also never marketed on its technical specifications.
Pricing and the current recession are not insignificant here: the base model iPad will cost $499 USD, which is a large investment for a discretionary purchase. But Apple hopes that the added value of simple integration with its excellent and popular content delivery systems (iTunes, app store, newly announced iBooks) will convince buyers to commit.
With the mixed media reactions calming, Apple must now prove to consumers that the iPad is a must-have gadget when it ships this spring.
Ken Cummings is an honours B.Sc. student in his final year of undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga. The areas in which he has focused include Biology and Socio-Cultural Anthropology, the latter through which he enjoys examining contemporary human cultures. Ken is currently investigating Master’s programs and exploring his interest in photography.