February 8, 2010
Here are four reasons why the Apple iPad is a guaranteed success.
1. The stores. The stores are Apple's main weapon. Anyone else can make a tablet for Web surfing, book reading, movie viewing, whatever: Dell, H-P, Acer, Google, Amazon, Microsoft or Lenovo. But none of those companies have the stores. There are two reasons why this is important.
First, this is the kind of product that people need to see and feel in person, in order to decide whether to take the plunge -- it's a new category of product, after all.
Second, Apple has already paid for the stores, and they can easily fit several more products, which means that it is almost a guarantee that any product Apple launches will become an incremental financial success for Apple. People who walk into the Apple stores may or may not buy an iPad right away, but those who don't buy an iPad may walk out with something else under their arm -- a MacBook or iPod Touch, for example.
2. iTunes. Nevermind that iTunes works on a PC of any kind -- including tablet PCs from companies such as Dell and Lenovo or that it synchronizes with every BlackBerry. The public associates iTunes with Apple, and every new product building on the iTunes ecosystem has an automatic head start against the competition.
3. The AT&T deal. Apple did three very smart things with its choice of wireless options:
A) An unlimited plan for $30. This is extremely significant, because wireless carriers such as Verizon Wireless have recently been viewed as unlikely to offer any more unlimited-anything plans. In fact, this may have just been the reason why Verizon didn't get the iPad deal.
B) Pay-as-you-go service. No subscription needed. You buy a month of unlimited service for $30 when you think you need it. The lack of yet another two-year commitment is a very consumer-friendly option.
C) Oh, by the way, if you choose to save $130 by buying the WiFi-only version of the iPad, you can get it with service from Verizon or Sprint/Clearwire. Huh? Yes, by buying a device such as the Novatel MiFi or the Sierra Wireless Overdrive 3G/4G cellular-to-WiFi converters, you can use your iPad (plus four other devices simultaneously) on Verizon or Sprint/Clearwire. You pay $60 per month, but amortized over as many as five devices you could argue that it's only $12 per month per device.
4. The iPad puts Apple on offense in the race to a completely new interface for much of our PC experience. For the last 15 or more years, the PC experience has not changed dramatically interface-wise.
One could certainly conceive that just like the PC market changed dramatically from 1984 to 1995, it is about to change yet again. In this context, it seems smart for Apple to take a chance with the iPad.
Is the iPad perfect? Of course not. Some complaints have to do with things such as the screen and the resulting battery life. A bright color screen yielding 10 hours just isn't the same product as a monochrome screen worth of ePaper yielding hundreds of hours. But that's a design choice, where Apple's choice to make a broad-based Internet-connected device seems like the obvious one. What's not a design choice as such is the lack of multitasking and Adobe Flash, but those things can be fixed.
The bottom line on the iPad: It will be a financial success for Apple, driving traffic to the Apple stores and putting the rest of the industry on the defensive.