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Apple Anxious About the iPad's Success

If you had to describe the appearance of Apple (AAPL), chances are you'd use the word cool. Generally the association is stylish, but I also see Apple cool as in being outwardly calm and collected. It's all part of the control mantra, but when you hear the stories about the legendary efforts that the company uses to rein in the press and employees as well as the Steve Jobs rages, you start to sense the anger and, yes, fear that underlie the confidence and permeate the organization. And there's a good reason: Lots of people still don't see why they should bother buying an iPad. Who needs another gadget? And for Apple, that's really bad news.

There are signs that Apple is increasingly worried about the future of the iPad:

I'm not suggesting that the iPad can't be a success -- far from it, although triumph is anything but certain. Through a long series of selected news leaks, Apple had built enormous anticipation for something that Jobs himself called a new category of device. And those who have been around long enough will remember Apple's original tablet computer, the Newton. It was a commercial disaster. Apple badly wants the iPad to succeed.

With the stakes so high, there are factors facing Apple that could make the most relaxed and certain of people concerned. I can't remember another time in the recent past when so many of the people who usually support Apple's efforts were offering mixed impressions of a product launch. The technical criticisms, including lack of Flash (probably because Apple wants all video viewing to go through iTunes), have been harsh for a device that isn't even on store shelves to test. And then there was that "study" claiming that "iPad hoopla fails to convince buyers." Although I think the numbers were statistically bogus, it's the sort of report that can heighten worry of executives.

You'd have to be superhuman to ignore such factors, and the people at Apple aren't donning capes and bounding over buildings. They are plenty concerned. And when it comes to small-form computers, there is plenty of competition. According to DisplaySearch, mini-notebook TFT LCD panel shipments jumped 603 percent from 2008 to 2009. Consumers have lots of choices.

In fact, I can't imagine how Apple could be unconcerned over any new product launch. That would be a sign of inept management, and executives there are pretty smart. But the stakes are higher than ever before. Although the iPod and iPhone allowed the company to expand its reach beyond the traditional "faithful," those additional customers aren't so closely and unwaveringly tied in. Apple managers are afraid of losing the influence they seemed to have gained. And this time, you can see them sweat.

Image via stock.xchng user Genkaku, site standard license.