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Apple iPad Not Looking So Mighty After All

As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I'm no Apple (AAPL) fan boy, and have leveled plenty of criticism in its direction. But with the first information about the iPad coming out, I thought that Steve Jobs had led things into a new and interesting direction that gave the company a chance at enticing many people who might otherwise buy into a Windows netbook or laptop. As more details emerge, I'm going to state that I was likely wrong. Habit and the desire to control things seem to have driven Apple into some critical design errors that will mitigate what might have been possible and leave the iPad as something for the Faithful.

Start with the name. It seems minor at first, but I cannot count the number of women I know, and many additional ones on Twitter and elsewhere online, who have asked, "Don't they even talk to women out there?" Among a big portion of the computer buying public, iPad might as well be iTampon, and indicates how insular the culture in Cupertino can be. Trying to start a revolution by being incredibly off-putting to a large segment of the very people you want to recruit seems foolish.

The foolishness continues in the technical specs. Apple had an enormous hurdle to clear, because Steve Jobs wanted to create a new product category, as he said. Only, I'd argue that the company's innovative streak, clearly strong, has always been in building on existing categories. It added a GUI to computers, but only after XEROX had. It created the iPod after there were already many MP3 players on the market. The iPhone is hardly the first smartphone. Inventive and innovative? Yes. But Apple's success has been in expanding on categories, not creating them.

When you're creating a product category, you have to design the item to reduce the potential adoption problems, and so that you're delivering what you claim to offer. But one of the main uses that Jobs mentioned during yesterday's demo, browsing the web, immediately falls apart because, as my BNET colleague Damon Brown pointed out, there's still no Adobe (ADBE) Flash for the device. You'd think that after all the criticism it had received for the lack on the iPhone, it might have made some efforts. But no, it didn't. That knocks out many crucial web sites as well as some popular games.

Want to get to iTunes for music or apps? You apparently have to physically sync this puppy to a computer. (At least, that's the impression I have, not yet having seen an iPad in person.) Granted, it can be a Windows machine, but it's got Wi-Fi built in, so why must you use a cable? And if you're out on the road, what do you do? Plus, if you want to back up data, it's the same story, and with the size of storage, you know that's going to be necessary. And it's only got 256MB of RAM with no multi-tasking. Maybe more memory isn't necessary, because, after all, you can't multi-task, but the form factor says to consumers, "You get more than with a phone." Only you don't.

The proprietary battery set-up is not user replaceable, which means buy the Apple Care warranty or shell out however much it will cost for Apple to do the swap when it's necessary. That's more money to the cost, including the money for a data plan (if you want more than Wi-Fi), so now instead of starting at about $500, the opening price is closer to $900, which makes it too expensive for what it offers. And the price keeps going up. Want to connect a memory card? You need to buy an optional device. Want to use a keyboard? Buy the more expensive docking station (and forget about a keyboard designed to travel.) Forget about a camera or web cam, as that's not an option.

But the biggest sign of trouble I see is that a good number of Mac lovers in the press find themselves lukewarm about the product. As Jon Stokes at Ars Technica put it:

In the end, Apple has done something with the iPad that I didn't think they were capable of: made it worth my while to look around, or possibly even wait, for a better, more open alternative. I'm ready to buy an ARM-based, thin-client tablet computer--I'm just not ready to buy this one.
Apple may have uncharacteristically snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory and given enough time for competitors to go them one-better, with a device designed for users, not designed to get users to spend more money for what they already have.

Image via Flickr user ecastro, CC 2.0.

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