The story of the iPad from Apple (AAPL), rumored for at least 18 months now, has turned into full-blown tech porn, with people salivating over any advance tidbit. But I think the genre may turn out to be more akin to horror than porn, because the new device seems well positioned to be not a category creator so much as a category cannibal, and one that could well spell some serious problems for netbooks and the whole Windows hegemony.
I've seen mixed coverage coming out of the announcement. Nothing bad, mind you, and some significant respect for some of the application demos. But what I noticed over and over again was that it looked like an over-sized iPhone. And when you're trying to establish a new category of product between laptop and smartphone, that should be bad news.
See our BNET video on iPad specs and prices:Forget how slick it may or may not be for a moment. The point is that products have developed into the two categories because each served a different need. A smartphone goes into the pocket and yet lets you do a fair amount. A notebook is bigger and heavier, but has a bigger screen and far greater capabilities. But a tablet? It's not a necessary form factor, particularly if you already own a laptop/notebook and a smartphone. Ten hour battery life is nice, if this is actually a case of a vendor being straight about the topic and not suggesting some theoretical number if you aren't doing anything, but I don't see it as necessarily game changing. View videos? Do it on either a laptop or smartphone. As my colleague Damon Brown notes, this ain't no killer game platform. Price with 16GB of storage not including the additional cost of a data plan? About $500.
As I said, it should be bad news, and it is, but not for Apple. Pricing is higher than a carrier-subsidized smartphone but less than an Apple laptop, and maybe a bit lower than a Windows laptop, which wouldn't use a data plan anyway. Functions are nice, some even sound good, though not necessarily compelling in and of themselves. That sounds like a cannibal -- but one that was planned to be such. Because of the size, it's not going to replace smartphones. And it might end up becoming the choice for many who would have purchased a MacBook or other Apple portable, just as netbooks have eaten into notebook and laptop sales.
When you introduce a new product to keep others from peeling off customers, it is just self defense. But the iPad becomes a lethal weapon because it could easily cannibalize customers from other types of products. In this case, the pricing has been unusual for Apple. Starting at $500, even though there is only 16GB of storage at that level, you have a product that isn't that much more than a netbook or an e-book reader. More storage? USB drives are easy enough to find. And if you're already spending that money, why just get an e-book reader?
I think that the iPad could certainly become a Windows replacement, especially if Apple can find a way to let PC users take along what they want from their old machines. For Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Nightmares filled with iPad zombies, biting Windows users and turning them into more of the same.
Image via stock.xchng user andrewatla, site standard license.