I have a weakness. I like to think big. And when we heard so many juicy rumors about the Apple tablet device, now named the iPad, I knew that with Steve Jobs at the helm, I could afford to think big. So big did I think, that I suggested the iPad should take media consumption to the next level and create an entirely new category of device.
At first, Jobs appeared ready to confirm my suspicions. He said seductive things like, "Everybody uses a laptop and or a smartphone. The question has arisen lately. Is there room for a third category in the middle?" I was sitting on the edge of my seat, ready to hear Jobs demonstrate that new category of device. But he didn't.
Instead, what Apple debuted today was a very nice upgrade to the iPod Touch.
Don't get me wrong. I love the iPod Touch and I was this close to getting one for myself. Now that the iPad has arrived, I can finally get one, the new, big one. But it's not a new category of device. It doesn't really revolutionize the 5-6 hours of media we consume the way it could have. It doesn't even send Amazon's Kindle running to the hills for cover. In fact, the competitor likely to take the biggest hit from the arrival of the iPad is Apple, in the form of fewer iPod Touches sold and fewer MacBook Airs sold.
In the end, no innovations in user experience have been offered that will take that media experience to the next level for consumers. With no integrated social media for sharing photos, recommending books, and sharing home video, the iPad misses a big piece of what makes media so powerful. And with no new source of video content or no innovative business model for delivering any type of content, including books, it’s hard to see the 6 million people who intended to buy a Kindle or the Sony reader this year won’t go ahead and buy it. And netbook buyers will largely stay on their $200 course.
Sure, there are minor pluses and minuses to hammer out — battery life is better than expected, keyboard dock is genuinely cool, hands-on gaming apps rock, at the same time, however, the lack of an SD card slot, even the lack of a USB port (you have to have an adapter!), no camera option, no HDTV dock, all suggest that Apple stayed in its comfort zone on this one. Expect at least 2 million to sell in the US before the end of 2010, no more than 3 million.
As far as its category ambitions, by relying on the App Store as the single most important draw of the device besides its attractiveness and large size, the iPod Touch is a significant step toward finally making tablets respectable. But making tablets respectable should have been the least of Apple’s ambitions. It had (and still has) the opportunity to create a new media experience in consumers’ lives. As it stands, a quick, well-structured response from Amazon in the next version of Kindle could easily be a contender here.
That’s why my most withering response is this: the iPad is priced lower than expected, because it is less revolutionary than expected. In answer to the rhetorical question Jobs offered in summary, "Do we have what it takes to establish a third category of products?" Answer: Yes, but you left some of it home.