With input from JP Gownder, Mark Mulligan, James McQuivey, and Charlie Golvin

Hello world…I’m back from maternity leave and taking on a new coverage area for Forrester: I’m expanding from covering eReaders to covering all consumer PCs. This makes a lot of sense given the evolving nature of the PC, and the convergence of eReaders with other devices like tablets and netbooks. My colleagues, James McQuivey and Nick Thomas, will be picking up more of Forrester’s coverage of media and content strategy, while I focus on the hardware and software. It’s particularly appropriate that this change coincides with the launch of the Apple iPad—a device that, more than any other to date, blurs the line between device categories.

So in the interest of getting right back to business, here’s our call:

Apple will sell 3 million iPads in 2010. For context, twice as many E Ink eReaders will sell this year.

Walt Mossberg loves the iPad and says it’s nearly a laptop killer. So why are we so conservative with our numbers?

Because the iPad is the right device for the wrong consumer.

We think there’s a fundamental disconnect between the design of the device and the profile of the customer who would most benefit from using it.

  • The iPad’s curated computing experience is perfect for the casual PC user. Mossberg notes that for 80% of his computing, the iPad replaced the need for a laptop. For casual PC users, the iPad is all they need: Its simple, apps-centric OS supports easy Web browsing, email, productivity through iWork, and other straightforward operations like reading or watching videos. The early adopter technophiles can’t wait to get their hands on an iPad, but the consumer who could really benefit from this device is your less tech-savvy mother-in-law.
  • But the hardware assumes that these consumers live in the cloud—and they don’t. Why are there so few holes (literally) in the iPad? There’s a 30-pin dock connector port, similar to the iPhone and the iPod, plus a headphone jack. So there are two options for getting stuff onto and out of this device: 1) through the 30-pin port via dongles that convert to USB or other input/output; or 2) wirelessly through Wi-Fi or, for subscribers, 3G. The first scenario may work for “Applings” (Apple + lemmings, and credit goes to James McQuivey for coining that phrase) who go along with whatever Apple dictates (“If it’s not there, I must not need it!”) but it’s not ideal for the casual PC user, who doesn’t want to buy special docks and dongles to input photos from her camera or to print something (on actual paper). The second scenario assumes that consumers will seamlessly upload and download content from the cloud. This is a pretty futuristic assumption, and it’s not clear that mainstream consumers are ready for this. Does your mother-in-law store her data in the cloud?


But, this is Apple. And if anyone can market a less-than-perfect product as “magical” and “revolutionary,” it’s Apple. They have proven with the iPhone that they are very, very good at showing consumers what to do with a new device. And that’s where Apple’s competitors fall short. Dell, for example, sells a $299 netbook with a built-in TV tuner, and VGA out for connecting to TVs—which is much more “revolutionary” in terms of product features than the iPad, but because it’s Dell, they don’t sell it as a magical product. Apple, too, owns its own retail channel, and the function of the Apple Store and its gurus will be to provide that hands-on teaching experience that Mossberg says consumers will require to really understand the device.

The bottom line: To sell this device to more than just Apple acolytes, Apple will need to teach consumers not just a new way of using this particular device, but an entirely new way of computing. Apple will need to teach consumers to be less dependent on peripherals and more dependent on the cloud. To crave experiences that are less open-ended and more curated. At the same time, Apple will teach consumers to expect more from computing—more visual pleasure, more touch.

The iPad’s cultural impact will far surpass the number of units it sells. It may be only 3 million people that buy the iPad this year, but the number that will reimagine how they use devices will be far greater. And that will be the lasting impact of the iPad. In three years, we’ll look back and marvel not at how many units Apple sold, but at the way Apple changed computing. The iPad may not have GPS (at least in the WiFi-only version), but it’s a road map for where computing is going: Curated, cloud-based experiences that are visual and tactile.