Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The iPad: And They're Off!

Unless you were living in a fallout shelter, you know that Apple announced its tablet computer, the iPad, today. I won't rehash the features and specifications; there are plenty of places to find them. Editors and analysts are leaning a bit toward being underwhelmed by the product. Personally, I think that it's a little more expensive than it should be, although it's certainly less expensive than the "under $1,000" figure guessed by an analyst last Fall and echoed around the Internet. I also wonder why it doesn't support multitasking when the Apple-designed processor clearly seems to have the horsepower to support it. The absence of a built-in USB connector or slot for memory expansion with an SD card is also disconcerting.

Even with these flaws, the iPad is a very intriguing product. It's also very clearly a Version 1.0 product in the same way that the original iPhone was a 1.0 product. Apple got a lot right in the original iPhone, but they also missed the mark in a number of important areas, the biggest being no 3G. Apple fixed virtually all the problems over time, and I'm sure that they'll do the same with the iPad.

The best description that I've heard for the iPad is that it's the next generation of the iPod touch--a media consumption device, not a phone. I'm sure that Apple will sell lots of copies of iPad-compatible iWork applications, but the iPad is designed for content (and application) delivery, not content creation. I'll be very interested to see what application developers do with the iPad. We're likely to see a lot of blown-up iPhone apps early on, but the second generation of apps, those designed for the iPad from the start, are likely to be much more interesting.

Apple's eBook-related announcements were underwhelming, at least to me. They only have five (albeit big) publishers on board so far, Amazon will maintain price leadership, and their decision to use EPUB as their standard format negates a lot of the advantages of having a color screen capable of rendering complex images. There were no announcements of partnerships with textbook vendors, a hotly-rumored subject prior to the launch event.

On the other hand, Apple's announcement of a deal with AT&T to provide unlimited 3G digital service for $29.95/month with no contract required was stunning. Other mobile operators are going to be pressed to match or beat AT&T for competitive devices. Add VoIP to these devices and you'll have unlimited voice and data for $30/month or less.

In short, Apple got a lot of things right, but it also has some things to fix. I'm looking forward to what the iPad ecosystem will be two years down the road, and what the iPad and Apple's other announcements will do to spur even more innovation and competition.
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