I'm Worried About The iPad

Yesterday, Apple introduced its revolutionary new iPad tablet device. The iPad is neither an eReader nor a laptop. It's somewhere in-between. It's kind of like an iPhone and Kindle had a baby, and pumped it full of steroids. While the new device is undeniably cool and sooo pretty, I worry that its uniqueness, toy-like nature and price tag will hold it back from widespread success.

A Little Too Revolutionary?

I don't think anyone doubts that the iPad is a brand new kind of device. It's different from anything else out there. But is it too different?

People who want laptops won't really want one: it isn't as functional as a full-fledged computer. People who want eReaders won't really want one: it's got way more features than a simple eReader, at a much higher price tag. So Apple has to conjure up consumer demand for a totally new kind of product. It isn't easy to create interest in something new out of thin air.

But what's worse: I don't know what kind of consumer it will appeal to. Obviously Apple fanatics who can afford one will definitely want it. But that's a relatively small segment of the population. The other consumers who it could theoretically appeal to might be PC folk who are heavy media users and love their iPhones, but also love books, Internet surfing and magazines. I happen to be a life-long PC user obsessed with my iPhone (to the point that I think my fiancé gets jealous sometimes). I also work for a magazine, am a news junky and spend countless hours online. I'm also a tech toy enthusiast. I perfectly describe that consumer. Yet, I have no intention of getting an iPad. Even if it were half the price, I wouldn't consider it. If it doesn't appeal to me, who will want one?

It's A Toy

A fundamental problem that I see for the iPad is that it's really just a toy. It's a non-essential device that consumers don't have a serious need for. That contrasts greatly with mobile phones and laptops. In this day and age, each are essential. In talking through this point with my colleague Derek Thompson, he noted that MP3 players were also non-essential before the iPod gained widespread popularity. That's only sort of true. Before the MP3 player, everyone had Walkmen, portable radios, car stereos, etc. MP3 players just made listening to music more convenient.

Derek also wrote a while back about a concept that I think is worth noting here. In a post a while back, he said:

Computers are the ideal procrastination machine because they hold both our work and a million ways to procrastinate from it. This is different from television, where turning the cable box on signals to your brain: Power off. Work time over. If Apple is building a flat, personal entertainment tablet, it's counting on consumers to want a laptop that's less like a computer and more like a television: A device that we'll only power on when our minds are ready to power off.

In other words, it's a toy that you can do a little work on. No one will be drafting business documents on the iPad. It's just not feasible given the small screen space once the keyboard is on-screen.

A Very, Very Expensive Toy

Don't get me wrong: people do like toys. And if the iPad were relatively inexpensive, then it might be able to get past its toy status. But it isn't. It's actually very, very expensive. The cheapest non-3G version starts at around $500. You could buy two-and-a-half iPod touches for that price. The version with 3G access starts at $629. You could buy six-and-one-third iPhone 3Gs (with contract) for that price. In fact, for a few hundred more dollars, you could get a full-fledged Mac laptop with a 250GB hard drive.

But let's compare it to some other popular devices. How about netbooks? You can get seriously nice netbooks for less than $400 -- $100 less than the iPad. And you can do work on netbooks, as well as enjoy media. Heck, you can get great PC laptops these days for less than $500.

As for the eReaders, they're much cheaper too. Take the more expensive Kindle, priced at $489. That includes 3G access. The 3G iPad starts at $629 -- $140 more expensive. And you have to pay for monthly 3G access, unlike with the Kindle. For two years, that adds another whopping $720 for unlimited data!

I've seen estimates prior to the announcement of the iPad that predicted Apple could sell as many as 3 million tablet devices in its first year on the market. I think that's wildly optimistic now that we know more about the iPad. I'd be very surprised if it sold more than 1 million during year-one. I just can't see that many people willing to spend such an enormous amount of money on a toy. And given the economic conditions consumers will have to endure in 2010, I think even fewer people than usual will be willing to fork over that amount of cash in the iPad's first year. Apple will certainly sell some, but I would be shocked if it found widespread success without its price coming down significantly.

Still, it's a super-cool toy. And if anyone (like Apple) wants to buy me one, I would be happy to play with it. Check out the official video below: