I Worry About The iPad, Not Apple

When the iPad was first announced by Apple a few weeks ago, many voiced their concern that the device might be too expensive and too unnecessary to interest many consumers. I was one of those critics, writing a post titled, "I'm Worried About The iPad." Yet, the title of that post wasn't, "I'm Worried About Apple." That's because, even if the iPad turns out to mostly bomb, I think Apple will be just fine.

Arik Hesseldahl over at Bloomberg/Business Week wrote an article over the weekend on this theme. He appears to share the fears of people like me that the iPad won't catch on, though he doesn't want to count it out just yet (and neither do I). But like me, he doesn't see even an iPad failure doing much to hurt Apple. His article concludes:

But back to the possibility of iPad failure. What would that mean? Clearly, Apple can keep growing untroubled by such a stumble. The Mac would keep eating away at the share of PCs based on Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows, and the iPhone would continue giving Research In Motion (RIMM) and Nokia (NOK) headaches.

At the same time, it may also signal that the transformation of Apple from a late-'90s casualty of the PC wars into the most important technology company on the planet is near completion, and that its upward trajectory might begin to level off.

That's the logical conclusion of the skeptical case, anyway. And as we all know, Apple has a funny way, in the fullness of time, of proving the skeptics wrong.

I think this assessment is spot-on. Apple is diversified enough with its wildly successful product offering that an iPad mistake would have little impact on its bottom line. Its continued earnings growth in the PC and mobile phone markets would easily outweigh a poor performance with the iPad.

Imagine an analogy to another powerful tech company: Microsoft. Pretend it's the late 1990s. The company is at the top of its game. Windows has a huge market share; Office is becoming the standard for workplace productivity. The company thinks it might be a good idea to develop a new piece of software to try to cash in on a growing space in the market: web site editing and administration. Microsoft acquires a little software company that has a program called "FrontPage" that serves this function.

FrontPage doesn't do so well, but that hardly brings Microsoft down. Its other product offerings wipe away any mediocre performance by that one program. So several years later, they can quietly kill the FrontPage.

And the same can happen with the iPad. Even a worst-case scenario isn't all that bad for Apple, assuming its other products continue on their growth trajectory. But if the critics are wrong about the iPad, then Apple's empire will grow even stronger.