We’ve been talking about iPad competitors for a couple cycles now and they seem to be growing faster than anyone can keep up with. The latest, the iTablet , is kind of the anti-iPad in that it is a full PC based on Intel’s Atom technology and not simply a large smartphone without the phone bits. The iPad is clearly better-looking, but the iTablet is more capable and has a name that won’t cause snickers. There is little doubt the iPad will outsell the iTablet by a substantial margin, but should it? And what does this say about the gullible part of our nature? Coincidently Guy Kawasaki, the ex-Apple evangelist, posted a warning on gullibility this month – which, especially given the current topic, seems a pertinent thought to keep in mind.
The iPad Falls Short
This isn’t unusual for first-generation products, as they often are needed to define what people will pay, what they want in a product, and in this case even the size and shape of the offering isn’t set in stone. First-generation products almost always fall short of the ideal because it takes a couple of generations to figure out what the ideal even is. This is why a lot of companies sit out the first generation and instead wait until we can better tell what the market wants (and whether there actually is sustainable demand for a new class of product) before shipping any units.
Smaller products like the Dell Mini 5 and Archos 7 are coming, and larger products like this iTablet are coming as well as part of this live experiment to see what folks want from a product in this class. Steve Jobs, at the introduction of the iPad, said up-front what it should be, and that was something that was better than a laptop and a smartphone. But while the iPad does blend features from both, it isn’t really better than either with the Dell Mini likely a better smartphone and the iTablet a potentially better laptop. However, both are worse than the iPad in terms of the other function, making the iPad either nicely balanced in that it kind of sucks in both areas or is just a product that more consistently sucks. It really depends on what you want to do and how the product best fits your needs.
If we went down a list of key iPad shortcomings, you’d find it doesn’t multi-task, it doesn’t run much of the software that exists for products of its size, it lacks common ports, and it doesn’t provide a full Web surfing experience because it won’t render Flash. The iTablet does all of this stuff and it should cost about the same amount of money. Clearly it won’t have Apple’s marketing budget, and it’s not even clear whether the device will be offered in North America. What’s more, it isn’t as attractive either (but could be more durable). I should also point out that instead of 8-64 GB of flash memory, the iTablet comes with a 250GB hard drive which could come in handy for all the videos and TV shows that a device in this class is likely to hold.
Granted, this is a Linux or Windows 7 product which may not be as elegant to use as the iPad, and Apple users in particular will have a big problem with these two choices. But let’s assume you could create a Hackintosh load and get full OS X on this puppy – might the result be better? There is a rumor that Apple is working on one of these themselves that several folks have started to cover, at least suggesting that Apple may also be looking at this alternative.
I’m writing this at an Intel analyst event, and one of the executives stood up and said something to the effect of “I won’t say anything bad about the iPad, it’s pretty and it’s from Apple,” clearly showcasing that they think this thing is crippled, and against a PC it certainly is. Still, this caveat only matters if it doesn’t do something you need done. Before buying this is a question you need to know the answer to, and clearly the iPad will get a lot better over the next several versions.
The kinds of things I would expect to jump out of an iPad 2.0 product would include, much like it did for the iPhone, changes in the physical design of the product, improvements in connectivity and features, correcting some glaring shortcomings and better price points. There are also rumors of a potential price change, even though the product hasn’t even shipped yet, leading some to suggest you hold off until the new price is set.
Areas that seem to float to the top that would be ripe for addressing in a generation 2.0 product here are outdoor viewable screens like the Qualcomm Mirasol or Pixel Qi (the Notion Ink Adam is reporting 2x the battery life of the iPad largely due to this screen). Also, like the Notion Ink I would expect a better HD output capability as Apple positions this more as a game player alternative and ramps up the performance (it appears very light on graphics capability given where the company wants to take the offering). Certainly, 4G will be in the 3rd generation product, but much like it took three versions of the iPhone to get 3G right, it is likely even if it shows up in the 2nd generation iPad that it won’t be fully cooked until V3.
In terms of pricing, the ideal price range for an offering like this would be $200-$500 and, like the iPhone did, I would expect the iPad to drift version over version into this range. Granted, Apple can successfully own the premium side of the equation, but I think that the company is likely to drop prices on the units down around $400 for the entry non-3G product and under $500 for the entry 3G products. Naturally, this would allow more consumers to buy in much more quickly.
If you take a great deal of pleasure from having one of the first high-profile products in the market, then buying one of the first iPads is likely worth it and no other product will have the initial excitement that this offering will have. But let’s be honest: People line up to see Paris Hilton as well, and I’m sure some fully enjoy the experience while others would be just as happy to stick a fork in their own cornea. However, if you don’t want to get upset because you paid too much or the device has known limitations, then wait, consider other offerings, and figure out what you actually want and what you want to pay before making your purchase. In short, whether the iPad is a great buy or a big disappointment is largely up to you now, given that the product is cooked.
The number of people who were upset because Apple’s prices dropped on the new iPhone or that Apple broke their jailbroken phones was amazing. These folks would have been vastly happier buying into the market later, or buying a different product entirely. As good as it is, the iPad is only a first generation device. As such, it will get a lot better and there will be a massive number of alternatives in the market very quickly that may, especially initially, meet your price and usage needs better. The moral of the story? Follow Guy Kawasaki’s advice and don’t be gullible. Realize that the first-generation iPad initially will only please a few, so be smart and wait until the device really meets your function and price needs before buying one.
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