Unless you live in a cave (and a cave without a wireless connection at that), you’re probably aware that Apple announced their long-awaited, much-hyped tablet computer yesterday, officially dubbed the “iPad.” Full technical specs and details are available from Apple, and ArsTechnica has a good summary.
Some initial impressions are below, and I’m hoping this post will serve as a conversation space for our readers to post their thoughts in the comments.
First, I think that the vast majority of the tech press and online commenters seem to be completely missing the point. There’s persistent lamentation about this or that laptop feature that the iPad is missing. If you need the full features of a laptop, the iPad is not for you. This is a different product, meant to fill a different niche. The question Jobs asked during his presentation was, “Is there room for a third category of device in the middle? Something that’s between a laptop and smartphone.”
Right now that category is being filled by netbooks, which, as Jobs notes, are just really cheap, crappy notebooks. They aren’t specialized for this niche — they just do the same things as notebooks, only more slowly and not as well. There are certainly people who need notebooks and instead buy netbooks because they cost less and this makes up for the drawbacks of cheap tech. But there’s a huge market buying netbooks because they just want an inexpensive device to do simple tasks like answer e-mail, browse the internet, update their Facebook pages, and watch video.
That’s the target audience for the iPad.
For about the minimum price for a decent laptop, you can soon (the iPad should be selling in March) get a device that’s designed for those needs and provides an allegedly better user experience. It’s not meant to replace laptops — it’s meant to create a new level somewhere below a laptop for those with lesser needs.
That said, I can’t justify buying one. I’m one of those people mentioned above who needs the power of a full-fledged laptop. If I’m in a situation where the laptop isn’t usable, then my iPhone will suffice until I can get to a more powerful machine, and because my iPhone’s so small, I always have it with me for my real basic computing activities. Essentially, my needs are either too advanced or too primitive for this device.
Since this is a publishing blog, the real big news may actually be Apple’s new iBookstore. Details on the store are sparse so far, which makes it hard to comment. What’s the DRM situation? What’s the actual file format (Jobs did say it uses ePub, but is it some modified version)? How easy will it be to convert XML, PDF, or Quark files? What is the business arrangement? How much control over pricing do publishers have? Will the iBookstore and products be available for iPhones and iPod Touch’s as well (77 million of these in the wild, by the way)? Will there be a Google Books app? These questions need to be answered before we can discuss much further.
But this does seem to be a nail in Kindle’s coffin. Why spend $489 on a Kindle DX when you can spend $10 more and get so much more functionality in an iPad? And what of Amazon’s Kindle app? Assuming it will translate to the iPad, Amazon then becomes just another bookstore selling e-books for a variety of devices, and this certainly takes a lot of the wind out of their sails as far as dictating terms to publishers (particularly because the Kindle app is so far behind many other e-reader apps).
Take note that even though Amazon sells the same music downloads as Apple, and usually offers them at a better price, they still only make up about 8% of the market to Apple’s 70%. This shows the power of having the content store built-in to your device, and the reason Amazon tried so hard to create their own lock-in for the Kindle.
As an editor for a niche publisher of scientific manuals, textbooks, and monographs, we’re likely to be better served by an e-book store that doesn’t penalize us for having to price our books higher than $9.99. We sell to a small market, and our books require heavy editing. There’s no way we could survive at that price point because our audience simply isn’t big enough to make up for it with increased sales. If Amazon is going to keep the vast majority of the revenue on books that sell for more than $9.99, then there’s no point offering our books through the Kindle Store. If Apple’s iBookstore works the same way their App Store does, they’ll be price agnostic, offering the same terms regardless, which makes it a much more attractive prospect.
One other potential loser here is Microsoft Office. Between the free Google Docs and Apple’s new version of iWorks priced at $10 per app, how many people are going to need an expensive, full-fledged Office suite? Okay, probably a lot, but there’s also a large number of people who buy it because it’s the market standard and don’t use 95% of its functionality. As these simpler, cheaper alternatives see more use, Microsoft stands to see one of their main economic pillars begin to erode away.
More as more details become available, please share your thoughts below.