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  • A Few Words About the iPad’s Biggest Competitor

    February 15th, 2010

    You just know that the critics are busy comparing the iPad to other tablet computers and perhaps netbooks. If what they suggest is true, those are the chief competitors to the new Apple gadget.

    But it may turn out that Apple’s biggest competitor is — Apple!

    More specifically, Apple’s note-book lineup. You see, many if not all of the functions for which many Mac users buy a portable computer can be quite well served for less money by the iPad.

    That may not seem terribly likely, but consider that most Mac and PC users have established a fairly modest work agenda, such as checking email, doing simple word processing, Web surfing and perhaps managing personal finances. Students will use their MacBooks and MacBook Pros to write homework and, of course, contacting their friends via instant messaging and social networks.

    Pretty much all of these tasks will likely run perfectly fine on an iPad. Indeed, assuming that Apple strikes the appropriate partnerships with certain major publishers, a large portion of the textbooks students buy will be available for the iPad. So instead of lugging a backpack stuffed with thick books, a single device weighing 1.5 pounds will store everything. With an iPad and, one hopes, a decent printing feature, and they will be able to do all their homework without using another computer. They won’t be restricted to iWork, since it’s quite possible Microsoft will deliver an iPad version of Office, and third parties will soon enter the fray.

    During breaks, a trip to AIM, Face-book or Twitter will be trivial, with proper parental controls one hopes.

    All right, maybe writing term papers on a touch keyboard isn’t so comfortable, but don’t forget there will be a regular keyboard available as an option from Apple and other companies, not to mention the very real possibility that just about any third-party keyboard will work nicely. When you put this combo together, and take into account the iPad’s low price of entry, would there be any need for a regular note-book for this segment of the population?

    Yes, I realize that there are loads of productivity apps that won’t be available for the iPad, nor are they even feasible to port. In addition, there are certainly loads of chores for which a regular computer is to be preferred. But what you’re seeing here is a huge segmentation of the market, and it’s quite possible that the iPad will, to some extent, cannibalize sales from the regular Macintosh lineup.

    Then again, it’s also possible that lots of people for whom Macs are too pricey might switch from Windows because of the iPad. I mean, compare any netbook to the iPad, and see which provides a superior user experience. Of course, such a comparison is strictly theoretical right now, since the iPad is still several weeks from shipping.

    Even when iPads are readily available, it will take time to really judge its real impact and potential. More to the point, even though I might suggest that certain features overlap those of a regular portable computer, that doesn’t mean customers will agree. It may well be that the iPad will serve largely as an auxiliary appliance, in addition to regular Macs or PCs. Quite possibly students will keep their iPads in their backpacks and won’t use them at home, even for homework, or keep the iPad on hand strictly for its e-book capabilities and otherwise stick with their Macs for everything else.

    I would expect, however, that Apple has considered all these possibilities before giving the OK for the iPad. Maybe they feel there will be more business gained as a result, or that far more iPads will be sold compared to the number of Mac sales that are lost. I don’t pretend to have those answers.

    Indeed, I expect that much of the utility of the iPad will not be known until customers actually begin to use these gadgets and find their own way. With over 150,000 apps available, no doubt the possibilities will be nearly endless, particularly as more and more iPad-specific software goes on sale.

    In all this, I suppose you’re curious as to my feelings about the whole thing. Well, you know I’m an old fashioned type. I still do most of my work on a desktop Mac, presentlu a 27-inch iMac with the quad-core i7 processor. And, by the way, I have never encountered flickering or bands of yellow on the display. I suspect most of you haven’t either.

    I also have a 17-inch MacBook Pro that’s in service for auxiliary tasks, such as monitoring the live stream of our two radio shows. That’s something that still can’t be done on an iPhone — and I presume the iPad as well since the operating system is essentially the same in most respects — because they don’t support RTSP streams from QuickTime or Darwin Streaming Server. Maybe that’ll come eventually, or we will switch to another streaming method.

    In short, I’m still on the fence as to whether I’ll buy an iPad, though I expect I will, assuming I can find space in the budget to finance another gadget when the time arrives.



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