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The iPad Report: The Premature Rants Continue

All right, you can be certain that, between now and the actual arrival of iPads for shipping to customers, various and sundry financial and tech pundits will be trying as hard as they can to rip Apple a new one about the product. This is, in large part, a mirror of the six month run up to the release of the iPhone, so how could it be otherwise?

This week, no less than Bill Gates, who spends most of his time in the worthy effort of giving away much of his vast fortune for charitable reasons, is complaining that the iPad can’t possibly succeed because of its touch-based interface. To his way of thinking, you need both the traditional keyboard and a stylus to fill in the missing pieces. Certainly the former will be available as an option from Apple and other companies, but he forgets the fact that the technologies for touch and for a stylus are different, and melding the two might only deliver an imperfect compromise, but that’s nothing new for Microsoft.

The dreadful truth that Gates won’t confront is the fact that tablet computers, as envisioned by Microsoft, have been abject failures except in a few vertical markets. Doctors use them in fairly decent numbers, for example, but the public has rejected tablets, at least so far. To add insult to injury, 20% of the physicians surveyed recently said they planned to buy an iPad in the coming year. Take that Bill Gates!

I’ve already covered the objections to the lack of Flash, but I do wonder, in passing, if some of those columns are in part fueled by Adobe, hoping to force Apple by dint of public opinion to accept a Flash app on the iPhone and iPad. Certainly Apple isn’t above feeding juicy tidbits to the press, and it stands to reason Adobe has a vested interest in saving their product. Sure they give away the player plugins, but they make lots of money from selling you the content creation software. Without Flash to help boost their earnings statements, they would be even worse than they are now.

What they don’t realize, of course, is that if tens of millions of devices don’t support Flash, Web developers will simply look for other solutions that do work. That in itself will ultimately kill Flash, or at least reduce its ubiquity on the Internet. It’s not as if loads of potential customers of Apple’s mobile devices will choose not to buy them because of the lack of Flash. That may impact some people, but not a lot. Most customers aren’t quite so concerned about such things.

Another rant covers the lack of content partnerships. Sure, you know that some major publishers are already present at the starting gate to deliver e-book versions of many of their titles. You also know that Apple has, singlehandedly, upset the Amazon pricing scheme and caused the latter to sign new contracts agreeing to an “agency model” that allows publishers to have more flexible pricing structures.

But why, some might ask, haven’t you heard about textbook publishers? Surely, the educational market is ripe for the picking with the iPad. Students would love to get ahold of such a gadget, and they’d be even happier not to have to lug around tons of heavy books in their backpacks. And I haven’t even covered the high costs of acquisition, since I don’t expect electronic textbooks to be necessarily cheap.

Then there is the entertainment industry. Since Steve Jobs is the largest shareholder of Disney, why isn’t there a special deal covering a subscription service or a similar value-added extra tailored to the iPad? Where is that announcement, forgetting about all the other entertainment conglomerates?

Now the answers to both are essentially the same. If Apple blows its wad during the initial announcement, how do they keep up interest in the iPad in the interval between the launching and the actual shipping date?

The answer, of course, is to fuel interest with the rumors and reality of ongoing partnerships. So there’s a story out this week, still unconfirmed, that Apple may offer downloads of TV shows in standard definition format for one dollar upon the introduction of the iPad. It keeps people talking.

Between now and the end of March, it’s a sure thing there will be yet more announcements of various and sundry content partnerships. Some of this is strategic, with the news being doled out gradually for maximum impact. Some of it is simply because the contracts have yet to be signed. Such things don’t always come easily. Even the present deals with the music industry are the result of hard-fought battles over pricing and digital rights management, and in the end both sides gave a little to cut a deal.

It may also be true that one or more of the apparent missing features will somehow turn up on the shipping iPad. Some third-party accessory makers are already claiming that there’s room in the iPad for a Web cam. That either means there will be one at the starting gate, or that such a feature will appear in a future version. Or maybe they are just blowing smoke.

Regardless, it’s a sure thing that people won’t stop talking about the iPad for quite a while yet. That’s the way Apple wants it.