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Is the iPad Losing its Luster?

Those industry analysts seem to agree that Apple is headed towards a stellar quarter as we near the final holiday shopping period. There will supposedly be record numbers of iPhones and Macs sold, therefore supporting Apple’s predictions of amazing revenue and profits. That is the good news.

But there might be a little cloud in the silver lining, and it’s all about the iPad. Suddenly the analysts are claiming that iPad sales seem a bit “light” in their surveys, or after examining their crystal balls. Thus, Apple may sell a million or so fewer units than they originally expected.

Now understand that industry analysts don’t always get their figures right. They have an awful habit of mostly underestimating Apple’s sales. But last quarter was the exception, where they were delivering highly inflated estimates of iPhone sales. It was all without common sense, since the iPhone 4 was long in the tooth, and it was fairly obvious a new model would arrive by October. But knowing or suspecting a later release of the iPhone 4’s successor clearly caused a number of customers to postpone their purchases. How could it be otherwise?

So, those sales estimates had to be wrong.

Now complicating the iPad picture is the arrival of the Amazon Kindle Fire, a seven-inch $199 tablet that has gotten a lot of hype, but mostly tepid reviews from the tech and mainstream media. Typical of tablets based on the Android OS, the touch interface is ragged, not sufficiently sensitive, and responsiveness varies depending on the function. It’s not tight, fluid and smooth, as with the iPad.

Sure, OS updates from Amazon may repair some of the ills, although there are well known architectural issues with Android that impact potential touchscreen performance. Supposedly Google is still fixing the problems with newer OS releases, but Amazon has opted to use an older version that was never actually certified for use in a tablet. Curious. So what they can fix may be sharply limited.

Regardless, the Fire’s cheap price and the integration with Amazon’s famous online storefront may be sufficient to attract loads of buyers, perhaps several million this quarter. But where those sales come from is debatable. Some suggest that people looking at Android tablets will opt for the Fire because of its tight integration with Amazon, and the Kindle’s reputation in the marketplace.

Will they choose the Fire over an iPad? Well, on a head-to-head comparison, the iPad is far superior. But the price and the size may put off some customers. How many is an open question. Amazon has, so far at least, not released specific sales numbers for previous versions of the Kindle beyond a few generalities that aren’t very helpful.

It may also be that some customers may consider the iPad too limiting for their needs. If they go Apple, perhaps they choose a MacBook Air, because they want a traditional personal computer. So far as Apple is concerned, a sale is a sale, and they earn higher profits from Macs.

There is also the question of how many iPads can Apple rightly expect to move each quarter. Because sales have already far eclipsed Macs, it has been assumed that the iPad is a potential replacement for a PC in many situations. While this appears to be true, I wonder how many people out there actually use the iPad as a substitute rather than simply as another device. If the former, the iPad’s potential might not be predictable right now. It hasn’t been on the market long enough to truly know how popular it may ultimately be after the ardor cools, if it cools.

Now I am not raining on anyone’s parade when I tell you that I have not taken to the iPad all that much. I use an iPad 2 occasionally, but my wife has made it her PC of choice. She never spent a whole lot of time with a Mac or PC, and only when it was actually necessary. But she’s addicted to her iPad, and that may indicate a major potential if her choices are echoed by many others. How many people, like her, would happily divest themselves of a PC and use a tablet instead?

For me, the ideal computing environment right now is my desktop iMac, a 27-inch late 2009 model with Intel Core i7 processor. Call me old fashioned. An iPhone 4 follows me whenever I travel. At night it’s placed in the bedroom, on a table, ready for me to check email and perhaps research a site while watching TV or engaging in conversation with the Mrs. I used to bring in a MacBook Pro for evening computing chores, but no more. I still have a 2010 model, but don’t use it nearly as often as I used to.

I’ve tried to adapt to the iPad, but it just doesn’t suit my lifestyle, but the iPhone 4 is more than sufficient for my needs, and it’s more suited for single handed use. If I need a larger screen, and the functionality of a real personal computer, I just walk across the dwelling to the bedroom that serves as an office, but that doesn’t happen very often.

Does my reaction to the iPad, my innate skepticism, mean anything in a wider universe? Are there limitations to the potential of the iPad? Probably not, and we really won’t know how well the iPad 2 is really faring this holiday season until the final numbers are revealed by Apple in the latter part of January.