So just how many iPads will Apple sell the first week? An open question, and it appears the guessing game has begun in earnest. Since that is the topic of one of this issue’s articles, I’ll just mention that, on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, commentator Kirk McElhearn sounded off on what he feels are those questionable preliminary sales reports on the iPad, and his hopes and dreams for Apple’s latest and greatest.
Next up, we sparred with tech writer Joe Wilcox in a spirited discussion about the forthcoming Microsoft Internet Explorer 9, the implications of the Apple versus HTC lawsuit, and how Google and Microsoft are impacted. Although I’m happy to allow for the free expression of ideas, I did challenge Wilcox on a number of points, because I felt there were more valid positions on some of the issues he was talking about.
Security guru Rich Mogull was on hand to explain how to protect yourself against the online predators who want to steal your money, and then analyzed the present-day security situation for Windows 7 and Apple’s Snow Leopard.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien presents an animal mutilation roundtable featuring Ted Oliphant, a former law enforcement officer, and Philip Hoyle, of the Animal Pathology Field Unit. This is reported to be the first such broadcast discussion involving three experts on the subject.
Coming April 4: Co-host Paul Kimball presents a roundtable featuring science fiction author and filmmaker Paul Davids and paranormal writer Nicholas Redfern to discuss the dysfunctional relationship between Sci-Fi, UFOs and the paranormal.
Coming April 11: Gene and co-host Christopher O’Brien present an “Ultimate Abduction Roundtable,” featuring Budd Hopkins,Dr. David M. Jacobs and Kevin D. Randle. This is an episode you won’t want to miss!
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
If you believe the reports that have been widely circulated by Mac sites and such mainstream media resources as Fortune, an estimated 190,000 orders have been received by Apple for its new portable computing gadget as of the time I’m writing this issue, but the initial flurry has seriously subsided. That raises the larger question as to just how well this new product will fare in the marketplace.
Understand that these figures do not come from Apple, and nobody outside of the company has actual access to the ordering information. So how were these figures determined? Well, Fortune bases its tallies in information provided by “Daniel Tello, who’s been manning the spreadsheet for AAPL Sanity,” a site that covers Apple’s financials.
How does Tello come by the figures? Evidently readers send him the invoice numbers received from Apple when they place their iPad orders. Using some sort of fuzzy logic, Tello is assuming that those numbers are somehow consecutive, and subtracts what he presumes are the ones that apply to other products. They do not include bulk orders, or units reserved for in-store pickup, and there’s no way to gauge how many of those have been received.
I don’t know if I really need to tear apart the accuracy of such a survey, but I will do so anyway because it is, at best, an extremely rough estimate and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. However, I feel that is precisely what’s going to happen anyway, at least until Apple’s financials for the next quarter are in hand, or Apple touts initial sales in a press release before then.
Before you even consider the other potential problems with the survey methodology, there are loads of assumptions that don’t really past muster. The first is the fact that a sufficient number of customers are taking the time to submit their order numbers to indicate a trend. How many people even know such a survey exists, and, of these, what percentage are bothering to provide that information to a third party? More to the point, does the demographic of Tello’s site provide an accurate cross-section of potential iPad buyers to deliver a sufficient number of responses?
In the real world of polling, skilled statisticians attempt to sample what is supposed to be an accurate cross-section of the population when they conduct their surveys. Even then, there is a sizable margin of error, at least several percentage points. When the poll covers an election, a reasonably close race, where the opponents are a few points apart, would usually be regarded as too close to call, and the rise or fall of a few percentage points in a political figure’s popularity is statistically meaningless. Of course, that doesn’t stop the media from spinning the changes one way or another in order to get a story.
Now even if the methodology for this iPad pre-order scenario is even close to being accurate, few dare to guess on the numbers for the other ordering methods, those in-store pickups, the bulk orders, or simply the number of people who will simply visit an Apple Store on April 3rd and hope to pick one up there and then.
In other words, there is no way to know just how many units Apple will sell during the first weekend or first week the iPad becomes available. The ranges I’ve read start at around 500,000 and go as high as two million. Indeed, it’s not even certain just how many units Apple will have available on Day One. It’s not as if they will reveal production quantities.
The other issue is just how many sales are considered good? It’s certainly easy to simply characterize the iPad as a grown-up iPod touch and be done with it. But that’s a matter of the form of the product, and not so much the substance, which is clearly a work in progress.
More to the point, the iPad is best regarded as a totally new product, containing elements of the iPod touch and merging some of the elements of a note-book computer. Indeed, many people who have bought those tiny netbooks are regarded as potential iPad switchers, simply because it may be a far more useful device. But that depends on why they need one in the first place.
You see, that’s the question I’ve been wrestling with for weeks, and I’ve yet to hear the compelling argument that convinces me to spend my hard-earned cash to buy one. It’s very possible I will, if not right away. Aside from the cost of the product, which is actually less than many analysts predicted prior to the launch announcement, I would still have to consider the purposes my existing computers serve.
I do most of my work on a 27-inch iMac, from writing to editing two-hour radio shows. A 17-inch MacBook Pro, an early 2008 model, handles most of the remaining writing chores and location recording. My iPhone 3 GS is occasionally used for editing blogs and writing short messages. All share in managing email and Web surfing.
So where does an iPad fit in? It’s not as if I can stick it in my back pocket, or a belt clip. Typing is going to be more flexible than the iPhone simply because of the larger virtual keyboard. External keyboards will be available soon after the on-sale date, but that creates an awkward situation in terms of positioning the iPad and its accessory. A regular note-book would seem far easier to use, even if the cheapest MacBook is far more expensive.
Beyond creating content there is the consumption factor. What would I consume on an iPad that I can’t conveniently consume on my other computers? Certainly the iPad’s special abilities to handle books and, one expects, newspapers, would present an ideal e-book device. I’ve tried other so-called e-book readers over the years, including the original Rocket e-book. They didn’t survive a single book chapter before I set them down for good.
Now call me old fashioned. I grew up with real books. While I read lots of content online, I’m also apt to print out longer documents, which means, of course, that I actively contribute to the paper explosion. So I suppose the environmentalists in my audience are going to complain that I’m way off base and need to change my ways.
In saying that, however, what I spend each year on paper and consumables would be sharply reduced if I could develop the e-book habit for most of my reading materials. Personal computers are poor replacements and the iPhone, while convenient, still presents an awkward interface largely because of its tiny screen.
Is the iPad just right? I remain open-minded on the subject. I’m also open-minded about its potential for early and ongoing success. It may be that the early estimates about pre-orders are on the money, but the methodology is little better than reading tea leaves or predicting the stock market. I prefer hard numbers, and I think most of you would agree.
If you believe the critics, Google’s Android platform is advancing rapidly against all comers, and the iPhone is stalling. But there are stats and more stats, and how you interpret them may depend on your particular frame of mind or agenda.
One issue often overlooked when you try to compare sales numbers is the fact that there is, basically, one model of the iPhone in two configurations plus the previous year’s version sold on the entry level. Only one carrier handles the product in the U.S., although there are still persistent rumors that Verizon Wireless may get a crack at the iPhone this summer or perhaps some time in 2011, depending on the nature and scope of Apple’s carrier contract with AT&T.
Now I’m not saying an Android phone is necessarily bad. I used a Motorola Droid briefly and it was perfectly all right. The interface was usable enough, although I didn’t have the time to explore the nooks and crannies. However, it wasn’t intuitive. When I first handled an iPhone, I had it pretty much figured out immediately after some minor experimentation. One feature flowed into the next and, no, I didn’t read the manual.
Apple’s trump card is, of course, the App Store. At last count, over 171,000 apps were available, and that figure excludes the thousands that were dumped in recent days because of alleged explicit content, using improper APIs and other considerations. Even if only a few percent are truly useful, that leaves you with a rich resource from which to select.
In contrast, the Android variation of the App Store has fewer than 20,000 titles, and a heavy percentage of them are confined to useless stuff such as fart sounds, or perhaps swimwear catalogs. What’s more, Google has been known to pull apps from time to time if they conflict with their strategic or marketing requirements, but that fact doesn’t get a lot of publicity, since few care about their app repository.
Now maybe I’m way off base here, but can anyone name the most compelling Android apps in more than 30 seconds flat? What are they? Do they have games that come close in visual, audio and user sophistication as the ones offered by the major gaming makers on the iPhone?
Of course some suggest that Google is really taking market share from Microsoft, which may be one reason why Windows Mobile 7 seems destined to crib elements from the iPhone OS in many respects. If that’s the case, it would make the next Windows-based smartphone a decent product, assuming they can get the fit and finish right, which is no mean task.
I haven’t mentioned the BlackBerry so far. Although Research in Motion has focused mostly on the enterprise, they have released versions of the BlackBerry with more of a consumer orientation. RIM is known to be a smart company that carved out a good market for itself in the face of much larger competitors. There is, however, no compelling BlackBerry App Store to speak of either, and I think anyone who hopes to truly compete with Apple is going to have to come out with a proper software repository.
Yes, Apple is known to do questionable things with the App Store. Some selections may be unfairly rejected, while others that seem to fit into the same overall category, are accepted. Just having a dependable review standard would help, although the large gray area and an overworked staff might be responsible for many of the problems. But unless Apple fine tunes its app approval policy and expands the reviewing staff, this isn’t something that’s going to change in the near future.
THE FINAL WORD
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