iPad Ambiguity

January 27, 2010 holman

So The Tablet is now iPad. That was a fun little announcement.

There’s been plenty of discussion and arguing about the name, the form factor, and its apparent iPhone-inspired lockdown. That’s to be expected, in my mind. Apple takes away the number one complaint — price — and people’ll find something else to talk about.

What I’ve been brewing on today is somewhat different. I’m having a hard time classifying this device. Jobs positioned it as something between an iPhone and a Mac, which is true, but what it really is is a bigger iPhone. I don’t mean that in the typical ranting way found on the Engadget comment section (“It’s just a bigger iPhone wtf”); I mean it in terms of content.

The way the iPhone works is that it’s an extension of your data. The vast, vast majority of consumers sync from a laptop or desktop to their phones. Very few get by with buying only iTunes-supplied music and video and retain all of their contacts and email settings exclusively on their iPhone. Given the way the iPad is set up, it also is an extension of your data.

This is weird.

By setting it up this way, Apple’s effectively saying that you have to have another computer for the iPad. This is fine, since we’ve progressed to the point as a society that most people have, you know, a computer. But what type of computer? Apple as a product company has traditionally been much stronger in the laptop market. I have a harder time seeing someone with a laptop picking this up; that makes you mobile twice over. If the iPad is so good as a mobile device, why do you still have a MacBook? If the MacBook offers so much more power and is mobile, why have an iPad?

This points towards people in my situation: those with desktops at home who traditionally might pick up a MacBook to split the difference. This makes total sense to me; my iMac can be my hub, and my iPad is an extension of that Mac. Logical.

But where does this place Apple? Instead of a MacBook I’ll be picking up a product at half the price. I may be wrong, but most of those with laptops won’t splurge on two similar mobile devices. And the way the iPad is set up, not many will go exclusively iPad.

Does this mean Apple’s direction for the future is an iMac + iPad combo? That certainly takes some time to shift buying habits in that fashion, and I’m not sure desktops are what people really are looking for anymore. It’s trending smaller than the laptop market. Does it mean that Apple will be forced to open up the iPad for use as an exclusive, syncless machine? By doing that I could install what I want on it — developer tools, for example — and use it in lieu of a laptop. But again, if they go that route they enable their customers to bypass pricier machines for the cheaper tablet.

That’s the weird part. It potentially puts them either in the tiny-marketshare business or the less-profitable business. The aggressive pricing is nice, of course, but I’m trying to figure out who they’re trying to aggressively attract, given these options.

I think it’s a great product that will appeal to many, but that few people — in its current iteration — will be able to look at their existing computing setup and say, “Yeah, this makes sense for me to pick up.”