Will iPad command & conquer ?
So it’s here. Apple’s uber-hyped tablet, the iPad, finally hit store shelves on Saturday, and eager fans immediately snapped up an estimated 7,00,000 pieces on day one, making this perhaps one of the most anticipated products since…er… the iPhone. It all went as expected-long, winding queues of overnight campers, near-religious fanboy fervour, celebrity sightings and all the other trappings of an Apple launch event. Initial reviews have also been great-the iPad has delivered as promised in terms of performance, usability, features and, most importantly, killer sex appeal. It’s a terrific, innovative and exciting device that will almost certainly open up the market for tablet computers in a way no other brand would have.
In the coming months, we’ll see how exactly the iPad will impact the ‘gadget’ industry. Will it save publishing? Will it revolutionise gaming? Will it change lives? Will it kill laptops and netbooks?
Apple has priced the basic Wi-Fi-only version at $499. The highest-end 3G version goes up to $825. Pricing will play a significant role in whether the iPad gains widespread acceptance or remains a niche product that is reduced to being an expensive indulgence or a fanboy badge of honour. People respond to pricing based on perception-they will compare a product to what they consider alternatives in the same category. Since the iPad is technically creating a whole new category (at least according to Apple), consumers will start comparing it, to either other media players such as the iTouch, or netbooks and laptops. And herein lies the rub. Evaluated on its own as a standalone category, the iPad does seem like it’s reasonably priced. However, things get murkier when you start comparing it to media players or netbooks. Netbooks and laptops offer far greater functionality and much better value for money. Media players, notably Apple’s own iTouch, offer very acceptable experiences at much lower prices. And so, while many consumers will still buy the iPad simply for the quality of its experience, many will consider it and then opt for alternatives which, in their perception, offer better value for money.
However, the fact is that Apple are past-masters at manipulating perception, and convincing huge masses of people that the iPad is something they absolutely cannot do without shouldn’t be a major challenge. It is undeniable that they have delivered an impeccably engineered product that delivers an experience quite unlike any other. And all those complaints about the lack of features, functionality and the closed ecosystem really won’t matter, because the iPad user is looking for an experience, not functionality. Thanks to Apple’s flair for great design and supercharged brand management, it will only be a section of techies and sworn Apple-haters who will end up disappointed, and this is not something that will give Steve Jobs sleepless nights.
While the price of the device itself shouldn’t be a major worry, the price of content is going to play a more significant role. If the iPad is to seriously impact publishing and gaming, then it needs to offer a wide variety of affordable content. But a monthly subscription to the iPad version of the WSJ is $17.99, while an iPhone subscription to the same publication costs less than $10. Going by initial murmurings, books and games are also going to be costlier, on average, on the iPad than on other digital distribution platforms. How this impacts the acceptance of the device as a primary media consumption platform remains to be seen.
What Apple needs to watch closely, this time around, is the competition. While mobile handset manufacturers were caught napping by the iPhone’s revolutionary design, there is already talk of iPad-killing devices hitting markets soon. The iPhone had the advantage of completely upending the market because it changed the perception of what people want from a phone. With the iPad, Apple is the incumbent that is setting the standard-and the competition will look for ways to make their products ‘better than the iPad’. Since there really are no strong preconceived expectations from the consumer for the category, people will be more receptive to competing products this time around. In fact, lots of potential customers have already proclaimed that they are waiting for alternatives from companies such as HP, Asus and India’s own Notion Ink before they take a buying decision. It’s extremely likely that these products, with the benefit of hindsight, may offer comparable experiences with more flexible features and open standards that attack the iPad’s perceived weak areas. In the long-term game, Apple could find that how they respond to competition could make the difference between mainstream dominance and niche presence.
But hey, this is Apple. They have built up a fan following that borders on being a religion, based on their ‘less is more’ philosophy. They have shown that a lot of people value simplicity, aesthetics and quality of experience over features or flexibility or open standards. Will they prove it all over again with the iPad? I wouldn’t bet against it.
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