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Rating three months of personal iPad punditry

By Joe Wilcox, Betanews

Tomorrow morning, Apple’s iPad goes on sale. Today is then perhaps a good time for assessing my last three months of prognostications about the tablet. I have not exactly been iPad’s biggest fan, and I’ll admit some of that trepidation is reaction to my journalist peers going so gaga over the device — pretty much sight unseen.

Earlier today at BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow wrote: “I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.” I agree.

Altimeter Group’s Michael Gartenberg didn’t. He tweeted: “I think that the press is all over the #iPad because it’s a genuinely interesting product. Period.” I responded: “Until this week, ‘generally interesting’ was just hype. I hope iPad succeeds, but, seriously, trade that Kool-Aid for Diet Coke.” His retort: “Use one for a few hours and then we’ll talk :)” Mine: “That’s a very reasonable response. Had iPad v1 shipped with WebCam and 128GB storage, I almost certainly would have preordered.”

Now it’s time to open my past iPad prognostications to microscopic inspection. I won’t be super hard on myself, so that you can have your fun in comments.

1) In late December I asked: “Are Apple stock price gains the reason for recent tablet rumors?” Absolutely they were, I assert, and they continue to be as I expressed in last week’s posts: “Be smart, don’t buy into the iPad hype” and “Of course media bias favors Apple.” Apple’s share price has consistently risen with the degree of iPad hype. The stock reached a new 52-week high today, 8.73, before closing at 5.97. Share price is up from 2.06 in late January and 2.71 a year ago.

2) Early January post “The world doesn’t need an Apple tablet, or any other” stirred up lots of heated discussion. I stand by my reasons, among them the functionality overlap of smartphones below and laptops above. The New York Times is an interesting authority questioning iPad’s consumer appeal, considering the publisher has a prominent — and oft-touted — iPad application. From today’s story, “Doing the iPad Math — Utility + Price + Desire“:

Many consumers do not understand the device’s purpose, who would want to pay 0 or more for it and why anyone would need another gadget on top of a computer and smartphone. After all, phones are performing an ever-expanding range of functions, as Apple points out in its many iPhone commercials.

David Pogue expressed similar reservations in his complex iPad review for the Times.

3) My January post “12 reasons why I won’t buy an iPad” stirred up Betanews readers to comment. I now have a companion in iPad crime. Today at BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow posted: “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either).” Hell, that reads like one of my snarky headlines. Doctorow sees iPad as more suitable for general consumers than computer aficionados and packing unwanted usage restraints, like DRM that prevents sharing of content like comic books. From the post:

The real issue isn’t the capabilities of the piece of plastic you unwrap today, but the technical and social infrastructure that accompanies it.

  • If you want to live in the creative universe where anyone with a cool idea can make it and give it to you to run on your hardware, the iPad isn’t for you.
  • If you want to live in the fair world where you get to keep (or give away) the stuff you buy, the iPad isn’t for you.
  • If you want to write code for a platform where the only thing that determines whether you’re going to succeed with it is whether your audience loves it, the iPad isn’t for you.

Over at Fast Company, Trapani throws harder punches: “Only lemmings with no self-control and excessive disposable income buy first generation Apple products, especially in a new gadget category. When they do, they pay the double the price for immature hardware and software.”

4) In late February, I asserted: “Apple should ban freebees from the iPad App Store.” Many Betanews commenters called the idea simply idiotic. But today I feel vindicated. The whole point of the idea was to establish iPad App Store as a premium service over its iPhone/iPod touch sibling. Clearly, many developers are taking that approach, although some consumers may feel jilted by the price increases.

Some random examples: NetNewsWire is free for PC and Mac. It’s free or .99 (Premium version) for iPhone and iPod touch, but the iPad app costs .99. Scrabble is .99 for iPhone and iPod touch and .99 for iPad. Brushes is .99 for iPhone and iPod touch or .99 for iPad. Of course there are zillions of free apps, which I still say is money developers are foolishly flushing away, particularly considering the tiny install base come tomorrow compared to iPhone or iPod touch. Low volume is a different business than high volume. It would be better to charge more — with the larger display reasonable justification — and discount later.

5) About a month ago I asked, “Who should buy the iPad? Hint: People of a certain age (and that’s not you).” I wrote that Apple CEO Steve Jobs “turned 55 on February 24. He’s a Baby Boomer, and iPad is for his generation and that of his parents. It’s computing made easy, with all the basics covered in a device simply and comfortably handled.”

Yesterday, Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps asserted that “the iPad is the right device for the wrong consumer. We think there’s a fundamental disconnect between the design of the device and the profile of the customer who would most benefit from using it.”

Epps didn’t peg the geriatric set, as I did, but her profile user is similar to mine: “The casual PC user.” Right, like Gramps, who doesn’t need a complicated computer or hasn’t invested in a lot of tech gear.

By the way, Forrester expects Apple to sell 3 million iPads this year. Epps writes: “In three years, we’ll look back and marvel not at how many units Apple sold, but at the way Apple changed computing…it’s a road map for where computing is going: Curated, cloud-based experiences that are visual and tactile.” I agree with that.

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2010

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