iPad: the uncomputer for the masses

by Guest Author on January 29, 2010

Apple has grandiosely claimed that the iPad is creating an entirely new product category, and I think they’re right.

Many people are comparing the iPad launch to the iPhone or the iPod – dismissed by tech critics, who were ultimately proven wrong by mass adoption of the devices. There is something to this comparison, but it’s not quite fair. Both the iPod and the iPhone attacked existing product categories and made them so much better that they wiped the floor with their competition. The iPad is attempting to create a new market. A great many of the people who bought an iPod had other MP3 players beforehand. I’d wager most of the people who end up buying an iPad have never owned a dedicated tablet computer, and never considered that it would be worth owning one.

A better comparison is with the Nintendo Wii. While Sony and Microsoft competed in the cut-throat market of consoles for gamers, the Wii also created a new product category: consoles for everyone else. It worked pretty well for them – it turns out that there’s a lot more non-gamers than gamers, and making a device that appeals to 95% of the population sells better than making one that appeals to only 5%.

And that’s exactly what Apple is doing: making a slick “uncomputer” that’s tailored to those people who don’t actually need a computer. Many gamers ended up buying Wiis too, and I’m sure many geeks will buy iPads, but the real money-maker will be those who don’t even have a Mac, and probably won’t ever have one because it’s too expensive and they don’t need it.

The price point is also just right for this market – $499 is around the range of a cheap laptop or an expensive netbook. The applications balance is right – focus on email and web, with a good helping of medias, games and various practical apps. The gorgeous look is of course going to appeal to everyone. Once it has a video camera (inevitable for the next iteration), it will do everything that normal people do with their laptops at home today.

The only question, in my my mind, is, what will these people do when their cheap old Dell finally clonks out? Right now, to use an iPad and iPhone effectively, it seems you still need some kind of base station. So when the old Dell gives up the ghost, will people buy another one? Pony up for an expensive Mac? Or simply decide that the iPad is good enough and they don’t want another laptop?

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