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Why the Jury's Still Out on the Apple iPad

Posted by: Cliff Edwards on January 27, 2010

Does Apple’s tablet computer, the newly announced iPad, live up to the
hype? There’s no doubt Apple fans will flock to the device, with
its svelte build and 9.7-inch color screen. But Steve Jobs’ confirmation of the long-rumored device was more striking for what wasn’t announced than what was.

The iPad is designed to access the same applications available for
iPods and the iPhone on Apple’s popular App Store. There’s even
software that will automatically re-size existing applications for
better viewing on the larger screen.

But even Jobs, during his presentation in San Francisco, wondered
aloud whether Apple has what it takes to establish a third category of
products between smartphones and laptops. He says yes, but it’s not that clear.

One reason is because there was no immediate word on any of the
rumored subscription content deals with Hollywood and other content
providers that might make the iPad a must-have gadget that moves beyond niche
markets such as education, health and graphics arts.

Much has been made about Apple’s attempts to revive the markets for various forms of media, but little was said at the Apple event to clarify just how the iPad will do that.

Jobs’ announcement of Apple’s foray into the electronic book market also
left questions about the price of the books and whether consumers will
be able to seamlessly sync them among Apple devices.

The challenge for Apple is whether it can convince the millions of
consumers who already own an iPhone or iPod Touch, or are content with
their notebook computers, that it’s worth shelling out at least
$499—the base price for six model categories — for a larger
touch-screen machine. The iPad offers 10 hours of battery life even
when playing video, which should help. And the touch display helps distinguish the iPad from Apple’s MacBook notebook computer lineup as well as Windows-based notebooks and netbooks.

Apple did strike what should be a consumer-pleasing deal with its
wireless carrier partner AT&T to offer two data plans, one for $14.99, the other for $29.99 unlimited monthly data. Combined with built-in Wi-Fi and free access to AT&T’s national Wi-Fi hotspot network, the plans could make the iPad an all-around mobile device.

As expected, Apple announced it had struck deals with five of the major
book publishers to create its own store for downloading books in
electronic form. But many rival makers of mobile devices, including
Amazon’s Kindle family and Sony’s Reader ebooks, include mobile
broadband connections in the purchase price.

Early adopters enamored with all things Apple will flock to the iPad. But until Apple gets developers to create more iPad-specific applications that showcase the hardware, it may face the same mainstream consumer apathy that has plagued other tablet-specific devices created over the past decade by its rivals.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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