Monday, April 26, 2010

What the iPad means at first

So it's been a few weeks now since Apple's iPad went on the market. And later this week, a more useful 3G version hits the streets. Last week's Earnings Call (which took place on April 20, 2010) shed little light on the sales performance of the device, except to say that Apple's executives aren't displeased by the early returns. Of course, the Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg raved (link for subscribers only) about the device, but for years he's been a loyal Apple user who decries the IT management's resistance to his favorite machines.

So now what?
The buzz and hype were up to Apple's extraordinary standards. The design and aesthetics of the machine are there, as well. But will it truly be a turning point in personal computing?

My opinion ... yes, but perhaps not in the way most people might expect.

The iPod completely changed the way people buy music. I don't know anyone under the age of 70 that still buys CDs. That's an entire industry virtually eliminated in under 10 years. Portable CD players are so rare that it's surprising to see one outside of a museum. Of course, the iPod wasn't the first MP3 player ... but it was the first to be truly easy to use.

Which brings me back to the iPad.
Tablet PCs have been around for a long time. Through the years several attempts to make a good one have met with limited, albeit genuine, success. But they were heavy, bulky and unintuitive. The iPad is none of those things. And the other manufacturers will figure out how to make their version of it. Windows 7 already has important design features that bring touch screen technology closer to the consumer. Mobile phones, like the iPhone, the Droid (my personal favorite) and the BlackBerry Storm (not a great phone), have proven that touch screen technology can be put in consumers' hands for a reasonable price.

So, all of the pieces are in place and the iPad has played the critical role of causing people in the real world to pay attention to tablet PCs. The big question is ... when will all of that innovation translate to the corporate environment? Will tablet PCs replace laptops and notebook computers? Will their budgets have enough room in them for experimentation and failures? Given our uncertain economic climate, I think it will be another 12-18 months before we see that start happening. That will give manufacturers time to try and fail and try again. And then, we'll see the true impact of the iPad.

Apple Inc.: AAPL (NASDAQ)

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