After what seems like an eternity of waiting, Apple finally announced its new tablet device. Dubbed the iPad, the new tablet device may pack some of the features critical to getting consumers on board with mobile broadband in large numbers. Add to this prices that start at $629 for Wi-Fi/3G models ($499 without 3G support), and it is clear to see why many people have been holding their breathes waiting for the iPad.
The iPhone Effect
Before covering the key features and pricing in more detail, it is important cover why the iPad may be one of the key devices to push mobile broadband technology. It all started with the iPhone, which is closely related to the iPad in many ways. One of the most impressive feats accomplished by the iPhone and its successors was the popularization of a single mobile platform. Before the iPhone, consumers were offered many unique choices in terms of mobile operating system and so on, but that was more of a problem than a benefit from a sales standpoint.
Top notch software developers were shy of spending large sums of money on product development for a platform that was likely to displaced by the next big thing, which was always lurking right around the corner. Apple brought its marketing prowess and iTunes store into the equation and deployed a serious contender that attracted masses of consumers to a single platform. The result is an app store with over 140,000 applications and counting, ranging from free apps to applications that cost over $100. This wealth of diverse apps is arguably the single strongest selling point of the iPhone, and the iPad itself can use these very same apps as well as custom apps that are iPad exclusive.
When quality apps started to be released, customers began to sign up. Whether this is a product of the ‘app for that’ advertising campaign or not may be immaterial because the fact is that having so many apps makes Apple’s iPhone an attractive platform. Many apps are web-aware or even web-centric, which has helped AT&T justify expanding its network and increasing coverage/quality. Unfortunately, market penetration for a single device is only so great, which is where the iPad comes in. If the iPad is a smash hit with consumers, which seems likely, AT&T will have new customers and more reasons to continue investing heavily in wireless broadband technologies. Remember, AT&T is a for-profit company, and it behooves them to mix a little bit of proactive upgrading with a wait-and-see mentality.
One of the most common complaints about the iPhone is its lack of a keyboard. Some have even gone so far as to hack/modify the iPhone’s Bluetooth settings to allow for external keyboard support, which just goes to show the lengths that some people will go to in order to have a physical keyboard. The iPad comes with an optional hardware keyboard dock, but it still lacks an integrated keyboard. This may be due to the iPad’s lithe form, reportedly a half-inch thick in the middle and thinner around the edges, but at least the on-screen keyboard is enormously large compared to that found on the iPhone.
Apple is offering a special version of its iWork suite on the iPad, which should put both the on-screen keyboard and the docked keyboard to the test. Apple’s e-mail app, simply dubbed Mail, may also give the duo of keyboards a workout. Ultimately, it is probably the media-centric apps that will prove to be the driving force behind the iPad’s adoption. A media player capable of handling HD on the 1024 by 768 display will probably turn many heads, as will the integrated photo software that looks suspiciously like it may be a preview of an upcoming iPhoto release.
The 140,000 or so apps in Apple’s iTunes store are still going to be one of the main attractions to potential iPad buyers. Some apps may run in ‘pixel doubling’ mode, or image super-sampling/up-scaling, but Apple has suggested that they have released tools to allow developers to easily modify existing apps to take advantage of the extra screen real estate. The combination of third-party apps, Apple apps, and hardware should make the iPad a hit with iPhone owners as well as those who do not own an iPhone.
While it is possible to spend $499 on one of the new iPads when they come out, that nets one a WiFi-only iPad with 16 GB of flash memory. A top of the line iPad with 64 GB and 3G support will run $829, but that may not be a turn-off for those that see the promise in such a device. With the right add-on modules, the iPad can be used to download photos from memory cards, act as a standalone mail/browsing/media platform, serve as an HTPC, and serve many other uses. In short, the iPad might be the perfect reason to consider springing for a $30/unlimited data access (5 GB cap) 3G account with AT&T, especially considering that such an account comes with no contractual strings to be wary of. Additionally, will that low monthly price point convince customers to adopt 3G regardless of what cellular carrier their currently use? It would certainly seem like a serious possibility.
What Happened With Verizon?
Apple is notoriously secretive, but the company was rumored to be in 11th hour negotiations with Verizon regarding the iPad. With the 3G iPad still several weeks from shipping, it is possible that Verizon could work its way back into the iPad-picture. On the other hand, Apple has shown a historical tendency to enjoy exclusive arrangements. It is always possible that the inevitable 4G follow-up to the iPad may run on networks other than AT&T, which would certainly help spur wider adoption of mobile broadband.