Apple finally announced their much-anticipated tablet computer yesterday, and I still can’t quite figure out what the market is for this device. I’ve spent many hours working on various small computing platforms, and many more hours ruminating over what usage model the tablet computer world is looking for.
I’m one of those strange people who don’t have a cell phone. It’s not that I don’t see how convenient they could be. I just don’t have a reason to own one. I can’t take it to work (security-crazed high-tech area that forbids almost every piece of 21st-century personal technology), my commute is less than 15 minutes, and I don’t really spend much time on the phone to begin with. Not to mention, cell reception in this town, based on calls I’ve experienced, is sucky at best.
But, even without a cell phone, I’ve been using lots of small computing devices. I had a Palm III, a Sony Clie, and I currently have a Nokia N770. My beautiful bride has a netbook (also known as the Netflixbook). I also have my home desktop computer and my homebrew DVR, for non-portable computing devices. I’ve owned a computer since 1980, and I think I understand how people use them and for what purposes. But I’m absolutely mystified by where a mass market for a tablet is, at least for something that costs more than $200. I didn’t even buy the N770 until it was clearanced for under 150, because I couldn’t justify the expense of a $300 portable to myself.
Let’s see what the iPad brings, compared to Kat’s netbook (an Asus Eee 1000HE):
- The iPad has wifi 802.11n. So does the Eee.
- The iPad has a 9.7″ screen, at 1024×768. The Eee is 10″ and 1024×600.
- The iPad has 16-64 GB of solid-state storage. The Eee has 160 GB of hard drive space.
- The iPad weighs 1.6 pounds; the Eee is 3 pounds.
- The iPad runs its own special version of the iPod OS, and only works with programs from the App store (or jailbroken eventually I’m sure). The Eee runs Windows XP, with all that it implies.
- The iPad has 10 hours of hyped battery life. The Eee has 9 hours of hyped battery life. The realities are always different from the marketing, but usually assume 70% of hype for real life.
- The iPad has no keyboard. Eee – keyboard.
- The iPad has available 3G data for an extra $130 and monthly fees. Eee has similar capabilies available (we don’t use 3G any more than we use voice cellular service).
- The iPad will display multimedia and ePub books, but not Flash apps. Eee can do all that AND Flash.
- The iPad has no camera. Eee has a webcam.
- The iPad has no USB ports. Eee has three.
- The iPad has no VGA connector nor Ethernet nor any other standard ports. Eee – yep, got ’em.
- The iPad can’t multitask with non-Apple applications. Eee – yay for multitasking.
- The iPad costs $500 for 16gb and no 3G, up to $830 for 64gb and 3G. The Eee cost under $350.
I’m sorry. I don’t know who wants these besides fanboys. It runs the same OS as the iPhone, but doesn’t have a camera or the ability to make voice calls. It costs more than an iPod Touch or a netbook, but the only thing it seems to bring to the table is a big screen for your iPod. The reason tablet PCs haven’t taken off, even though Microsoft and others have been trying for ten years, is because they are a solution to a problem very few people have. For the “vertical market” segment, tablets are big business; that market itself isn’t all that large, but it’s a niche and it can be exploited by standard Windows or custom Linux machines. It isn’t likely to be broken into by a giant iPod, and it certainly seems the iPad isn’t aimed at professional markets but at consumers. Consumers with an extra 700 bucks for a device with a very constrained media-consumption experience. I’ve been amazed at a few things over the years, and if the first-generation iPad is a huge success for Apple, it’ll be another one of those things.
All that said, if someone comes out with a cheap handheld computer with keyboard an a real OS, I’m buying it. Obviously, I’m not Apple’s market. But, who is?