Now that Apple has brought us the Second Coming of the tablet computer (actually, about the sixth or seventh), what does it really mean for consumers, technologists, and the media industry?
First of all, what the iPad does well:
- $30/month 3G data plan with no contract
- 10 hour battery (if you believe Mr. Steve)
- Bigger screen than the Kindle or iPhone
- Nice form factor for reading at the breakfast table or on the couch
- Access to books via the familiar iTunes store
What it does not so well:
- Costs at least $630 if you want 3G wireless
- Runs iPhone apps, not everything you can run on the Mac (not a notebook replacement)
- No Flash (!)
- No camera
- No memory slot or USB port so you can connect your own camera
- No multitasking
- Can't make phone calls (although maybe Skype will work on it)
- LED display - can't read it at the beach like the Kindle's E Ink
- Books much more expensive than at Amazon
- No deals yet with magazine publishers
- No deals yet with move studios and TV networks
So it's not a replacement for your phone and it's not a replacement for your laptop, but it's bigger than the former and costs as much as the latter. Some of the iPad's limitations are probably temporary. It probably lacks a camera because the proprietary 1 GHz processor can't handle simultaneous compression and decompression, but Moore's law will fix that in some future version, the display will get bright enough to read outdoors when OLEDs get cheaper, and I'm sure Apple will strike deals with magazine publishers, although they have reason to be concerned about letting Apple get between them and their subscribers.
But despite all these limitations, there are a few things about the iPod that indicate some significant change. The iPad is another nail in the coffin of the dominance of the big telecom companies. Just as with the iPhone, it was Apple and not AT&T that decided what this device could and could not do. That may be why Verizon still does not work with Apple, but its only a matter of time before they have to change their ways as well. The $30/month unlimited data plan is only a moneymaker for AT&T if people don't download a lot of video (Goldman Sachs estimates that it costs AT&T $1 for 100 MB) so it will be interesting to see if AT&T removes the restrictions on video from their Terms of Service to allow types of use Steve Jobs described on stage or if they just look the other way while they continue to add capacity to their network.
The other significant development, pioneered by Amazon with the Kindle, is getting people to pay for content. Amazon demonstrated that by bundling wireless connectivity with a new device, people would pay for content such as newpapers, that was otherwise free on the web. Amazon also sells a lot of ebooks, although at $9.99 they are taking a loss on each one to build market share. Apple does not want to play that game. The publishers are happy to see higher price points, but consumers may not be so enthusiastic. If Apple can bring magazines to the iPad, along the lines of Bonnier's prototype, that could breathe new life into the magazine industry, but curiously none of that has happened yet.
And of course there is always the possibility that the breathless of enthusiasm of Apple fans will make the iPad a success anyway. At a minimum if will give Apple time to further refine the device and add to its capabilities. Who knows, maybe Apple will become like Microsoft, where it takes three generations before they get the product right. At least with the iPhone is only took Apple two.