Apple iPad is not a Kindle killer. It's a netbook killer, and here is why.....

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This Christmas season I spent hours reviewing the Kindle, the Sony Reader, the B&N nook, and a few other e-Readers.  My purpose was not to write yet another comparison entry for our readers to gloss over for keywords (I discovered plenty of blog entries on the internet that covered this topic almost ad nauseum) but instead it was a more personal review for a target audience of one, my mother.  Since this is not an article about that search, I will spare you the suspense and tell you we bought her a Sony Reader Touch edition (there is poor 3G coverage in her area).  The following month I found myself pouring over various netbooks for yet another targeted audience, my father in-law.  Again, I will spare you the details, we bought the Dell mini 10 from their outlet web site.

These two experiences in tech evaluation have come back in an important way this week while reading and watching the Apple iPad announcements, reviews, and commentary.  Sometimes it seems that the lead-in to a big product announcement creates a speculation tsunami that makes it almost impossible for the actual release to be viewed with any sense of innovative thought.  I am not saying this to set up this articles conclusion as some revelation in thought but rather to emphasize how little variance there really is throughout the "blogosphere" and other media outlets combined.  So to cut to the chase, I would like to propose that the general perception is wrong.  The iPad will not be killing the Kindle or taking over the entirety of the eReader market, not as its first victim anyway.

iTouch, therefore iPad

The iPad, in its cheapest form, is a large iTouch as it has WiFi but no 3G or 4G radio.  It is essentially the Apple netbook that so many pundits have been clamoring for over the last 12+ months.  Anecdotally, I have spoken to many laptop users who would like nothing more than to give up their clunky laptop and do everything on their iPhone or iTouch.  This is exactly what the iPad will enable users to do.  

We already know that email and web browsing will be very accomplished and the only limitation will be the lack of Adobe Flash support. This is something I think Apple will need to resolve if it ever hopes to capture large sections of the corporate or education market.  It will also be vital as Google encroaches on the iPhone market share with Android phones since the main venue for playing videos on the Apple platforms is currently the Google YouTube application. If you couple the existing features of the Apple platforms with the newest abilities in general word processing (Apple added a version of iWork to the iPad release) there is little left that my mom, father-in-law, or even my CEO would find lacking in the device for day-to-day use.  

surf's up! duuuude

Most of the general users and hopeful users of netbooks express their requirements in the exact same way.  "I just want something to surf the web, do email, and maybe watch a movie on a plane and I don't want to spend a ton of money."  The iPad fulfills each and every one of these requirements, and then some (as almost everything is now a function of surfing, even email).  But that still leaves open the door to performance.  Can the iPad outperform a netbook for the same amount of money?  This article on CNET that details the A4 processor merits in the iPad versus other competing ARM chips helps explain how Apple can maintain a sustained competitive advantage.  Even so, there is still the perception that the limitation of single-tasking from the iPad will somehow reduce the user base and help netbooks fend off any serious iPad assault.  

I would counter that this mis-evaluation comes from techie geeks (such as me) who are so pumped full of espresso or Mountain Dew that we feel the need to have 5 apps open at the same time.  In general (and that word is important when your talking about market share in the consumer world) users are not looking to have that much going on.  In fact, even if they feel that multi-tasking is a must have feature they will be sorely disappointed in the multi-tasking performance of your average Windows powered netbook.  There are other limitations that are more important to the general user than the ability to multi-task.  Camera, memory stick and USB support are three that jump to mind but even those items can be added or sidestepped via bluetooth solutions or WiFi (have you seen Eye-Fi?)

it's so easy, even a caveman......well, you know (copyright avoidance)

Why is all this important?  Who really cares if my family or friends like the iPad as their primary device?  Corporate IT should care, that's who.
We have already seen instances where corporate IT will be pestered and hampered by not providing their users with the same functionality they can get on their own at home.  Major corporations such as Cisco have already acquiesced to allowing Mac laptops into the enterprise.  Many corporations are no longer buying the mobile devices for users but instead are simply reimbursing a set dollar amount for mobile packages.  Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are increasingly going un-blocked by corporate firewalls due to content necessity and by the simple competitive fact that new hires find it inconceivable that these services do not exist in the workplace.  The same will occur with the iPad (forgive the obvious prognostication).  New hires will find it antiquated to move off their iPad from college to the bulky, boorish, and constrained confines of their "new" corporate laptop.

follow the money.....

In the end it may be the new Bookstore that generates the valuable re-occurring revenue for Apple but when this comes out of the gate in March I will be watching the pace of iPad sales versus the slowdown in netbook sales, not a drop in Kindle sales.  There are predictions that netbook sales will top 30 million units in 2010 while the eReader market will possibly break 12 million (both estimates are pre-Pad) Today the iPad and the Kindle-like products are not in the same class.  It is similar to trying to pinpoint the exact moment when the iPhone kills the Blackberry.  Watch that match too closely and you will miss out on the absolute slaughter of the Sidekick, Treo, Tilt, and pretty much anything running Windows Mobile or Symbian.
 
Joshua
 
image © Arman Zhenikeyev - Fotolia.com
Joshua Sillers

I'm proud to be a techie with a liberal arts degree and miss those late 90's parties where all the techies had liberal arts degrees because the computer programmers didn't know how the internet worked. I started in network sales then tech support, and now delivery for Unified Communications.