The internet is abuzz with articles about the iPad and how it will revolutionize media, about how four million people will own one in the next year, about how the iPad will save magazines and newspapers and much more.
But there are a few things about the iPad that give me reason to think that it may not be the game-changer the blogosphere would have you believe.
The iPad is a neat device. Like most things Apple makes, it looks cool. It has great form and probably pretty good functionality, too.
And like most products Apple makes, it’s expensive. The iPad starts out at $499. And the really good ones, with 3G cellular connectivity and lots of memory, can set you back as much as $829, not including monthly cellular service. That’s a lot of money to spend on a device for reading the morning news while mouthing a crumbly doughnut and slurping a cup of coffee in a vanpool, cab or train on the way to work.
Also like most products Apple makes, it’s exclusive. If you want content for the iPad, you have to go through an Apple website, ala the iPod and iTunes. Magazine publishers who want their titles on the iPad have to give Apple 30 percent of the take, and don’t have much, if any, control over user data.
Of course, this is hardly the first time Apple has taken this approach to business. The year is 1984, and computer maker Apple introduces the Macintosh, an incredibly cool, futuristic device (sound familiar?) that promises to redefine the growing personal computer market and upend the lead that IBM had forged with its PC platform.
It didn’t happen. IBM licensed its computer architecture out to third party manufacturers (ever heard of Dell, HP, or Gateway?). Apple didn’t. And today, Apple’s OSX operating system—by most accounts sturdier, slicker and faster than Windows (the heir to the IBM legacy)—has just a five percent market share. Windows has 92 percent.
You could tell a similar story about Sony and the Betamax, or America Online. Technology today is not about exclusivity. Technology, specifically (and especially) the internet, is about freedom of choice. That’s the appeal of the internet. It’s a wide open playground, a limitless library of information, with no one telling consumers from whom they must purchase their songs, movies or information.
In subsequent posts, I’ll talk about what I think needs to happen to make the iPad—or at least devices with iPad-like functionality—the revolutionary device that its boosters think it will be.