Apple in perspective: obligatory iPad post

While all my geek friends are in a frenzy over the announcement of the new Apple iPad (based on a Star Trek PADD, looks like a Kindle, acts like an iPhone, priced like a Win/Linux laptop, and – best of all – produces #iTampon as a trending term on twitter within minutes of its announcement), I thought I might just remind my rather over-excited alumni of a few details they tend to conveniently forget when they start to make radical predictions about the mass adoption of Apple technology.

1. The iPhone is popular but it’s not the most common phone on the market.

Smartphone market share

2.  Apple computers are not dominant in the market either.

Indeed, Apple represented just 7.5% of total PC sales in the US in Q4 last year. That, by the way, is a drop in sales when compared with the same quarter in the previous year. For what it’s worth, Hewlett Packard and Dell were 52.6% of the market.

3. Battery life on the iPhone is rubbish

There are countless sites online which inform you how to extend your iPhone battery to last above a day – mainly by not using too many of those power-hungry applications, and keeping the screen rather dark. And they reckon the iPad battery will last 10 hours?  Good luck. I have a feeling there’ll be a lot of users walking around straining their eyes on a darkened screen in order to conserve battery life.

4. People still prefer keyboards.

The iPad might have lots of functions and a touchscreen interface, but for the kind of functions where people want to communicate quickly and extensively, they’ll want a keyboard.  Apparently there is a keyboard you can dock to the iPad, but … <cough, cough>… isn’t that just a netbook?

5. Apple products are for geeks. Yes, it’s true.

They like to think they are for everyday people, and they are certainly designed for ease of use, but for the most part the price point of Apple technology has put it out of the reach of most consumers. So it becomes a product that geeks save for and spend money on basically as a fashion device and as ‘proof’ of their value of quality design and hardware over cheaper Linux or Windows alternatives.  Even the new iPad’s price at US$499 (£308, A$557) is still about £55 more than the average netbook price.  So although it’s a lot closer to being competitively priced, it’s still more expensive than its competitors.  And that’s still going to matter to people who are struggling financially.

Don’t get me wrong: I have a great appreciation for Apple products.  I used to be a Mac user. I had several Macs over the years and was an enormous fan of the quality of the hardware.  I just know that when it comes down to it, it’s still a luxury item. Only the iPod ever made it to mass acceptance and that was primarily because MP3 players were uniformly dreadful. And even then, an iPod is still between two and ten times more expensive than its rivals.

So before you start lauding the iPad as the next big thing in computing, take a step back and work out what people actually want to do with their technology – what tasks and what outcomes in communication are they seeking?  What interfaces are most efficient in achieving those outcomes?  What pricepoint is acceptable? And finally, where exactly is the market? The iPhone has been a dismal failure in China, and as the BRIC countries are likely to be the greatest influencers in the future of technology development, I think we should be looking to see what they are buying before we start talking about any technology changing the world.

All I’m suggesting is that the current hype is merely that: hype.  Get some perspective and remember that the iPad is just a big Newton.

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