Friday, January 29, 2010

When no amount of reality distortion field can hide the fact that the emperor is naked

After a long media frenzy on how the Apple tablet will revolutionize the world and be the best thing since the invention of the PC, the actual official announcement of the iPad has indeed slashed all records - I mean, all records on the number of new jokes (most of them surprisingly funny) launched in just 24 hours !!!
There are many 'firsts' in regard to this latest launch, but none of them is really a pure technological achievement - and most important of all is the fact that for the very first time Apple has launched a product that even the most die-hard fanboys see as non-inspiring and not so desirable in any way. This is a huge problem - since at Apple it was always a matter of selling a product which was visibly and vastly overpriced but at least it was so desirable that people would skip rent and still buy one just in order to have the latest 'status symbol'. That's no longer the case - and is only in a rather small part since the name is related to an article of feminine personal hygiene. It could be that for the first time there was too much hype prior to the launch but more likely it is also related to the total lack of something technologically new or at least exciting - it is just a much bigger iPod, one that you can NOT carry in your pocket to listen to your music on your daily commute ...
There IS however one potential market segment where the iPad might fit - but again I wonder if Apple really would like to go there - the product could be an almost-perfect device for your grandmother or anybody else with poor sight or hand coordination - but that would make it instantly the most non-cool device that Apple has ever sold and I am curious if the company will survive the wave of jokes on that matter.
There are plenty other things that are wrong with the device - unfortunately at the very top is the actual US economy :( The device would have done well in 2005 or 2006, but that is 2010 and with little chances to see a real recovery before 2020 the sticker shock might be a little too much for everyone but the most brainwashed fans.
And finally let's get to the actual huge technological problem - while with the original iPod the real innovation was a legal market for a product which until then RIAA would have considered totally illegal (and certainly fight in court), and on the iPhone the trick was to grab some small market share from other totally-closed devices (and getting most of the money in hidden long-term fees from the cellphone providers), today the iPad is trying something that even most mactards see as the wrong direction - closing a class of devices perceived as personal computers and which until now people would assume that they own - not entirely true, given that both Windows and OSX are actually licensed, but at least in theory it was possible to 'break free'. Well, not any more - the new device is just another totally-closed ecosystem, but unlike the iPhone (where pretty much all the other players were equally closed at the moment when Apple was actually grabbing market share), on this one there are quite a number of cheaper and better devices already on the market or very soon coming. And just as with the cellphones - where the actual iPhone killers are open-source devices like Android or Nokia N900 - on the tablets the new wave of Linux tablets and netbooks will actually marginalize the iPad probably long before most people will forget the original jokes about it.
The only (other than grandma-device) segment where the iPad might eventually compete is the electronic-book segment - on this one ALL the publishers will agree that the total closeness is a huge advantage - but unfortunately the device is 1-2 years too late even for that (not to mention that a Kindle will kick major iPad ass in direct sun).
So - will it fail or not ? Well, for 1-2 years the sales to fanboys might keep it afloat, but on the long term it might remain in history as the device that sank the myth of Steve Jobs ...