The real debate: Is the iPad a big iPhone, a big iPod Touch or a crippled iMac?

apple media pad itablet concept

Ya. We know, the photo used here is not of the actual iPad (Creative Commons License photo credit: nDevilTV).

Apple has described the iPad as the most innovative piece of technology they have ever produced. This may be true if you take it apart and look at the pieces, but the end result is a device that is actually strong in it’s non-innovative approach.

Perhaps, it would have been nice to see a larger screen, a slide-out keyboard, a digital camera/video, true GPS, full OS X, an OLED or color eInk screen, and innovative features that have never been seen before. However, a few years from now we may look back and realize that it may be the iPad’s similarity to the iPhone and iPod Touch that make it a success for Apple.

The iPad is actually an answer to complaints from iPhone and iPod Touch users. The larger screen and ability to attach peripherals are the only real differences between Apple’s current touch screen devices and the iPad.

But, is the screen big enough and will people use a device that is missing some of the features that make the iPhone attractive?

Where would Twitter, FourSquare, Yelp!, and mobile Google Maps be without the iPhone. Sure, there are plenty of smartphones that use these services, but would those companies have reached their current value had it not been for the iPhone. The even bigger question is would the iPhone be as popular had these services not found innovative uses for the camera, GPS and overall awareness of the iPhone?

iPad discussions on Twitter and in forums seem to be full of debates on whether the iPad is good enough to be useful to current iPhone and iPod Touch users. And then there’s the Netbook crowd. A nicely equipped netbook costs roughly $200-$300 less than the iPad.

Whether or not the iPad is a hit will depend on the actual needs of users, not the hype that Apple has put behind it. A table on Apple’s website has a price breakdown for each model.

Once cost not covered on this chart is the additional $15-$30 per month for the 3G service (only offered by AT&T). $30 per month for 3G data is a very good deal when you compare it to the cost of other networks data plans or even data plans on AT&T for other devices. If the iPad has a killer feature, this is it. On the other hand, most wireless providers offer a USB 3G wireless adapter that can be plugged into any netbook or notebook for roughly $50 per month.

The question is whether people will pay $629 (or more) plus $15-$30 per month ($180-$360) for a data service that can only be used on a single device. Compare the $629+$180 minimum for a 3G iPad which only offers 16GB of storage, no webcam, and no tactile keyboard to almost any $300 netbook with a 3G dongle or built-in 3G. The pricing is roughly the same. However, the added cost in getting a netbook plus USB 3G dongle allows you to pick your 3G service, you will likely get 160GB or more in storage, a webcam, a tactile keyboard. The USB dongle route allows you to use the 3G service on other device.

On the other hand, if you go the iPad route, you will have a cool device with a touch screen. You will also get noticed in coffee shops as you sit with your neck at a right angle pressing the keys of the onscreen keyboard as you punch out an email that say something like…

Bob,

Got your message. I will write more when I get to a real computer.

Thanks,

Bob

Sent from my iPad

To other iPad users this message will show that you cared enough to hit the function keys that allowed you to make a few punctuation marks. Of course, there is a full QWERTY keyboard available for the iPad. It is important to note that spending the extra $60 on the keyboard will bring you to within $30 of the price difference of going the netbook route. If you choose the 64GB version and unlimited data, then you surpassed the cost of a netbook a long time ago.

If anything, Apple has open the doors for a real non-Windows competitor to step in and steal the market share from anyone who is not a brand loyalist (fanboi).

The instant on, 3G and touch screen are nice features that make the iPad unique. That helps competitors who want to go to the cost and expense define what their competing product needs. We hope it means an Android-based tablet with a real keyboard and OLED or color eInk display. Throw in a webcam, real GPS and the 3G service of the customer’s choosing and you have a device that could win big among people who consider features over brand. Apple has opened the gates on the $500+ price point for a small screen. This allows competitors to come in and offer better equipped devices for a lower cost.

The big question will be whether OS X is enough to draw enough buyers over competing products. The operating system is the only feature that competitors cannot duplicate. If Windows were the only option, the iPad would be a solid winner. Linux, Android, Chrome and even WebOS are always lingering out there for customers and manufacturers who are willing to break with Apple and Windows and try something different.

It’s an exciting time to be a geek.

1 thought on “The real debate: Is the iPad a big iPhone, a big iPod Touch or a crippled iMac?

  1. Nice comprehensive review!

    There was a small grammer error that you might correct — “nicely equipped iPad costs roughly $200-$300 more than the iPad.”

    I personally am thinking they released w/o enough features and should call this beta the iFlop

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work by adamc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.