Apple's iPad will retail at Target stores starting Oct. 3, according to the discount retailer. This confirms earlier rumors, and hints that Apple is exploring ways to hold its lead in the tablet PC market as other manufacturers begin to introduce competing devices.
Reports suggest Target will offer four variations of the popular tablet, including all three WiFi-only and one 3G-capable models. The starting price point will be $499, presumably for the 16GB, WiFi-only iPad.
Target's official announcement fulfills earlier rumors. In a Sept. 12 post, tech blog Engadget mentioned receiving "a list featuring a mysteriously unnamed product that's set to become available Oct. 3 (in six different versions, no less)" along with a screenshot-from a Target inventory-tracking PDA-showing item numbers that correspond with iPad prices. The then-unnamed products were headed for the stores' Digital Audio section.
The question now is whether Target will expand its offerings to include the iPad's other two 3G-enabled models. Electronics retailer Best Buy carries all six iPad models, as do Apple's retail stores.
Best Buy plans to promote the iPad heavily during the holiday shopping season and expand distribution of the device to all its 1,093 stores in the United States. "People are willing to disproportionally spend for these devices because they are becoming so important to their lives," Brian Dunn, CEO of Best Buy, is quoted as saying in a Sept. 14 Wall Street Journal interview. "We are really positioning the company to be the place where people can come and see the best of the connected world."
For retailers, carrying the iPad represents an opportunity to muscle into a burgeoning market segment. A recent note from UBS Investment Research predicted sales of 28 million iPads in 2011, perhaps affecting the market for low-end notebooks.
"Sales of traditional notebooks appear to be feeling pressure from the iPad, causing a scramble by vendors to launch iPad-like tablets," analyst Maynard Um wrote in that note. "We believe that a majority of the impact is occurring on the lower end of PC sales as the iPad is priced close enough to this range that it becomes attractive to consumers looking to make purchases within this segment."
In addition, wrote Um: "Consumers who purchase iPads may be more willing to delay purchases and upgrades of existing PCs." He did not, however, resort to saying that the iPad will cannibalize the notebook market.
Other analysts have been more adamant in their belief that tablets aren't cannibalizing the notebook market.
"No one expected netbook sales to stay at the atmospheric levels of 2009 and in fact netbooks, as a percentage of U.S. consumer sales, have been very steady all year in the mid-teens," Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD Group, wrote in a Sept. 20 posting on the research firm's official blog. "In light of the sales facts it is, in my view, a mistaken and absolutely untenable position to claim that PC sales are under pressure because of the iPad where there are so many other factors that are contributing to the poor results."
Given the iPad's success, other manufacturers now have their designs on the market segment. Samsung is prepping to launch its Galaxy Tab on four different U.S. carriers, and Hewlett-Packard is reportedly working on tablets that run both its recently acquired Palm webOS and Windows 7. Research In Motion is widely expected to introduce a BlackBerry-themed tablet, possibly named the BlackPad, that will target enterprise customers.