The Apple iPad gives the impression of being invincible. If you believe Apple’s propaganda and the clamor of the iPad partisans, the one true religion is the iPad, and its prophet is written in the “Book of Jobs.” The truth is, the iPad’s overwhelming market share has nowhere to go but down.
This does not necessarily mean that iPad sales will drop or even slow. Ultimately, Apple’s biggest challenge is retaining the image of dominance when there are so many other choices out there. Adding to the challenge, as I’ve found it in my own search for a tablet device of some sort, is that a tablet computer is not necessarily the solution to all needs, despite the assertions of its most passionate users.
In fact, there are a lot of things that could be better about the iPad-most strikingly, the price. This is a very expensive product, considering it’s not all that necessary for most people. Instead, it’s a lot like the iPod Touch-basically a very cool toy.
Now, I have a Touch, and I love it, but it’s not something that I consider essential. I have other ways that I could play music, I have other ways to check e-mail, and other ways to view Web pages. In other words, the iPod Touch is an indulgence-something I like but don’t need. The same thing is true for the iPad for the vast majority of its users.
So when Rodman & Renshaw predicted that iPad sales might be below estimates for the fourth quarter, as Nick Kolakowski reports, there should be little surprise. It’s an expensive indulgence. What’s more, it now has some stiff competition. The Galaxy Tab is at least as much of an indulgence, and it’s just as expensive. Whether it’s better or worse than the iPad is a subjective judgment.
The fact is, much of what people might want to use the iPad to accomplish is available elsewhere for less money. If you need a highly portable, inexpensive means of checking e-mail and even watching movies, HP is selling its latest netbook for less than $300. If you want an e-reader, the Kindle and Nook cost less than $200. The point is that not everyone sees the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab as essential purchases.
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Admittedly, not everything is as trendy or as cool as an iPad or a Galaxy Tab, but not everyone cares about being cool or trendy. Some people would rather spend their money on functionality and don’t see any point in paying big bucks for functionality that doesn’t specifically meet their needs.
So the iPad is looking at a tough battle if it’s to maintain market share dominance. It’s bound to lose ground in terms of percentage even if it doesn’t lose in overall numbers. The mere fact that there’s competition means that part of the market share will go elsewhere. While the iPad fanciers may decry this, the reality is that not everyone wants an iPad-as hard to believe as that might be.
It’s much the same situation in the smart phone battle, where the iPhone is far from being the only game in town; likewise, the iPad is finding that there are other players, too. The iPhone doesn’t suit everyone’s needs, partly because it doesn’t have a real keyboard, partly because it only works on AT&T (for now), partly because it’s quite, and partly because some people just like the other choices better.
The iPad is certain to be affected in much that same way. It’s not the only tablet out there anymore. It’s also not the only light, easy-to-use platform for browsing the Web, checking e-mail, listening to music, or watching video. There are other tablets, and there are other lightweight computing devices that will eat away at the overall market share for consumer devices with these capabilities. Apple is certain to see its overall share of the market reduced.
This doesn’t mean that the iPad is doomed. In fact, I’m not fully convinced that the analysts are right in that the iPad sales will be under estimates. But I do see that the market is growing, and I see that the iPad is not going to be the only game in town. But this is really good news, because the tablet market grow even if the iPad has a smaller percentage of the total pie.
Likewise, the market for other computers that do similar jobs will grow now that netbooks are becoming capable enough and cheap enough that some of them might be worth having. Overall, this is good for the industry, even if it annoys Apple’s hordes of fans. Making the tablet-lightweight-computer market into something with a broader base is good for everyone. It’s even good for Apple in the long run, because it moves the iPad out of its niche and into a broader, more sustainable place in the market.