Apple iPad's Price Puts It Within Reach of Small Businesses

The surprisingly low price of Apple's long-awaited touch screen tablet, the iPad, which starts at $499, makes it an affordable (and desirable) option for small businesses, an Apple expert argues.

After months of waiting, the Apple tablet, now officially known as the iPad, was released with much fanfare. Touted as a "magical and revolutionary device," the iPad looks like a very large iPhone (it sports a 9.7-inch touch screen) and offers models with Wi-Fi and 3G capability. And it boasts a base price that is much lower than analysts' expectations.

At the iPad's unveiling Jan. 27, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced a starting price of $499 (for a 16GB Wi-Fi-enabled iPad), with unlimited data plans for $30. The top-end model is a 64GB version with 3G capability, which would retail for $829 when it reaches store shelves in a couple of months. The question now is, Who will feel the need to buy one?

For images of Apple's iPad, click here.

For the past year and a half, the small to medium-size business (SMB) market has been gravitating toward netbooks (smaller, cheaper notebooks with limited computing power) to improve mobility and reduce cost among company road warriors. With the average netbook retailing for between $400 to $600, this puts the iPad within an SMB's budget range. However, the iPad requires additional accessories, such as a stand and keyboard (the iPad offers a near full-size virtual keyboard), the aforementioned data plan and perhaps software additions like iWork applications (at $9.99 an app).

Michael Oh, president and founder of TechSuperpowers, an Apple care and retail specialist and founder of Codex Development, specializing in mobile applications, said the device's potential appeal for small businesses is one of the hidden stories of the launch.

"It's not about the features, it's not about the specifics-it's more about what it can be used for, and that price is the biggest feature out there," he said. "One of the important things is that it's not a mobile browser anymore. This is a full-screen browser, which means software as a service [SAAS] or any Web-based app your business has instantly becomes the killer app for small businesses on this. It's suddenly the easiest, lightest, cheapest option."

Oh said for a small business like his, which requires a staff of field technicians, the iPad's price makes it a strong contender. "From a small business owner's perspective, for my guys that are out there in the field as technicians, I think those guys can do a lot with an iPad," he said. "I would say I would strongly consider moving my field guys to this, and mostly because of the price. If I moved to the iPad, it's purely because I'm willing to give up some of their functionality they have with the laptops, but that's an equation I can balance. The browser experience on this is superior to a netbook at the same cost. That to me is critical: The browser is now the main application."