Now that Apple's long-awaited official announcement of the iPad has come and gone, Apple reviewers have had a chance to take a deep breath and take stock of what CEO Steve Jobs has delivered. In the wake of all the hype of the tablet computer as a "Jesus device," Apple fanboys and the general public were struck with an anticlimactic feeling. "Is that all there is?" many asked.
In the week or so since the announcement, the technology press has made much of the iPad's failings -- starting with jokes about feminine hygiene products but continuing on to real shortcomings such as the lack of support for Adobe Flash-based video.
After all the hype, is the iPad a letdown? "It's not a bad first-generation product; it's a reasonable offering," Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, said in a telephone interview. "It's going to mature a lot in the second and third generations, and the market will open up for them in that time frame. There's too big a bar to get a big wave on the first generation."
Ready for the Second Generation
What does the iPad need in that second generation? "We need another carrier other than AT&T, and we probably need a different screen that's viewable outdoors," Enderle said. He said this first-generation iPad is probably comparable to the original iPhone.
"The iPhone was kind of crippled when it came out -- it took two generations to reach its potential," Enderle said. By contrast, "the screen and the mobile provider can probably be done by the second generation."
Jobs actually announced six versions of the iPad -- three Wi-Fi-only configurations and three with a 3G plan. Enderle expects the 3G models to be more popular than the Wi-Fi versions, even with AT&T's weak coverage. "The Kindle is so much better with 3G coverage," Enderle said, "and the tariff (for 3G on the iPad) isn't that bad. Until something like WiMAX rolls out, Wi-Fi-only will have limited appeal."
Where's the Flash?
One of the chief complaints about the iPad -- and the iPhone, for that matter -- is Apple's steadfast refusal to support Flash, which is the technology undergirding virtually all web-based video. This problem was manifest at the iPad announcement when Jobs demonstrated The New York Times on the device and a missing plug-in icon appeared instead of a news video.
Apple's strategy is to push HTML5 as the open-standard alternative to Adobe's proprietary technology. "Flash is going to be a problem," Enderle said. "There's too much of it out there. It may take five years to move the market to HTML5. It's a competitive disadvantage for the iPad right now."
Ultimately, Apple may be able to sell the millions of iPads and iPhones that will drive the market where Apple wants it to go, Enderle said.
Apple scored big points with publishers -- and "caught Amazon napping," Enderle said -- by letting publishers set the price of books. Amazon was forced to cry uncle in a public battle with Macmillan over who would get to set prices for e-books.
With Apple letting publishers set prices, Amazon had "to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books," Amazon said in an e-mail to Kindle customers.
"Publishers are gong to like the Apple model a lot better, but consumers probably won't," Enderle said. "I wonder if in making the publishers happy, Apple is limiting the market for the iPad. It's one additional reason not to buy the product and should slow down adoption."