March 15, 2010

0 iPad is coming...

Will spotty wi-fi coverage in India cause iSpotting? Will it protect your data from embarrassing leakage? Why would they pass up on “iTampon”? Are there any women on Apple’s marketing team? No. Period.

For over a month, the Web has been drowning in iPad reviews, iPad jokes, iPad news. You would think there’s nothing else happening. So to help stem this heavy flow, I’d decided to write on the few other things that were still going on in the world, until I could actually get my hands on a real iPad (after April 3). But readers of this column, and other publications where I work, had other ideas, flooding me with questions about something I hadn’t even mentioned.
Just what is the iPad?
It’s a tablet. That’s a notebook computer with no keyboard, but with an all-touch screen. (Some tablets do have a hidden or removable keyboard.) The iPad is oh-so-Apple: slim, sexy, uber-cool, plays videos, and runs lots of ‘apps’ to do everything from iWorking with text and spreadsheets to playing the guitar to meditating.

The iPad is actually a big iPhone-sans-phone, or iPod Touch. Apple created the key-less, all-touchscreen iPhone and changed the (phone) world, making it one of the hottest tech products ever. The iPad may look like a tablet PC, but at heart, it’s an iPhone, and runs almost all iPhone apps.
What can I do with one?

Read books. Manage photos. Watch videos. Edit documents and spreadsheets. Yes, you could do most of these things on regular tablets or even laptops. But just as with the iPhone, the iPad’s design and interface is likely to add up to a very different user experience – and desirability. Oh, and you can run nearly all the 1,50,000 apps from Apple’s App Store. (You can’t directly make phone calls, but using its wi-fi or 3G connection and some software, you could make internet-telephony calls.)
Why is it the best thing since sliced bread?
Hey, didn’t you know? It’s an Apple. Their stunning design and their customers’ fanatic brand loyalty are legendary. Despite facetious comments about both (“Even Apple-branded cow poop would sell like hot cakes...would they call it iTurd?”), if Apple launches a product, it shakes up the segment – or creates a new category. It did that with the iPod, and then the iPhone. So expectations are sky high.

For over a decade, PC vendors have tried to sell tablets. Now comes an Apple product to redefine the segment. How? Well, for one thing, this is less a computer and more a consumer product. It’s built around a phone heart, and it’s a no-brainer that more people buy phones than buy computers. India has 550 million mobile phones and only 50 million PCs. And second, because it’s a grown-up iPhone and runs the same software, those 1,50,000 apps (on means a whole apps universe from day one, plus hundreds of developers frantically creating more apps. The larger screen will also allow newer apps. The iPhone heritage means aggressive power use, with over 12 hours of use on a charge.

And third, Apple’s working to make the iPad a great e-book and e-magazine platform, with major publisher support. It won’t be as power-efficient nor as book-like as the Amazon Kindle, but its wide repertoire and flexibility would give it the edge over the Kindle.
What will it cost?

I find it difficult to guess Apple’s India pricing at the best of times. The iPhone starts at a stiff Rs 30,000 (over $600) for the 8GB version in price-sensitive India, but is $99 in the US (thanks to operator subsidy and lock-in). But the iPad won’t have the same subsidy economics. So we could be looking at a US-like price of under Rs 30k for the base version. That’s good.
When will it rule India?

It won’t. No Apple product has. The iPhone is invisible here, with negligible market share, thanks to its price and the fact that 3G isn’t around yet. The iPod took years to get visible, after the Shuffle was finally priced for a price-sensitive market. And despite easy availability of Apple’s notebooks, and stunning designs like the MacBook Air, they have marginal presence in India.

Apple’s India strategy, if it has one, is a closely guarded secret that its five or six consecutive India CEOs of the past decade have tried to uncover. Everything in Apple is a closely guarded secret, including why its entire India management team abruptly exited in mid-2009. Most queries generate robotic boilerplate responses. So I really don’t have any India answers.

What’s clear is that the US will see midnight queues on April 3, before the big day dawns. So here we go. iPads, everyone! And across the web, Apple fans will go berserk, heralding the iPad Era. Or will it be...a period?
The author is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles including the gadget site,


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