iPad arrives: can Apple crack the tablet?

Rodney Gedda

Rodney Gedda is the former deputy editor of CIO and former editor of Techworld.

So after years of rumour and speculation Apple has finally released a tablet PC under the humorous name of iPad. The immediate question is whether the iPad should be placed in the same league as traditional tablet PCs. If you think back over the past decade the burgeoning concept of a tablet PC has, at times, been all the rage. Unfortunately for the tablet makers the hype wasn’t matched by sales figures.

The more expensive tablet PCs and hybrid notebooks have not been compelling enough for mainstream portable computer buyers.

For the business market there may be plenty of niche applications tablets are useful for, but they are exactly that, niche. Add to that the netbook explosion of recent years and notebooks continue to sell in a way tablets can only dream of.

Enter Apple.

It was hardly a surprise that Apple would enter the tablet market with a keyboard-less design (the iPad Keyboard Dock is an accessory). When you think of how tablets are used the keyboard tends to get in the way. There will be no quick switching to notebook mode, but that’s not the space this product is aimed at.

Apple is still giddy at the success of the iPhone and its lucrative App Store and from outset the iPad looks like a hurried attempt to shoehorn those two concepts into a larger form factor device.

Critics have already screamed that the iPad is little more than an oversize iPod Touch. And only Apple knows why it is releasing a Wi-Fi-only model when the market is increasingly demanding the always-on connectivity of 3G.

To Apple’s credit it validated the smartphone concept with the iPhone, so there’s no reason why it can’t make a good size industry around the iPad.

Of course, if the iPad fails to ignite the market, it won’t be the first time an Apple product has fizzled out of significance. Remember the lamp-like iMacs? If you don’t, don’t worry they were hardly around long enough to remember. And what about the MacBook Air? A thin notebook without an Ethernet port? Perfect.

A lot will depend on how the applications and content are sought by buyers. If the iPad becomes the e-book reader of choice then we can expect to see a lot more around than other makes of tablet PCs.

Then again, how many people will use their iPhone or other smartphone to do most – if not all – of what the iPad promises?

Smartphone, tablet or notebook. The choice is ours.

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