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Apple iPad: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

by Ray Valdes  |  January 28, 2010  |  13 Comments

Following up on my blog post from yesterday, here’s a quick reaction to some of the design challenges I mentioned.

Overall, I am underwhelmed, but I realize the iPad is for a different market. I have a MacBook and iPhone — both of which I am happy with and use constantly. There is no room in my lifestyle for an iPad (I need a real keyboard and the protective clamshell cover).

However, there are many other people (both in the youth-oriented demographic groups as well as in some senior segments), where the iPad directly targets their needs. These folks might currently have no laptop (or perhaps only a sub-par machine) and they don’t need to do a lot of knowledge work (i.e., less content creation, and more content consumption). The iPad will make a great first computer for my 88-year-old father, or for an affluent 10 year old, or for the 30-ish Mom or Dad that wants to read on the couch after the kids are in bed. For these folks, it is a great “netbook killer”, which answers my question about market niche, as illustrated by the diagram in my earlier post.

I think the iPad is substantial enough, from a market perspective, that it can shove aside more conventional netbooks for specific market segments — in the same way that the iPhone and iPod were able to achieve this in their respective categories. The converging arrows in the above diagram get reshaped.

In the past, I’ve overheard conversations (say on an airplane) where people say that the iPhone changed their life, in terms of how they conduct a wide range of activities (communicate, entertain, travel, etc). The iPad may not change your life, but it might change that of your Grandma or nephew.

Here are specific aspects that caught my attention

The Good

  • Well designed extension to the iPhone product line, unfortunately with few surprises that would let Apple meet sky-high expectations. I was looking for great (an innovative input method, a compelling industrial design that meets the needs for graspability, mobility, and protection, etc). Instead, Apple delivered on good.
  • Great price point. The base price of $499 is a pleasant surprise. This was well played in the media by Apple, because Apple cultivated (or at least did not dispel) widespread speculation that the tablet would come in at $999. That high price would have given ammunition to competitors that want to reinforce Apple’s historically elitist image. Instead, this price point shows it is going for the broad market (not just with price but with concept)
  • Good connectivity options, not just Wi-Fi but 3G at a special non-contract price. What would have been great, at least for US consumers, is an alternative to AT&T, such as Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint.

The bad

  • No front-facing camera. This blocks a bunch of key user scenarios where the tablet would otherwise be a natural fit: social, mobile interaction for the always-connected generation.
  • Not easily graspable. This limits use to sitting on a couch, as opposed to moving around. I’d be afraid it would slip from my fingers and crash to the floor. I would have liked an industrial design with handles, a place for a strap, a protective cover, etc. However, I think the after-market vendors will likely fill in these gaps.

The ugly

  • Lack of Flash support. On the iPhone, this was a minor transgression (at least in the initial release). In the case of the iPad, the omission is starting to get ugly, because the past excuses (veiled allusions to performance or battery life) do not hold water when there are 100,000 apps written by semi-skilled programmers available on the AppStore. The value proposition of the iPad is to provide an easier and better way to access all of the Web, including the many thousands of sites that rely on Flash. The only explanation that makes sense is that Flash got left out of the party because of some long-standing personal grudge that Steve Jobs has with Adobe. That, or Apple views Flash as a significant competitive threat, with its cross-vendor rich UI platform. I expect Microsoft Silverlight will run on iPhone/iPad before Flash does.
  • Horrible name. Can be easily confused with iPod, leading to many “interesting” customer service discussions. Customer on noisy phone line: “Hello, Apple, yes I would like to order an iP*d. What? Yes, I said iP*d…. Can you hear me?” Beyond the aural confusion, the name iPad has unwanted resonance with a brand name for a feminine hygiene product, leading to disbelief, rolling of eyes, and twittering on Twitter.

The above comments all are from the consumer and market perspective. There is a separate, long discussion one can have about the iPad as a platform for developers. There are some interesting twists in the API, but unfortunately Apple has changed the developer license, back to the bad old days of “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you afterwards, because Apple will come after me.“. This leads to some roundabout ways of talking among developers, who have to talk about a “hypothetical unnamed device” instead of straightforwardly referring to specific features.

What’s your take on today’s announcement?

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Ray Valdes
Research VP
9 years at Gartner
30 years IT industry

Ray Valdes is research director in Gartner Research, where he is part of the Internet Platforms and Web Services team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Apple iPad: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

  1. […] colleagues, Ray, Allen, Mike, Mark, Andrew, Mark and Van,  are all over the iPad.  Ray’s posts are […]

  2. […] colleagues, Ray, Allen, Mike, Mark, Andrew, Mark and Van,  are all over the iPad.  Ray’s posts are […]

  3. Mouaz Zayyat says:

    The unavailability of multitasking could be the killer for iPad. It’s very unlikely that consumers will replace laptops for the iPad.

  4. […] colleagues, Ray, Allen, Mike, Mark, Andrew, Mark and Van, are all over the iPad.  Ray’s posts are particularly […]

  5. Ray Valdes says:

    Mouaz, thanks for your comment.

    I think it is highly unlikely that a “road warrior” with a Thinkpad or Dell will replace it with an iPad. But that is not the target market.

    My 88-year-old Dad has never used a computer and does not know what multitasking is. I am thinking of getting him one of these puppies, but will probably wait until there is one with a front-facing camera so I can do video chat,

    Oh, and it should have some kind of Ez-Grip function because his grasp is not strong.


  6. stefn says:

    … (or at least did not dispel) widespread speculation…

    You don’t really expect Apple to spend its time dispelling every rumor? Setting up strawmen just knock them down ain’t professional.

  7. […] of the much anticipated Apple tablet, now officially named the iPad. My colleagues Allen Weiner, Ray Valdes, Mark McDonald, and others commented about the launch on their respective blogs. Among the many […]

  8. Jim Lundy says:

    Ray, they delivered a solid first generation iPad. No product is perfect, but the business model Apple has with content is what makes this a big deal.

    Take a closer look at the iPad video and look at the photo sharing application.

    I blogged about this the night before the announcement and clearly, it is the OS here that is the big deal. Did I mention what an incredible game device this will be…..

    You make some keen points about limitations of the hardware, but let’s be honest most tablet focused devices have been utter failures.

    If anything, this will force a surge of cheaper data plans on inferior tablet imitators.

  9. Ray Valdes says:

    Good points, Jim, thanks!

    One aspect of the hardware that is a strong positive is the speed. Compared to my Mac laptop, the iPad appears to be significantly faster for some of the same tasks (email, maps, browsing), perhaps due to the new A4 processor.

  10. Sapan says:

    I love the points you address in this post..I address some other issues from a different standpoint in a post I wrote yesterday. Would love to hear your feedback

  11. Bob says:

    Somebody help me! I want to believe! I just can’t see how the iPad replaces any web surfing device without Flash. No ESPN, no youtube links from friends….. A special purpose device, e-reader, movie screen, select subscriptions publications written for iPad…..YES. But broad usage no. Tell me I am wrong please.

  12. Christian says:


    Your statement that says you can only get it with AT&T:

    “Good connectivity options, not just Wi-Fi but 3G at a special non-contract price. What would have been great, at least for US consumers, is an alternative to AT&T, such as Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint.”

    is untrue.

    If you would have been more informed, you would have known that the iPad’s 3G is fully unlocked for any 3G carrier with certain SIM card support, which is lots of companies. Also, the 3G is activated on the iPad itself, no going to the store to get it activated.


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