Will the Apple tablet be a Kindle killer?

by fledgling otaku on January 27, 2010

Apple’s announcement today of it’s new iPad tablet system (alas, not named Newton 2), running iPhone OS and featuring a 10″ multi-touch screen – doesn’t strike me as the Kindle killer that everyone is making it out to be. Yes, it will definitely be an ebook reader and will have licensing agreements with textbook publishers like McGraw-Hill and the behemoth book chain Barnes and Noble. But at a price probably around $1000, it will be four times as expensive as the Kindle, and despite the glorious full color multi-touch screen, will still not be as easy to read as elecctronic ink technology.

The price point matters – iPhone and iPod dominate their respective segments, but only because they provide tremendous functionality and design at the same price point as their competitors. Meanwhile, Mac computers remain relegated to niche market share, because they are such a poor value. The Mac OS operating system is innovative but for fundamental computing tasks – office work and online – most users are OS agnostic at best (Word is Word; Gmail is Gmail) and biased towards what they know (ie, Windows).

For the iPad to compete against Kindle – which has a huge marketshare lead and truly is to books what the iPod was to music, despite e-readers from Sony being around for years – it needs to compete on price and functionality. And there’s no way that the average person is going to be willing to read a 400-page book on an LCD screen.

I think Apple knows this, which is why it is courting the textbook market, the gaming market, and also putting iPhone OS on the device to keep it compatible with the universe of apps from the App Store. These add value to the device in the sense that they keep it a general-task device and not a single-purpose one. But in doing so they are competing against their own products – I bought an iPod Touch myself for less than $200 and I can run any app on it that the iPad will, and most are designed for a small screen so what’s the advantage of 10 inches? And why pay 4x the cost? Conversely why spend $1000 for a iSlate when you can drop a few hundred more and get a full-featured macbook? Or spend the same amount of money and buy a full-featured Windows laptop? Or spend half and get a netbook running Chrome OS, or a new Pine Trail netbook which can play real games like Warcraft?

Textbooks and other digital documents can certainly be made more innovative and hyperlinked and interactive on the iPad, but that media revolution will not be confined to Apple’s garden. And it’s a guarantee that Kindle v3.0 is going to incorporate color e-ink and a touch interface (though probably not multi-touch). Any new innovations in content delivery and integrating media and text will be just as exploitable by laptops and netbooks in particular.

And there are amazing new display technologies coming out – including color e-ink and hybrid CD screens, which will let other manufacturers build devices for ebook reading and media consumption at a fraction of the cost of what Apple can. I think that Apple has learned the wrong lesson from it’s success with iPod and iPhone and will end up doing everything poorly rather than a few things well.

UPDATE: Steve jobs dismisses netbooks, saying a netbook is “not better at anything! It’s just cheaper. But it’s not better at anything.” Shows how little he understands about netbooks. And he claims the iPad’s on-screen virtual keyboard is a “dream to type on” – yeah, right.

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