Will the Apple tablet be a Kindle killer?

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.

4 thoughts on “Will the Apple tablet be a Kindle killer?”

  1. And of course, you turned out to be completely wrong because the device was half the expected price.

    You also use some really lame arguments. Yeah, the low end Kindle would be 1/4th of your predicted price, but the actual price actually only comes in at about 10 bucks more than the high end Kindle–and given the real estate of the ipad (got the name wrong too) I’d say that comparison makes more sense.

    Netbooks are a joke, but just in case you needed more incentive, there’s a keyboard dock which creates an off screen tactile keyboard.

    So now, for 500 bucks, you get quite a bit more than you assumed.

    Maybe the problem has been the anti-hype machine?

  2. If you want to compare apples to kindles (heh) then yes the DX is over priced. But the base Kindle is $250 and the base iPad is twice that. The iPad is a glorified iPod Touch in every respect – and given that the 3G connectivity adds several hundred dollars AND is tied to AT&T (they touted it being “unlocked” but it still doesnt work with any other US-based 3G provider like T Mobile) its utterly absurd to claim that theres any actual value here.

    I give them props for making the low end cheaper than expected but the actual price for the iPad is by all rights the high end with 3G and the $30/month connectivity – which adds up. The iPod Touuch is the superior device in every respecct.

    In fact calling this a “tablet” at all is pretty absurd. Wheres the promised revolution in interface? They just slapped the iphone keyboard interface onto this thing! See this:


    what a waste.

  3. Actually, they *didn’t* just slap the iPhone onscreen keyboard; that was a mockup. Here’s what they really did:



    Much as I love my iPhone, I’m not sure I can convince myself that a giant iPod touch is a good idea, especially when the price point for the model I find interesting is encroaching on low-end Macbook territory; I’d rather pony up the $170 for a low-end Macbook.

  4. I did read 400 page books on an LCD iPhone screen (actually, more — I read Anathem on it) and I now have a nook. People are going to buy iPads, but not as eBook readers. Not primarily, like I bought my nook for.

    I bought a nook because the kindle is ugly as sin, and seems to want to do so many thing that it really isn’t that good for reading books. The nook pretty much just does books, and I’m glad for that. The thing is, I’m worried now — not that one technology is inherently better, but that Apple is going to improve the iPad much more than B&N is going to improve the nook. I’m already aching for an upgrade that is more stable and less buggy.

    But the iPad is for the web and email. I already use my iPhone for at least 2/3 of my web and mail use. If I had an iPad, it would probably get 100% of the use. I’m not eager to buy one — I don’t feel crunched by 2/3 phone and 1/3 computer. I could certainly, though, if I come into a lot of disposable income via a few weeks of heavy overtime, end up buying on for fun. That’s really what the iPad is for — fun.

    And Jobs was 100% right. Netbooks don’t do anything better than a full laptop. They aren’t even smaller than ultralights. They are cheaper, which can be its own advantage (ask the Hitchhiker’s Guide), but let’s not delude ourselves that they are better at anything.

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