I’m Not a Mac #8–Who Really Needs an iPad?

This post is part of my “I’m Not a Mac” series, chronicling my controversial migration away from Apple Computer after 15 years as a Mac user. Find other entries in the “I’m Not a Mac” series archive.

Now that the jokes have subsided about the sanitary napkin-esque name of Apple’s new tablet computer, it’s a good time to ask: who really needs an iPad? Apple announced the iPad two months ahead of its expected late March retail debut to build buzz around the new gadget. But the more I think about it, the less I can figure out who Apple actually intends to buy one. Families? Business travelers? On-the-go urbanites? I can’t see any of these core Apple-adherent groups being too keen on spending from $500 to more than $800 on a device they just don’t need.

My doubt here isn’t intended as Apple-bashing. Although I continue to explore my exit strategy from the Mac OS platform, I still admit Apple offers certain technologies I wish I could take with me in my eventual leap to another operating system. In fact, now that Google Voice is available as a fully featured HTML5  mobile web app, I have restored my formerly jailbroken iPhone 3G–which I only jailbroke to run the older Google Voice Mobile application in the first place. So I’m willing to give Apple its due.

In the case of iPad, the sleek iPod Touch-on-steroids looks good enough to lick. Apple is banking that the Mac faithful will salivate over the new tablet computer’s large screen, easy interface, and strong networking options to browse web- and server-based multimedia content.

But earlier this month, consumer electronics shopping site Retrevo released a survey showing more than 60% of consumers don’t think they need one. The problem is that most people already have access to the very functions offered by iPad thanks to countless existing computing devices right now sitting in briefcases, on kitchen counters, and in side pockets all over America. Here’s what I mean…

Families Don’t Need iPad
Now that national laptop sales have comfortably surpassed desktop sales, it’s a safe bet most families already have a portable way to watch DVDs and browse the web on a comfortably sized screen. In fact, in many households these are likely later-generation laptops. What happened to the older machines they replaced? I would bet money millions of them are still in use as media servers and living-room netbooks in homes across the country. In this economy, what family do you know that would be willing to spend $500 or more to buy an iPad that mimics the features of the older laptop already sitting next to the Xbox?

Business Travelers Don’t Need iPad
The iPad makes little additional sense for business travelers, either. Most business travelers I know are required to carry their work laptops with them, and I don’t know any who are eager to cart around additional weight. For most of them, if they aren’t permitted to watch DVDs or browse the Internet on their official laptops, their fallback device is likely to be a five-ounce iPhone already sitting in their pocket or purse–not an extra one-and-a-half pounds of weight shoved into their carry-on.

On-the-Go Urbanites Don’t Need iPad
This is the potential market I get least of all. Yes, the cool kids among this group tend to be Cupertino’s early adopters who will snap up any device with an Apple logo on it no matter how questionable the feature set. (Macbooks without Firewire? iPhones with abysmally small storage capacities that no longer let you carry your whole music collection with you?) But like business travelers, they already have personal laptops to carry around. Like many families, they probably already have legacy computing devices sitting around at home. And like everyone else on the planet, they have a smart phone in their pocket. And it does everything iPad does, in a far subway-friendlier form factor.

I fall into the latter of the three groups. Until recently, I had a legacy Macbook doing duty as a music and video server. Now those functions fall to my main laptop which simply follows me around the house as needed. When I leave said house, it and my iPhone come with me. Given that–plus the fact the a fully featured iPad costs more than $800–it’s a mystery to me how Apple expects its new tablet to add value to my life.

Or anyone else’s, for that matter.

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