Even months and months after its release, the iPad continues to generate a particular kind of buzz regarding its existence. It’s in the sort of conversation which carries the general tone of “well, who the hell uses an iPad and what for?” said by technology-literate 20-somethings who can’t quite grok the product.
What follows here is by no means intended as authoritative, nor adamantly conclusive. But after much thought and experience with the subject, sidelining my own biases as best I can, and analyzing how I see the iPad being used, I think I can outline three major markets for the iPad.
1. Mobile Business Users – These are the professionals who have never, and will never need a full-blown computer to do their work. All they usually want is a handful of working programs: E-mail, spreadsheets, word processing, calendar, done. The Blackberry and other smartphones/PDAs have filled in for years, but inevitably they’ve had to pull out a laptop when it came to more industrial strength typing or task management. The iPad connects to a keyboard when needed, comes with its own virtual option on the go, and minimises the startup fuss to the mere click of a button. Plus, it’s cheaper than a laptop, eschewing the features and hassles these people never wanted, while maintaining an attractive design and a no-fuss interface.
2. Casual Computer Users – These actually exist, and they aren’t all old people. Believe it or not, many, many 20-somethings, teenagers, and tykes are casual computer users. I’m willing to bet more of them are casual than fully literate. They probably don’t care about BSD or how to allocate more resources via the task manager. They just want to share photos, talk on Facebook, and play solitaire. The iPad can give them that, without the bulk of a desktop, and without the price point of a laptop.
3. Tech-Savvy Geeks – These are the early adopters and usually the people who want to see what neat tricks they can get out of a tablet machine. They probably have a couple of laptops and at least one or two half-opened, cobbled-together desktops, but the iPad’s a brand new toy. They got it to see how they can make or break the thing. Plus it’s kind of cool to walk around feeling like you’re in Star Trek. Admit it, you’ve done it.
It’s no mystery then that the iPad has been a success. It’s the same reason the original all-in-one Mac and all the iMacs have been hits: Simplicity. It’s taking a formula that’s worked before and refining it down to its current ideal. People want an all-in-one machine that reduces their stress and stays out of their way, while simultaneously facilitating their computer needs. A desktop comes with all kinds of considerations and issues, and a laptop can be a cumbersome mess with its own problems. What’s more, these devices have a stigma attached to them, which is the idea that they’re hard to fix. The iPad also has its issues and its problems, but it has a different psychological profile. Got a problem? Take it to the Apple store, hand it over, and it’ll be fixed. That’s what Apple’s been trying to push for all its products, and the iPad fully fits the bill.
Now, this all applies to just about every competing tablet out there. A large chunk of what I’ve said can have a search-and-replace done on it, trading out iPad for Slate or whatever you prefer. I’m using the iPad because it’s the most popular model, and it’s the one I’m familiar with. Plus that last part — about Apple’s marketing — is pretty company-specific.
Just my thoughts. I’m not even sure you can really limit the iPad’s markets to these three above, but they’re the ones I’ve observed.