OPINION

Was the iPad a Mistake?

This isn’t to ask whether it will be successful. Apple is a master at setting goals and then exceeding them, and a lot of folks are clearly excited about the iPad — but the first generation iPhone was kind of a mistake that got corrected in later versions. As I look at similar products that seem better thought through, I’m increasingly thinking that Steve Jobs’ initial concerns with this offering were well founded and that, at least initially, the iPad will have trouble reaching its potential.

I’ll get into that this week and close with a product that could have made the Olympics much better, if NBC had broadcast the events real-time: Qualcomm’s Flo TV.

The ‘iPad’ Name

Back when I first started writing about the iPad last year, I too called it an “iPad,” but readers convinced me that Apple wouldn’t be stupid enough to give a device a name that sounded like a women’s hygiene product. Along with many others, I drifted to “iTablet” as a reasonable alternative.

I was asked to address the naming issue last week, and I also picked on the Microsoft “Whoops” phone. Later, though, I actually thought about what the iPad should have been named.

One of the lessons I’ve learned — I call it my rule — is that “the only thing people will agree on when it comes to a new name is the person who came up with it is an idiot.” Unless it was Steve Jobs, I feel sorry for the person who came up with “iPad.” Folks seem to really hate it. But what should it have been called?

As it turns out, Apple isn’t very consistent when it comes to naming products. The company has a lot of product names like the “iMac,” with a modifier on a fictional name. “MacBook” is a contraction of “Mac Notebook,” while “Apple TV” connects the company name with what the product connects to. “Mac mini” and “Mac Pro” reflect size and capability, and are tied back to the Mac. In the iPod line, Apple has “shuffle,” which relates to the key feature; “nano,” which refers to size but isn’t the smallest; “classic,” which reflects age; “touch,” which references the interface, and “iPhone,” which collapses iPod and phone into one word.

It would appear that Apple’s most common practice is to follow the line name with a modifier suggestive of the product’s key difference, and the most recent trend is to combine names into one word. Therefore, “iPad” is a combination of iPod and pad, but pad isn’t a key difference. It is a form factor, and the iPhone and iPod touch are also pads, so the form factor isn’t even unique to this product.

The iPad’s key differentiator is its size, and likely it should be at the opposite side of the iPod nano — something like the “iPod jumbo” — but “jumbo” kind of sucks so I would likely drift to something related like “extreme.” However, Apple avoids words like “extreme” but likes “Pro,” and given that this is a product that likely will play better in education I think the name should have been “iPod Pro.” Much like the Mac Pro is a bigger, higher performance Mac, the iPad is a bigger higher-performing iPod. Of course, you could have “iPod touch Pro,” but that would likely contract into iTP which sounds like something I used to do to mean neighbors on Halloween.

“iPad” isn’t consistent, and it comes with an impressive amount of baggage, which suggests it was rushed and not well thought through. Granted, others — including me — have done worse, but Apple typically does better.

The Question of Size

I’ve been messing around with the Dell Mini 5, which is a large Android phone device. It has a number of advantages over smartphones with 3.5-inch screens in terms of displaying content, because its screen is 90 percent larger. I can carry it, so it could — and likely will — replace my phone at some point. The screen size is similar to the small Kindle, so it would work better as a reader than a typical smartphone (no Kindle reader for Android yet). It has two cameras: a 5 MP one for pictures and a lower-resolution one for video conferencing, and it is small enough to use as a camera.

The 10-inch form factor of the iPad is too big to pocket. It could replace a Kindle, but it requires both a data plan (Kindle comes with lifetime data for free) and a secondary power source if it’s to last as long as a Kindle does. It has no phone features — and even if it had a camera, it is really too big to use as a camera. In short, I could imagine replacing my smartphone with the Dell Mini 5, but I can’t yet figure out what I would replace with the iPad, and I already carry a smartphone, laptop and Kindle.

This isn’t to suggest that Apple shouldn’t have built a 10-inch tablet, but the technology to make a 10-inch tablet that is truly great wasn’t quite ready yet. The Notion Ink Adam (check out the specs) is a far better hardware implementation, but it likely doesn’t give Apple the margins it needs, suggesting it should have waited on a 10-inch product until the cost of this kickass configuration got more reasonable. On the other hand, a 5-inch product is like a big iPhone and already more affordable. For a lot of folks, I think a bigger screen on an iPhone could be helpful (I struggle with some of the small type myself).

It feels as though Apple crippled the iPad to hit price points, keeping it from what it could/should have become. Dell didn’t have to, because you can do more with a 5-inch product right now — and apparently much more cost effectively — than with a 10-inch product. So the total available market for a 5-inch product would seem greater, at least initially, than for a 10-inch product. Granted, Apple will likely do better with the critical back end, but I’m just talking hardware to hardware.

Wrapping Up

The news surrounding the iPad prior to its announcement was that Steve Jobs kept killing it because he didn’t think it would be successful. Eventually, he was convinced. I can remember this same path to releasing the Apple TV, which showcases that his initial early impression was the right one.

I’m not saying the iPad will fail, but I’m questioning whether a smaller product that could replace a phone — with a name that wasn’t kind of embarrassing — might have had a better chance to succeed. Jobs is planning some big bold marketing moves that may make sense, but I wonder, from your perspective, would a 5-inch or 10-inch product with a different name have been a better idea? Everyone makes mistakes, including Apple. Was the iPad a mistake?

Product of the Week: Qualcomm Flo TV

Product of the WeekI’ve been using a Flo TV for about a month and will have to ship it back shortly. It is a small device with enough battery life to get through several hours of content. It only does live broadcasts over the cellular network, so it doesn’t work on planes, and it doesn’t do time-shifting. It costs about $200, including the first six months of TV service, and then the service costs about $15 a month after that.

Flo TV Personal Television

Flo TV Personal Television
(click image to enlarge)

While not ideal for regular TV shows because of that lack of time-shifting, it is perfect for sports when you want to watch games live. It would have been kickass for the Olympics, but NBC didn’t broadcast the events live — primarily because it didn’t think enough folks could watch the games.

However, if a lot of us had Flo TV, that decision might have been revisited — and it would have been incredible to have been able to watch the Canada/U.S. hockey game live. Since I couldn’t watch events live, I didn’t watch much of the Olympics, although I would have liked to.

Because Flo TV does make watching sports or news events live much easier, and because if we were to buy a lot of them, we might get more live coverage — especially for the Olympics — Flo TV from Qualcomm is my product of the week.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

4 Comments

  • The name was a very poor choice – and for the life of me, I cannot understand how Apple let that one slip by. Even iSlate would have been better – except cavemen might have taken exception.

    The problem I have with the iPad is its size. Were there any females on that team? Women have to pack that badboy into a purse – case and all. What in the world are men going to do? Sew an extra large pocket onto their shirts to carry the thing around in lieu of a penholder? A backpack might be OK for university, but in the business world? Well, maybe at a tech company – but GS? I don’t think so.

    Also – who wants to carry a briefcase all over creation – unless one’s lunch is also in it?! I think after the initial excitement has abated, Apple might have to rethink this product.

  • Spot on, as always, Mr. Enderle. With all the gaffs you mention this iPad launch may be as disastrous as the iPhone. This could be the biggest debacle for aapl since BuyMusic.com destroyed the iTunes Music Store.

  • I plan on buying one and then upgrading on gen 2 or 3. This is a product that will be a huge hit. I don’t was a laptop, and I don’t need one. We will see upgrades with a camera being one of the first. As for the person who said that Apple has floundered lately??? What have you been drinking or reading? Apple is doing fantastic with industry leading results and a product mix companies would die to have.

  • Apple has made some real flops and those of us who started with computers early in their infancy knows that. But probably the last decade has been good for Apple. They have hit some home runs. But lately they have floundered some. Even though Apple fans will tout how great Mac’s are they are gaining market share pretty slow in the world. Yes, Apple is mostly a US thing when it comes to computers. I expect Apple to concentrait more on these specialty products like the iPad rather then Computers. Although I think they have over estamated the iPad usefulness and many buyer’s will be disappointed.

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