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Monday, January 25, 2010

Are Anticipated Features Going To Make iTablets Viable?

This Wednesday Apple will unveil it's much anticipated Tablet. Will the price be prohibitive? Will it have enough apps to combine/function with existing mobile devices and their OS's and content?

Ryan Kim of the SFGate thinks the Tablet will exceed all expectations and more with his review article:

Three years ago, the technology world came to a standstill as Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, a game changer that remade the already fast-growing smart phone market.

Now, all eyes are on Apple again this Wednesday as Jobs is expected to reveal a new Internet tablet computing device, which will blend features of a laptop and the iPhone. But unlike the launch of the iPhone, which boosted an already healthy category, Apple will be trying to resuscitate the long-neglected tablet form factor.

It is, in many ways, a taller challenge, persuading consumers to buy a product that doesn't fill a readily apparent need. But many industry observers agree if anyone can make tablets viable, Apple has the best shot.

"Apple has a proven track record in delivering great user interfaces and easy-to-use functionality combined with the ability to launch products. If they're not best positioned here, they're very close," said Steve Hasker, president of media products at the Nielsen Co.

To be sure, this Wednesday's Apple press event makes no mention of tablets and only invites reporters to see Apple's "latest creation." And what details that have dribbled out have been unconfirmed.

But taken together, a picture emerges of a 10-inch multitouch device that works like a big iPhone or iPod Touch. The device - potentially called an iSlate, iPad or iTablet - would connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi and most likely through 3G cellular data networks as well, enabling a full browser and many of the more than 125,00 software applications found in the Apple App Store. And it could include a Wi-Fi Web cam for video conferencing.

The tablet - running on the iPhone OS or possibly a hybrid with the Mac operating system - would presumably display iTunes content such as music and videos. Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, said that alone could vault Apple's tablet past a passel of competing slates emerging from rival companies.

"There's a digital wall that's hard for people to climb over and get media in a way they can use it," Munster said. "That's the big difference between this tablet and others."

But the tablet appears intended to do much more than giving people a bigger mobile browser or another way to play iTunes content. Observers believe Apple has designs on revolutionizing the print and TV industries as well.

Apple is reportedly in talks with publishers to bring books to the tablet, creating a potential showdown with e-book readers such as the Kindle. Analysts such as Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies have posited that tablets could give rise to not just digitally formatted books, but true multimedia titles that blend video, animation and graphics with text.

Industries hopeful

The magazine and newspaper industries are also watching the announcement closely in hopes that Apple's tablet could lead consumers toward a new model of paying for slick tablet-optimized publications, much the way people pay for iPhone apps. Apple is reportedly in talks with some publishers including the New York Times and Conde Nast.

"Apple builds beautiful products so the anticipation is quite incredible for something no one is sure is coming," said John Squires, an executive vice president for Time Inc.

The company also is rumored to be talking to broadcasters about bundling network and cable content into "Best of TV" packages, allowing viewers to pay for smaller video packages than those offered by cable.

Gaming is expected to figure heavily on the new slate device, in keeping with Apple's newfound emphasis on mobile games on the iPod Touch.

Shervin Pishevar, CEO of gamemaker SGN, whose games are on 30 percent of iPhones and iPod Touches, said he's excited about the prospect of porting over his titles to a larger screen tablet. He said Apple's hypothetical tablet would continue a larger movement in computing toward mobile devices.

"Increasingly in the next five years, most of our computing will come through these connected devices," Pishevar said. "We're not going to be using the PCs of old. Those will be the rotary phones of our past."

For other software companies, the tablet provides a tantalizing opportunity. Design software company Autodesk found a hit in its SketchBook Mobile, which has been downloaded more than a million times. Amar Hanspal, senior vice president of platform solutions and emerging business for Autodesk, said apps such as SketchBook that can utilize a big touch screen could be bigger winners if Apple enters the tablet market.

Price range

But the biggest question and impediment to the tablet could be its price tag. Estimates range from $700 to $1,000, although a cell phone carrier subsidy could drop that down by a few hundred dollars. There are rumors that Apple is looking to partner with Verizon Wireless and AT&T for 3G data service.

Kathleen Maher, a principal with Jon Peddie Research, said Apple would clean up in the market if the device is priced closer to $300. Retailing for more than $600 will present more problems, Maher said. A recent survey by shopping site Retrevo found that 70 percent of people would not buy an Apple tablet if it eclipsed the $700 mark.

"This is something that's not your computer or your phone. You have those things already," said Maher. "At that price, it's a discretionary buy."

No one does it better

Even with a hefty price tag, Apple has a good shot at moving a decent number of tablets in the first year, thanks to its considerable marketing machine. Munster estimates that Apple can sell about 5 million tablets in its first year on the market, similar to what the iPhone sold in year one.

The company will enjoy a wealth of free advertising from this Wednesday's press coverage and then you can expect Apple's commercials and in-store demos to help hammer the tablet's message home. And, provided the tablet is up to Apple's usually high standards, it could take flight on the wings of customer testimonials.

"You can't rely entirely on branding and a big splash product launch, you need product demos in stores combined with good word of mouth," said Nielsen's Hasker. "There are people who do this well, but I don't know anyone who does this better than Apple."
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