In unveiling the breathlessly, anxiously, unbelievably-hyped Apple tablet, the iPad, on Wednesday, Apple is coming head to head with a simple question.
"Is there actually room for a device between smartphones and laptops? That I don’t know – I’ve always been skeptical there’s room for a third category in there," blogged Ryan Block at gdgt live.
Here are three lessons from the ghosts of tablets past about how to make a tablet stick in the market. And how the iPad stacks up on each of them.
1. Be awesome and friendly.
"Somewhere around 3500 BC, an unknown Egyptian crisscrossed fibrous layers of a papyrus plant, dampened them, pressed them together, and created a new writing medium. The invention was revolutionary. It not only put the clay-tablet industry out of business, it was the forerunner to paper, arguably man's most important invention. Later this month, a small, oddly shaped computer will start appearing on store shelves around the United States ... It has the potential to continue the paper revolution."
Written about the iPad? Hardly. Ever hear of the Momenta, a "pentop" computer? Nope. Me either.
But the Monitor dubbed it the next best thing since, well, paper, back at it's inception in 1992.
The lesson? Every Next Best Thing will promote itself as a revolution, but what will make it sell is new functionality coupled with an incremental stepup in terms of usability. The Momenta, a figment of that monochromatic, grainy yesteryear of the 1990s, was flashy for the time but didn't have the speed or power to make it last and asked Americans to jump up from floppy disks to stylus writing.
2. Keep it simple
The road to tablet failure is littered with "innovation" that just fell flat. The PepperPad of 2004 vintage split the Qwerty keyboard on either side of the screen. Trying to run an operating system on a 5" screen, as Windows ultra-mobile PCs did, gave consumers a ton of eye strain and not much else. The iPad is susceptible to the charge that it's just a big iPhone – but that's part of its beauty.
3. Be cheap.
The Momenta cost an astounding $4,995. The Compaq Concerto of 1992 (another forgettable tablet), $2,449. AT&T Eo Personal Communicator from 1993 came in at $3,000 for a top-end model. Contemporary tablets run around $1,000 a piece, a decent premium above normal laptops and far beyond cheap netbooks.
With a starting price of $499, the iPad is clearly competitive on price, undercutting the existing tablet computers and within the same range as Amazon's Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook. However, the $30 monthly data plan for 3G models is cause for some price concern. But in general, the price point is where the iPad is the least like its distant predecessors.
And that gives it some hope for success.