What’s the market for an iPad

Today, Apple announced the iPad, one of the worst kept secrets in the computer industry. Note that Apple rarely pre-announces a product; secrecy is a key part of Apple marketing. However, the iPad requires FCC approval, so Apple cannot keep it a secret to the point that the product ships.

So while we wait for the iPad to ship, I am wondering about its target market. Like others, I see the iPad as a large screen iPhone or iPod Touch. This is a big disadvantage in terms of portability: an iPad won’t fit in an average pocket or purse. It is also less powerful than a laptop: it only runs iPhone-style programs, not the larger library of Mac or Windows software. And it costs nearly double the smaller Kindle.

But the iPad does have some key advantages over an iPhone or laptop. The iPad is inexpensive compared to average laptops or netbooks. And the iPad is considerably lighter than a laptop – especially when you consider accessories like a charger. And an iPhone screen is tiny when compared to a regular computer screen. Finally, assuming that the iPad uses iTunes FairPlay DRM, the licensing model will be much more consumer-friendly than the Kindle.

So I see three possible markets for the iPad:

  • Students who want a great textbook reader.
  • People who want a web browser for the couch or kitchen table.
  • People who travel frequently but don’t need a full laptop.

Unfortunately for Apple, these seem like a niche market to me. Business travelers will generally need a laptop. And if you have a laptop, why get a second web browser to use on the couch or at the kitchen table. Finally, I doubt that electronic editions of student textbooks will be considerably cheaper than the paper editions – editing and writing are much more expensive than printing.

I could imagine owning an iPad if I wasn’t a power user that requires a real laptop while traveling. But we have a house full of computers, a laptop, an iPhone and several iPods, so the iPad is redundant for me.

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