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In the Internet Age the Key to iPad Sales Will be Apple’s Brick and Mortar Stores



ipadside-306x500There are many, many, many things still to learn about Apple’s iPad. So much so that I’m amazed, but not really, at how much this is becoming a love it or hate it device based on what little we know at the moment. To be honest, this Tableteer, is combing through reports to discover what I can in my little personal journey to find out as much as I can about the new Tablet, and I look forward to continuing to comb in the months ahead.

But in all that I’m reading, there’s a theme that has emerged that as an observer of Tablets from the early days of Microsoft’s Tablets, that makes complete and total sense to me. There are two kinds of commentary floating around at the moment. Those who, like us here at GBM, are observing from afar and didn’t attend the event, and those from folks who were there and got to go hands on with the iPad, briefly.

Those latter reports contain that theme. It goes like this. Once you hold the device in your hand it all makes sense, or once you hold it in your hands you forgive its missing features, or don’t judge the iPad until you hold it in your hands. Michael Gartenberg’s and Stephen Fry’s first impressions are two examples of this.

Long time Tableteers will know where I’m going with this. Tablets are very personal devices and being able to explore these devices in your hand is a key to acceptance. It is a tactile experience. The pages of Tablet PC Buzz are filled with posts saying that Microsoft and its partners need to get Tablets in retail stores so customers can see for themselves. The same thing was true for UMPCs, but that would have only killed of the UMPC form factor more quickly. Many, including me, think it was a huge hesitant mistake on Microsoft and its partners part that helped compound Tablet PC woes. Until you can actually experience what it feels like to hold and manipulate those devices it’s all a head game.

Granted the iPad isn’t an Inking device, but the first time I picked up a Toshiba Portege 3505 and Inked on it, in a Circuit City store no less, I was sold. I’ve been sold ever since. I’ve been fortunate as a Tablet blogger to be able to hold more Tablets in my hands than most, and I have to say, the initial experience of a device in my hands rarely changes how I feel about a device once I’ve worked with it for awhile. It’s not love at first sight. It’s love at first touch.

Lots of talk has been made that Apple has a pre-conditioned market of iPhone and iPod Touch users who understand how to use this device, and Apple has an infrastructure brimming with more apps than can possibly be used ready to roll. Apple created the early adoption market and can now take advantage of that fact in ways that it couldn’t earlier. Quite a bit has also been made about the advances in technology that make these devices affordable to produce today, as opposed to a few years ago. The point is this, regardless of all of that, the real key to iPad adoption and sales will be Apple’s retail store infrastructure. Customers will be able to pick it up, play with it, and touch it themselves. No guessing. No need to read reviews trying to figure out if your view aligns with what’s being written. I haven’t held the device and don’t expect to for some time. But I’m guessing that many will do that beginning in a few months and decide to purchase based on that experience alone. Doubts will melt away, as did mine with that first Portege 3505, once consumers have that opportunity and the Apple Stores make that possible. I’m not exaggerating when I say that some will describe the experience as analogous to a sexual experience.

I think Apple knows this deep down. Think for a second about one of the targets everyone says Apple is aiming for, the Amazon Kindle. You can’t touch it before you buy it. By and large, when I hear people’s first reactions to that device after they finally make the plunge, there always seems to be a sense of relief in their musings that suggests they were nervous about the purchase until they finally got the device in their hands. When folks get to play with a Kindle that a friend has, I’ve seen far too many change their hesitant opinions to one that leads to an eventual purchase. Hands on is important. The current also ran on that front, the Nook, actually has a leg up on the Kindle there if they don’t fumble it.

I’m guessing after the initial rush of purchases by fan boys and early adopters, we’ll see a long adoption curve for the iPad. But the length of that curve will be much shorter due to the fact that Apple can put the iPad in potential buyers hands and let it sell itself.



  1. serchend

    01/29/2010 at 9:27 am

    I think the device will be very popular, a lot of people sole use of a computer is for it to be a portal to the internet. They read emails social network and browse media and play internet games, if you can do all that on a device that does not get viruses, is simple to use and is fun, it will be like AOL was for the masses in the early internet age. Will I buy one probably not, I too have been a tabletpc user since the toshiba 3500 and am now on my 5th tablet and as an engineer my needs are much different than the average consumer.

  2. Sumocat

    01/29/2010 at 9:46 am

    Yep, we long-time tableteers are finally going to see if we’ve been right about getting tablets in the hands of would-be customers and getting tablet-focused applications. We kept saying they’re needed to make tablets viable. Guess we’ll see if that’s enough.

    And if we’re sharing “first love” tablet stories, I bought my slate, a refurbished Electrovaya Scribbler SC500, sight unseen. This should, however, be taken as support that most would-be buyers need to get their hands on tablets before they will buy them. I am extremely outside the norm here.

  3. TateJ

    01/29/2010 at 9:57 am

    Great article. The only thing I don’t like about the iPad is the lack of inking. But I have a full fledged tablet pc for that. I plan on using an iPad along side my tablet pc at work. Having access to reference materials and the web without have to open and close windows on my pc will be a big help to porductivity. At home, I’ll have a bigger screen than my iPone or iPod touch.

    I won’t be first in line to get one. Apple’s recent history with version 1.0 of devices makes me cautious. But I can see a great many uses for this device. I’ll have one for my personal and work use and possibly a second one to leave in the house for the wife and son to use.

    I like this device.

  4. zach

    01/29/2010 at 10:15 am

    I agree that the iPad will become very popular. I can see someone deciding to pay the extra money for this instead of an iPod touch. On that note, I’m betting that if Apple would have released the iPad first, and now released the iPad mini (iPod Touch) people would have been much more accepting towards the announcement.

    Lastly, while I can see the advantages of having the iPad, unless it gets Flash support I will not buy it. If I’m going to put down $500+ on an internet device, it needs to be able to access all web page content.

  5. Steve S

    01/29/2010 at 10:57 am

    Nothing to add, here. Sumo’s comment is, in IMO, right on the money (…and it’s going to be really annoying when Apple proves that this is the marketing approach that works…).

    My tablet story is also the same; I bought a used, early generation Fujitsu ST4120 as an experiment, rationalizing that if I didn’t like it, I could simply resell it with minimum losses. In my case however, I had some experience with Palm Pilots and Newtons in the 90’s, so I wasn’t a complete newbe in terms of what to expect…

  6. Eric

    01/29/2010 at 4:10 pm

    I have to completely agree about getting it into the hands of the customer. I would have never purchased that M1400 if it weren’t for John Hill @ having that 48hr eval period. He even let me hold it two days longer to test it in my classes. I was sold after day 1. My students LOVED it on day 1. Then, and only then, could I feel comfortable slapping down 2k on a computer that was more than a bit underpowered.

    To borrow from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will buy it” might have to be Apple’s mantra for a while, because I still don’t see how the iPad is better or more useful than a MBP (what I have and love) or a tablet pc (what I have and love).

  7. Bill

    01/31/2010 at 4:39 pm

    Having that opportunity for hands on really is an important factor. I’ve been curious about the Nook and last night we were at our local Barnes & Noble and I had a chance to check it out for an extended period of time. Overall, I liked the device, the interface was intuitive and I could see myself possibly getting one at some point. However, as I spent about 10 minutes reading one of the books loaded on it I realized there is one major design flaw for me. I’m a big guy (6’8″) with big hands. The Nook was comfortable in my hands, but the page forward versus the page back buttons are in exactly the wrong place for me. I had to bend my thumb in an awkward position to have it easily reach the forward or hold the Nook lower down thereby resulting in it being top heavy and slowly wearing on my wrist. In my case if the buttons had been reversed it would have been ideal.

    So the bottom line in my case is, I will probably forego considering the Nook now, because of a simple thing like button placement. Something I wouldn’t have been aware of without the hands on opportunity.

    My boss recently ordered the Kindle so I’ll check it out next.

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