Monday, June 21, 2010

Why We Need the iPad and Why We Really Don't

I recently wrote about the iPad and carefully stepped around some of the issues about which most people criticized the iPad, and for good reason. I was never against the iPad. It simply did not fit into my life the same way the MacBook Air did not fit into my life. But now I am reading all these stories about naysayers who have turned around to praise the iPad and written I-was-wrong articles and how the iPad is now the greatest thing since sliced bread. (Side note--sliced bread is not that impressive. You just need a sharp knife and a cutting board.) What bothers me about these reversal of opinion stories is that exaggerates the myopia of the world of technology and perpetuates the misunderstood economics of this country.

Let's look at the iPad. Before April was over Apple had already sold over a million iPads, and is expected to sell close to 4.5 million this year alone. We will not worry about international sales at this point as we will be discussing domestic economics. Now clearly, the iPad is a milestone in computing. Netbooks made a splash when they first came onto the market, but their fanfare was already dimmed by advancements in smartphones. So when the iPad debuted, it was met with criticisms likening it to a netbook or a glorified iTouch. I have discussed those points before, since to the average person it really appears to be a netbook in another form, or just another gaming device.

But it clearly is more than those things. The iPhone became so hugely popular not necessary because it had a growing App Store to feed its users countless programs and games, but because it revolutionized the way smartphones are used. The user interface was revolutionary and simplified and made practical to use of a handheld computer. The iPad simply brought that closer to the "computer" end of the spectrum. With the exception of phone calls, everything you can do on the iPhone you can do on the iPad bigger and better, with the addition of many new programs. The iPad is the manifestation of how far technology has come on the public scale. So it is not difficult to see why we need the iPad. It does just about everything you need it to do, with few exceptions (which will likely be remedied in one way or another in the near future).

But you do not really need the iPad. The iPad is tantamount to a space age pen. A space pen is shiny, cool, and writes in zero gravity, but costs a pretty penny. Do you really need a space pen when you could just use a $0.25 pencil or pen? For all its merits and advantages, the iPad is a nonessential item at this point. Perhaps over time it will work its way into society's daily workings and become essential to daily life, much as the computer and smartphone have done. (If you dispute the necessity of computers in today's world, you are a hypocrite by reading this blog.) That, however, will likely not happen for five years or so.

Current retail price of the iPad is $499-$829 depending on memory and data connectivity. If I really had an extra $700 laying around the house waiting to to burned, I would probably not spend it on an iPad. For that money, i could put laminate flooring in most of my basement. I could get a babysitter and go to dinner with my wife five times. I could take my family to the amusement park twice. I could put it towards the principal of my mortgage. Or school loans. Or car loan. I could buy stocks or mutual funds for my Roth IRA. Or my children's 529.

You may think this is an extreme stance on the iPad. After all, I have taken no such stance on HDTVs, and they certainly are nonessential. The thing about HDTVs are that they have begun to become integrated into society's working. Television by antennae (with a converter) is rapidly becoming extinct. And all television signal providers now offer high definition broadcasts with most if not all plans. All videos created nowadays (or least the commercial ones) are films for HDTVs. And in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a standard 4:3 size television these days, since manufacturers have ceased producing them. The iPad has yet to reach this level of pervasiveness. When it does, I will probably buy one.