Thinking Tech

Six ways the iPad could fail

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Could the iPad actually fail? Or will it be greeted as a data liberator, its march through the market a cakewalk? Don't knock that statue of Bill Gates off his pedestal just yet. Here are six possible scenarios for Apple iPad fail.

The glow from the Apple iPad's launch is starting to fade. Deliveries are due to start on April 3, although some necessary accessories will slip from that date.

Throughout the last few months of hype there has been one unspoken assumption. This is going to be big. This is going to be huge. This can't miss.

There's evidence for that. Steve Jobs hasn't had a failure since Lisa. Tablets are a form factor people have liked for decades, something just waiting for some Apple innovation. Niches like books, pioneered by the Amazon Kindle, have made the idea more attractive.

What could possibly go wrong? Why, the iPads will be greeted as liberators. It will be a cakewalk.

Or not.

I've been going through the hype, and the reality, building toward the iPad's launch. I have been able to document at least six general ways in which all this could go wrong. So don't push that Bill Gates statue from tech's central square just yet!

1. Sucky battery -- Battery technology has not kept pace with other areas of tech, and the iPad reflects this.

The iPad uses more power than an iPhone, so the rechargeable lithium-polymer battery has to be replaced "at the shop." It will cost you over $100, and you'll lose your data, because they're really just shipping you a new iPad.

2. It's just a fat iPhone -- The curved back of the iPhone, on which the iPad is based, makes it hard to control. Did you know it's a right-handed device? The buttons on the left are designed to be pressed with the tops of the fingers on the right hand. If you are sinister like me (left-handed), it is no fun. And now you're doubling-down on that?

There is a reason the first thing a lot of people get for their iPhone is a case. It not only adds comfort, but stability, and protects the phone when it (inevitably) falls on the floor. The iPad design doubles down on that, too.

Notice how in the Oscars' ad (above) the user has created a new way of dealing with the computer? Not sitting upright, like at a desk, or standing up, as with an iPhone. He's lying on his back, knees-up. Sounds cool. But try it for a few hours straight.

3. Apple's walled garden -- Apple's developer and user policies for the iPhone have more in common with cellphones than the PCs you're used to. This is causing pushback, and helping open source developers justify switching to the Android, despite the iPhone's enormous market lead.

It's one thing to accept Chairman Steve and his Disneyfied content policies on a phone you keep in your pocket. It's something else to accept them on your main computer. If you want a Big Brother, you'll at least want to choose your own, not have him built-into your device.

4. Connectivity -- AT&T, Apple's partner on the iPhone, does not expect to sell a lot of iPad data subscriptions. They see it as a WiFi driven product. And sticking any wire into the thing sort of defeats the purpose, don't you think? (Or did you notice that detail?)

But is WiFi ready for PC prime time? WiFi is currently a point technology. It's not mobile the way cellular is. One way Apple could get around this is by aligning with Clear, the Comcast-Google-Sprint WiMax network. But when did Apple ever align with a market laggard before? Or with Google?

5. Content -- This is Apple's ace in the hole, but with the iPad it may be more like a deuce or a trey.

That's because Amazon has spent as much time and effort cultivating book publishers for the Kindle as Apple has spent cultivating music publishers for the iPod. We can accept a single store solution for a music player or phone, but, again, will you do that for the equivalent of a PC?

And won't movie studios, along with everyone else, be looking now to get a better deal than those signed years ago with Apple, on the promise of iPad riches? The music guys have already pushed the price of songs to $1.29. What will they charge for movies?

6. Competition -- The iPod and iPhone were launched into a virtual vacuum. There was nothing like them at the time which had gained any market traction.

That's not true here. Not only is the Kindle a big-seller, but tablets are an established niche for Microsoft. Everyone and their Uncle Mike is delivering tablets to the market this year. That means you won't have to settle for Apple's rounded form factor. You can have a tablet in any size you like, any shape, with or without a keyboard. Yes, it will do Windows.

A lot of people are betting I'm wrong. They're betting that Steve Jobs can once again redefine computing with the iPad, creating a new type of consumer device everyone will want, much as they want their iPhones and iPods.

Maybe he will. But he's now in the position of the New Orleans Saints. He's not sneaking up on anyone anymore. The rest of the tech league is gunning for him.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure