Its iPods and iPhones wooed the young and tech savvy. But with its iPad, Apple may reach a new demographic: the middle-aged.
The sleek, soon-to-launch multimedia tablet is expected to find traction among those looking for something light to carry and easy to operate. Consumers most likely to spend $499 to $829 for the iPad — at least in the beginning — are business executives weary from lugging around heavy laptops and parents in need of digital pacifiers to soothe fidgety children in restaurants and airplanes, experts say.
“I think it will change how I run my family,” said Robyn Albarran, a 36-year-old Dublin mother of two young children. She envisions using the iPad to occupy her young ones as they wait for swim lessons, or to quickly check a recipe online while cooking in her kitchen.
The half-inch-thick iPad, some models of which will be able to connect to a 3G cellular network, may not introduce major new technology, but it signals a potential sea change in how people engage with everything from newspapers to legal documents and video. The device brings together functions common to laptops and smartphones in a new — and fun — form that lets people navigate the Web, flip pages of a digital book and create business presentations by tapping the iPad’s screen.
When Apple unveiled the iPad on Jan. 27, CEO Steve Jobs and other executives positioned it as a device for everyone — a game gadget for teens, With it’s ease of use the iPad is positioned to be a businessan e-reader for all ages, a photo album for the family. Apple’s latest creation, and other new tablet computers hitting the market, may eventually change how students read textbooks and how families in their living rooms access everything from TV episodes to Web sites.
The profile of iPad users is certain to change over time. Analysts believe its price will eventually come down. Furthermore, the device, which will go on sale beginning next month, is sure to have a rich ecosystem of new programs that will make it appealing to a broadening audience, much as the iPhone became more popular with the growing number of apps offered through Apple’s App Store.
But the first wave of iPad users is more likely to be busy professionals than youthful first-adapters who eagerly lined up to buy iPhones, experts say.
“The sweet-spot for the device right now will be the busy traveling adult,” said Natalie Suski, a marketing strategist with Frank N. Magid Associates, a research consulting company that focuses on product development and branding. Before the iPad was announced, the company’s research found that a tablet-like device with Apple’s flare and technological abilities was instantly embraced by older consumers.
Apple clearly aims to entice road warriors. The company has created a version of its iWork productivity suite — word processing, spreadsheets and presentation applications — just for the iPad. During the iPad launch event, Apple executive Phil Schiller showed off the software, rearranging a presentation’s slides with a tap and swipe of a finger.
The iPad, which weighs in at 1.5 pounds, already is being eyed by many on-the-move professionals who need more than a smartphone but would rather ditch their laptop as they head to the airport. With 3G capabilities, the iPad would free business travelers from worry over finding WiFi hotspots. And the device would give them a nearly 10-inch screen for viewing company documents stored on servers at headquarters, eliminating the need for them to carry a heavier machine with greater storage capacity.
“The iPhone tended to skew younger,” Suski said. “You never thought of the iPhone in the context of, ‘This is great for viewing my Excel spreadsheets.’ The value of the iPhone is the ability to play games, watch video, use apps. Those are things the millennial generation is attracted to.”
Already, lawyers, bankers and other executives try to substitute a BlackBerry or iPhone for a computer whenever they can, according to recent Thomson Reuters research.
“The iPad will be popular” among professionals, said Alisa Bowen, head of consumer publishing at Thomson Reuters. “Executives will take great pride in being the first to use it, the first to show it off. It will be great fun for them to use it in presentations.”
Richard Archuleta, CEO of Mountain View-based Plastic Logic, maker of the QUE e-reader, said his company decided to take aim at business users because it believes the college market will take five to 10 years to develop. Like Apple, the company offers one model that has WiFi and 3G capabilities.
“Business people tend to have a little more money to spend on things that will help their careers,” Archuleta said. “These are the early adopters in the wave of text moving to electronic readers. Business professionals just don’t read PowerPoint and PDF business reports. They read newspapers, magazines and trade journals.”
Jeff Olson, vice president of research at Kaplan Publishing, said students still rely on printed textbooks. “They’ve got a laptop they close when they have work to be done. ‘That’s my distraction,’ they’ll say,” he said.
Still, textbook publishers are gearing up for the tablet revolution. Kaplan will have exam preparation apps for medical students ready for the iPad come fall that will let users mark up the e-books just like they would physical books. Olson believes iPads will start showing up on college campuses in the fall, but he’s uncertain how quickly tablets will become default devices for students.
For executives like Mark Westover, though, the tablet computer is a no-brainer. The vice president at software maker Sybase said every now and then he misses a crucial element or two in an e-mail he reads on his small-screen BlackBerry as he’s rushing about. “Reading your e-mail on an iPad would lessen a lot of errors,” he said.
For Westover, who logs in about 100,000 miles a year traveling internationally and domestically, the “wow” factor is how thin the iPad is. “It almost looks like it could fit into a portfolio binder,” he said.
Dublin mother Albarran said the iPad’s unveiling created a stir among friends and family who are far from being tech trendsetters. Her sister-in-law even sent her a link to the video of Jobs’ presenting the tablet. “It’s very transformative,” she said.
One of the best features: Her children will be able to watch videos using Bluetooth headsets so everyone around them isn’t subjected to the umpteenth “Dora the Explorer” or “Thomas the Tank Engine” episodes.
But, Albarran added, “I’m afraid that once they get a hold of it, they won’t want to let go of it. There has to be some control and rules.”