iPad therefore I am

26 Jul 2010

Siliconrepublic’s editor John Kennedy recounts a crazy week dominated by Apple’s shiny new toy, the iPad.

So it’s finally here – a little later than the rest of the world – but, well, there are some very smug people walking round with a shiny glass device that promises to be the future of computing.

Depending of course how many actually made it to the Irish market – the rumour mill suggests a mere 2,000 in the first consignment – but Ireland’s cellular operators should be getting a lesson in wireless physics and how much data the network can actually sustain if thousands of people are downloading apps, talking on Facebook and watching YouTube videos all at once.

Trading was brisk on Friday and the first new Irish iPad owners marched proudly out of the stores clutching their new devices.

What will be interesting overall is the impact the iPad will make on the computing world in general. I remember the first reports out of America in March on how netbook sales dipped as soon as the iPad arrived. First estimates of the device’s success were actually conservative and most commentators believed the impact of the ‘over-sized iPhone’ would be slight.

Well, they seem to be changing their minds and now commentators and analysts are revising their figures upwards. Analyst iSuppli has now revised its figures upwards and estimates Apple will sell 12.9 million iPads this year.

Amid indications that Apple Inc. is ratcheting up its iPad production targets to meet booming demand, iSuppli now predicts Apple will ship 12.9 million iPads in 2010, an increase from an original estimate of of 7.1 million units. Shipments will rise to 36.5 million in 2011 and 50.4 million in 2012, iSuppli predicts.

This is heady stuff and came roughly within 24 hours of Apple reporting US$15.7bn in Q3 sales and a net quarterly profit of US$3.25bn. The results were driven by the success of the iPad and in particular the success of the iPhone 4, which sold 3 million devices in just three weeks and was declared by CEO Steve Jobs to be “the most successful product launch in Apple’s history.”

The interesting thing about the iPad’s launch in Ireland was how the cellular operators at first gave the impression they would actually be selling the iPad before “being really clear about it” and saying they would not be retailing the device but would be offering specific price plans for the iPad,

A price war of sorts ensued on Wednesday and Thursday last week as the operators Vodafone, O2 and 3 revealed their plans. Sitting at our desks it was like a kind of poker game, who would blink first.

Mobile operators’ iPad price plans

On Wednesday, Vodafone were first off the mark with a one-day and a 30-day plan. The one day plan offers 500Mb per day data allowance at €3.99 and a 30-day option with a 5Gb per month data allowance costing €20.

Next came O2 with its €3.97 per day plan for up to 500MB of data and €19.90 per month with a 5GB data limit and free Wi-Fi at Bitbuzz locations.

Finally, Thursday veers around and 3 swaggers on to the scene with its own monthly price plans of €9.99 per month with a 1Gb allowance and €19.99 per month for a 15Gb allowance.

Each of these plans has merits and ultimately the end-user will be swayed by plans that suit their specific circumstances.

The refreshing thing that the iPad offers is a move towards versatile computing on a scale that has hitherto been undreamed of.

For cellular operators, the thing to watch is the impact of these devices on the network and just how versatile they will be with their pricing plans into the future.

Unlike the analysts who can revise their forecasts with the flourish of a pen, the collision of explosive growth in smartphones and the predicted rocketing use of versatile tablet computing present network operators with a new set of challenges.

For one thing, users want affordability and speed. The winner in this debate will be the network that has the most capacity and the ability to transform to the future LTE and WiMax networks and at the same time keep prices right for consumers.

The week ahead should be interesting with the launch this Friday of the iPhone 4 on Vodafone, 3 and O2’s networks. Expect the operators to introduce specific price plans for Steve Jobs’ other ‘magical’ device.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years