ipadx4Who’s going to buy an Apple iPad?

Well, not you or me, anyway – not this version, not at $600-800.

It’s not going to revolutionize anything, it’s not going to replace netbooks, but it will find large and devoted audiences, particularly after the price drops and some features get added. It’s easy to imagine version 2 or 3 with the built-in camera that ought to have been there all along, and with the GPS receiver that is driving the most interesting uses of the iPhone. More importantly, a couple of years from now the low-end version of the iPad will be something like $199 or $299, and at that point the game changes.

HOME MEDIA  I think this article has it right: when the price drops, iPads will be left lying around the house and we’ll grab one to consume media. They’ll be on the kitchen counter or the coffee table or by the bed, and we’ll pick it up the way we pick up a magazine today. It will present whatever newspapers and magazine evolve into, plus it will be an easy way to scan email messages or look at Facebook or browse through photos or grab a few minutes of a TV show on Hulu.

That’s the niche where no device quite fits today. A netbook or notebook isn’t right for reading the newspaper over breakfast, no matter how attractive the New York Times Reader is. The iPad can replace a magazine for trips to the bathroom. There has long been a need for an electronic photo album that can be passed around in groups.

That’s a more limited role than an iPhone plays in many people’s lives and it might not require Apple’s magic touch to make a satisfying device that fills that niche. Other manufacturers will bring out tablets running Windows 7 or Android or Chrome OS, any of which might be sufficient.

BABY BOOMERS  Some baby boomers are interested in iPhones but uncomfortable with the small screen size, the tiny type and cramped keyboard. The iPad allows them to enter the world of iPhone apps at a comfortable size.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced there are very many aging baby boomers lusting after a device with 100,000 apps. I run into a far higher comfort level with single purpose devices, which is why the Kindle will survive quite nicely. At the moment the E Ink technology used on the Kindle is far easier on the eyes for reading and Amazon won’t be standing still – it acquired a touchscreen designer today and is undoubtedly going to focus on improving its design and adding color.

STUDENTS  The other area that might light up sales for the iPad depends on how students and publishers react to the changing world of textbooks. Publishers are playing textbook games as long as possible, running prices into the stratosphere and publishing new editions frequently to discourage used textbook sales. Students are naturally looking for electronic ways to cut the extortionate cost of bound textbooks.

There were some negative anecdotes from campuses testing the larger Kindle as an alternative to bound textbooks, although these days I’m suspicious when media coverage just happens to dovetail with the interests of really big companies. (Those programs are now on hold after lawsuits on behalf of vision-impaired readers.)

iPads are bound to look more appealing to students than Kindles, so it’s no surprise that a number of textbook publishers are lining up to develop apps for the iPad. It’s a natural fit.

That puts iPads or other tablets in homes as a replacement for magazines and newspapers, in the hands of some tech-savvy baby boomers who want to play with all the apps, and possibly in student backpacks. That’s enough consumers for Apple to sell a few gazillion iPads and burnish its reputation, right?

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