The iPad launch

Like half the nerds in America, I spent yesterday’s lunch hour watching events unfold at Apple’s big product launch.  Even watching second-hand through the live blog on Engadget, Steve Jobs’ salesmanship is amazing.   I’m as psyched as anyone.  I have shelves of unused electronic gadgets at home, but my iPod Touch still gets constant use.  Big Steve hit all the right markets: games, books, newspapers, and iWork.

The most exciting aspect of the iPad is what it will do to the competition.

The competition for the iPad is the whole netbook sector, a category that has been growing stagnant.  When netbooks first came out, it was amazing to have this little device that would put anyone on the internet.  They were cheap and light and booted up fast.   Any kid or business person or grandparent could buy them and get onto the web.

Unfortunately, the manufacturers decided that getting people to adopt Linux was too big of a business risk;  they had to get Windows onto the things.  Also, people kept saying they wanted their workplace spreadsheet and word processor.  Not that anyone was actually using netbooks for work, but they needed to justify the purchase.    That meant adding hard disks, more memory and more horsepower.  Add the Microsoft-tax, and netbooks became one of the few electronics categories where prices were going up instead of down.

Now the iPad debuts with a starting price at the high end of the netbook spectrum.  You can bet that iPad prices will inch downwards after Apple has sold to all the early-adopters.  More important is that all other hardware manufacturers will be scrambling to bring out similar devices at lower prices.  The Ubuntu and Android folks will be fully involved.

Consider that the whole netbook category was kicked off by the One Laptop per Child program.  That program has been a financial and educational failure, but simply announcing that they would build a usable computer for $100 (and later $200) changed consumers expectations.  Notebook manufacturers responded to this (anticipated) competition and we all got cheap netbooks.

There were smart phones before the iPhone came out, but Apple’s phone pushed innovation in a huge way.  Now every carrier has an iPhone wannabe or two.

There were MP3 players before the iPod, but they were mostly little gadgets that stored a dozen songs for use at the gym.  Apple’s concept that you could store your entire music collection invigorated the category.  The iPod is still on top, but competition forced Apple to fill out its product line.  There are now iPods for every budget.

Although I’m excited, I’m also patient.  It will probably be at least a year before I buy an iPad.  But this product release will be good for all of us.  Competition is the consumer’s friend.

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