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Revisited: The “Color Kindle Killer”

The post reblogged below first appeared here exactly a year ago yesterday. The “color Kindle touchscreen device” was the Kindle Fire. Apparently, Apple wasn’t ready to pull the trigger then. But, in the next two months, they will. It’s not much of an ambush, though. More like Amazon hearing the footsteps behind them getting closer… and closer… Still, not a bad call.

I love Amazon. I think the Kindle is very cool. I really think Amazon is the only company capable of leveraging something that could successfully compete with the iPad.


MG Siegler just revealed that he has seen and touched and used a device intended for that purpose – a color Kindle touchscreen device with a 7 inch screen running an Amazon-developed fork of Android. It won’t support the existing Android marketplace – it is rather designed to be primarily a reading/media/web device, leveraging Amazon’s book, music and video sales engines.

…and they plan to sell it for $250, starting in November.

This fits right into my idea of what might be a credible iPad competitor. (Not an “iPad Killer”. Unless someone can compete with the mighty iOS software library, there can be no such thing. Period.) They could do what everyone else has failed to do – create a real tablet market as opposed to an iPad market.

And yet…

I almost hate myself for thinking of this, but…

Do y’all remember back before the iPad was released and rumors floated around about a 7 inch screen device in the works at Apple? Even after the iPad came out, there were persistent stories about prototypes with a smaller form factor. I even vaguely recall some half-believable stories about Apple lining up a supply of such screens. Nothing ever surfaced, however.

But we know Apple can build such a device. That’s pretty much a lead-pipe cinch. I’d give good odds that a prototype exists of a 7 inch iPad. Of course, they have no reason to release such a device as long as they can already sell every iPad they can make. Unless a viable alternative appears at the lower end. Like, say, now.

Suppose… suppose they built it. In fact, suppose they are ready to build it now.

What price point could Apple hit with a device equivalent to an iPad 1 (equivalent processor, no camera, no GPS, wi-fi only, 16 GB flash memory) sporting a 7 inch screen? Could they hit a $250 price to match the new Amazon Color Kindle? Almost certainly.

In truth, they wouldn’t have to hit a $250 price point at all. The added value of a full-fledged iOS device that would run all existing iOS software (possible on a 7 inch device if the screen resolution matched the iPad 1 in a smaller form factor) would make the iPad Mini a no-brainer purchase over a Kindle Color even at $300.

The question is not “Could they do it?” – the question is “Would they do it?”. It might even be “Have they already done it and just not pulled the trigger?”.

Yews, I know it is positively paranoid of me to think of such a thing – Machiavellian McLimore, I am. But still…

Could they…? Would they…? Will they…? HAVE they…?

Isn’t there an Apple event coming up real soon…?

Taking the long view… and the longer view… of Samsung v Apple

As I’ve often said, when Andy Ihnatko talks about Apple or the technology industry in general, I’m listening. Unlike so many so-called “journalists” or “pundits” who have earned neither of those designations, Ihnatko speaks without hidden agendas. He isn’t there to tell you how to think. He’s there to call your attention to things you might be wanting to think about, and to make sure you have enough info to consider them intelligently. The fact that he can do so while still being one of the most entertaining writers around is a bonus.

So when Ihnatko offers guidance about what the verdict in Samsung vs. Apple could mean for the future of the phone & tablet market, it is good idea for you (and me) to know that.

If you haven’t read the Ihnatko piece yet… well, what the heck are you doing listening to me first? Click on the link above and hear his first reaction to the verdict. I have, and while I have to — reluctantly — agree with much of it in the short term, I think the long term effect will be quite different.

Ihnatko says “If the decision stands, it’ll make it far, far more difficult, expensive, and risky to be a company that designs phones and tablets.” I think he’s right as far as that goes. He also says “If the verdict stands, then the costs of the judgment will be reflected in the cost of mobile devices. Furthermore, other manufacturers will feel the need to buy Apple’s official permission to build useful phones, passing down the possible $20-per-handset fee.” He’s right about that, too. Anyone who buys a non-Apple smartphone is going to pay more for it.

Where I don’t agree is with this: “The biggest losers here are consumers.” And with this: “Friday’s verdict doesn’t feel like justice. It feels like the day when Apple lost a hunk of its public persona as sweet hippies motivated by excellence and freedom, who win by making the best products.”

Consumers will take a hit, assuredly, in the short term. But they were already being short-changed by an industry that would very much like to return to the pre-iPhone days. In those days everyone took the easy route and made phones that satisfied the industry as a way to milk their customers endlessly with virtually no real use of technology to improve their customer’s experience. Consumers hated their phones, but since everyone was making essentially the same thing, no one cared about what consumers wanted, let alone about what they needed but didn’t know was something they could ask to have.

Apple changed that by making the first real improvements in the cell phone experience in years. They spent a lot of money to do it. More importantly, a lot of good people who took pride in their work and their visions spent long days and nights away from their families and their other pursuits. They were motivated by more than money. They were motivated by pride and by a personal vision they shared with Steve Jobs and the rest of their Apple colleagues.

I’m no Pollyanna. Money drives Apple. It must — they have stockholders who are never satisfied, no matter how good the company’s growth and performance. But what made Apple different was a constant belief that vision attracted money, rather than money being something that could buy vision. Time has proven them right.

Even so, Steve Jobs was more than once bitterly disappointed by people who thought the process of creation could be furthered with a shortcut, taking the vision of someone else and using it without doing the work and putting in the thought — instead just pretending you understood what it meant. Microsoft did that with Windows, Google did that with Android. Jobs never understood this mindset, and never forgave it.

Where someone sees a vision, embraces it, is inspired by it, and wants to be a part of it, you get innovation on top of innovation. When someone copies the trappings of a vision just to say “Me, too!” in hopes of profitting from the spread of that vision and without really sharing it or understanding it — that does not promote growth or innovation or anything other than stagnation. It takes bread out of the mouths of the real innovators without contributing anything.

Google was slavishly copying Blackberry with their early work on a Google phone, even though Blackberry had long since gone stagnant. Later, Google took advantage of their open partnership with Apple to switch gears and do the same to them when it became clear that people were responding to Apple’s direction. Again, they largely did this with no direction or vision of their own except a desire to have the same level of success as Apple without really knowing how to get there.

The Samsung case shows the end result of that kind of “innovation”. The evidence gathered undisputedly showed that Samsung was happy to offer customers no more than the same old crap that allowed the wireless companies that were their only really valued “customers” to bleed consumers without caring about improving their lot. When Apple outsold them in droves, giving those coinsumers a new alternative, they looked at their products in comparison and, rather than working to make their products better for the consumer, they deliberately chose to take the easy way by just copying Apple’s look without understanding the philosophy behind it in the least.

Samsung’s own documents conclusively show their mindset. “We can see our products are perceived as being less desirable than Apple’s products. We don’t know why (and don’t care to really make the effort to determine why) Apple’s work is superior. So we will set out to just make our products more like Apple’s products to siphon off some of their success.” Steve Jobs was fed up with that kind of thinking. Samsung hoped that Jobs’ death would find Tim Cook more willing to accept this. They were wrong.

The Apple v Samsung verdict will cripple the “smartphone” industry only because so much of that “industry” only consists of companies trying to make a fast buck copying what Apple accomplished. As soon as some company combines real vision with a willingness to embrace risk in the pursuit of a move forward, it may be Apple that finds itself needing to catch up. I look forward to that day, but it isn’t likely to come soon. Inertia paralyzed the phone industry for years, and for the most part contines to do so.

If the Apple v Samsung verdict has a chilling effect on “copycat innovation”, the consumer will take a hit in the short term but in the long view it will promote real innovation by forcing companies to actually attempt to seek better ways to serve their customers instead of just trailing along behind the crowd without knowing why. Technology companies and the public are better served by anticipating what customers will want tomorrow and using technology to fill needs that the public does not yet know they have — as Apple has done.

Apple v Samsung’s legacy may be to force a “smartphone” industry hat rose on the backs of first Blackberry, then Apple, to stop tweaking the smartphone and start designing the devices that will supplant it. If they can do a better job of that than Apple itself, great! Sooner or later, someone will. But they won’t do it while whining about Apple suppressing their “rights” to share the success that the whiners didn’t earn.

CouchGuy Conundrum: Could a “Kindle Color Killer” ambush Amazon?

I love Amazon. I think the Kindle is very cool. I really think Amazon is the only company capable of leveraging something that could successfully compete with the iPad.

MG Siegler just revealed that he has seen and touched and used a device intended for that purpose – a color Kindle touchscreen device with a 7 inch screen running an Amazon-developed fork of Android. It won’t support the existing Android marketplace – it is rather designed to be primarily a reading/media/web device, leveraging Amazon’s book, music and video sales engines.

…and they plan to sell it for $250, starting in November.

This fits right into my idea of what might be a credible iPad competitor. (Not an “iPad Killer”. Unless someone can compete with the mighty iOS software library, there can be no such thing. Period.) They could do what everyone else has failed to do – create a real tablet market as opposed to an iPad market.

And yet…

I almost hate myself for thinking of this, but…

Do y’all remember back before the iPad was released and rumors floated around about a 7 inch screen device in the works at Apple? Even after the iPad came out, there were persistent stories about prototypes with a smaller form factor. I even vaguely recall some half-believable stories about Apple lining up a supply of such screens. Nothing ever surfaced, however.

But we know Apple can build such a device. That’s pretty much a lead-pipe cinch. I’d give good odds that a prototype exists of a 7 inch iPad. Of course, they have no reason to release such a device as long as they can already sell every iPad they can make. Unless a viable alternative appears at the lower end. Like, say, now.

Suppose… suppose they built it. In fact, suppose they are ready to build it now.

What price point could Apple hit with a device equivalent to an iPad 1 (equivalent processor, no camera, no GPS, wi-fi only, 16 GB flash memory) sporting a 7 inch screen? Could they hit a $250 price to match the new Amazon Color Kindle? Almost certainly.

In truth, they wouldn’t have to hit a $250 price point at all. The added value of a full-fledged iOS device that would run all existing iOS software (possible on a 7 inch device if the screen resolution matched the iPad 1 in a smaller form factor) would make the iPad Mini a no-brainer purchase over a Kindle Color even at $300.

The question is not “Could they do it?” – the question is “Would they do it?”. It might even be “Have they already done it and just not pulled the trigger?”.

Yews, I know it is positively paranoid of me to think of such a thing – Machiavellian McLimore, I am. But still…

Could they…? Would they…? Will they…? HAVE they…?

Isn’t there an Apple event coming up real soon…?

DC Comics wants my money on the iPad. Happy to oblige!

On the occasion of the DC Comics announcement today that they will be going to day-and-date releases of all their DC Universe comic titles starting in September, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at my “wish list” for digital comics written in March 2010.

The original piece was written prior to Comixology coming out with digital sales apps first for Marvel and later for DC and other lines, which have set the standard for how digital issues will be distributed. I’m pleased to say that some of the features I most hoped for (most notably one-click purchasing, perpetual cloud storage for one’s digital purchases, readability across a variety of platforms, and consistent format from publisher to publisher) came to pass with the Comixology-developed system used by almost all the major companies at present. 

I was a little surprised that Comixology pulled this off on their own, sewing up deals with both Marvel & DC that essentially made them the Kings of Digital Comics. I wasn’t surprised, however, when the Comixology apps made the iPad into the digital comics reader of choice. For my money, there is no better way to buy and read digital issues. Without Comixology and the iPad, I doubt DC would have moved to all-titles day-and-date digital releases so quickly.

I still believe, however, that there is much that can be done to make the digital comics experience more compelling, expanding the comics market multifold. The excerpt below from my original article on the subject (edited and expanded just a bit here) is what I still hope for, and soon, from DC and all the majors.


Many choices building one fanbase: multiple purchasing models

Comixology’s apps for Marvel and DC have set a de facto standard for issue-by-issue purchasing, but I still maintain that the ways digital comic books are purchased could benefit from more variety. Many complimentary models are needed to support both the casual browser, the dedicated enthusiast, and everyone in between. I propose an expansion into a three-level marketing method for digital comic books, selling them as singles, subscriptions and compilations.

SINGLES would remain as they are now, but — as DC is pioneering — they would go on sale as digital releases the same day they come out as printed comics. I firmly believe they should sell for less than the cover price of a printed comic. Day-and-date releases through the DC/Comixology app are currently $2.99, older comics are normally $1.99, and frequent sales bring some collections down to 99 cents per issue for a limited time. Ho early, I think this is too expensive to maintain. I’d like to see day-and-date releases at no more than $1.99 and I think the increase in sales volume at such a price would more than make up for the lower per-copy price. Special-value issues (Annuals, Giant-Size issues, etc.) would be available at higher prices.

The Comixology apps offer some singles as freebies or loss leaders to launch new titles, support flagging sales of older titles, or hook fans of one title into trying another that is related or has similar appeal, and this should be expanded The availability of singles makes it easy for casual consumers and enthusiasts alike to try out new things without major commitments — something which is essential if the digital comics market is to be anything more than a side issue for the existing market base.

SUBSCRIPTIONS should be available for those who want to buy a longer-term run of a title. Buying a subscription should be a substantial savings over paying the single-issue price for the same set of comics — consumers should be rewarded for commitment. (Top end on a 12-issue commitment should be about 99 cents per issue.) Annuals and other specials might be included in a subscription or available only as singles.

A subscription could be a simple prepayment for the next X number of issues in advance, but a more flexible system would allow you to start with issues already available. A latecomer to a hot series could try out issue #1 of a series (that is now at issue #7) as a single purchase, then decide to “subscribe” for 12 issues, downloading #2 through #7 immediately and getting #8 through #12 as they are published. He already purchased #1 as a single, so he is automatically credited with the subscription cost of the issue he already has, which goes back into his account as a credit, to be used for future purchases. (Or the subscription cost of that one issue might just be discounted off the purchase price of the subscription — but the credit-back method would be a marketing tool to encourage more purchases without being unduly unfair to the consumer.) Also, nothing says that a “subscription” commitment has to be to only a single title. A Batman Family subscription might include all the Bat-titles at one special annual price. (Also, see the section on “Intermarketing” below…)

COMPILATIONS are, essentially, the digital equivalent of the trade paperback. Once a run of a title becomes available in this form, that run would perhaps no longer be available as a subscription item. It would still be available as individual issues at the higher price, because you still want an easy introductory entry point for newbies, and you also want those who hear about a classic story and want just that issue to be able to purchase it. (“Oh, man, you really have to read Muskrat Man #47! That’s the one where President Obama is entrusted with the Rodent of Righteousness’ secret identity!”) If you own the entire run of a comic as it appears in a compilation (having subscribed or bought it as individual issues), you could even be offered bonus materials included with the released compilation free as a loyalty bonus. If you have holes in your collection, you can still buy the missing issues as singles. Original graphic novels that are not compilations of single issues come out this way to begin with, of course.

SPECIAL PRODUCTS in digital format have the potential to offer things that have always been unwieldy in print formats. Imagine a subscription to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe or Who’s Who in the DC Universe, with these being living, growing, constantly updating databases with art and info of interest to dedicated continuity fans. As long as you keep updating your subscription once a year, you keep getting new and frequent updates.

A spinoff of this idea that’s close to my own heart would be a digitally-sold set of role playing game rules tied to an optional subscription that would get you game stats for new characters, new game maps, and new scenarios even as the matching storylines and characters are being introduced in the comics themselves. My VISA card is practically jumping out of my wallet to order that and I don’t even have time to play pen-and-paper RPGs all that often these days. (Dear @comixology — please tweet Chris @Pramas at Green Ronin Publishing, publishers of the DC Universe role playing game. I gotta get you folks together, somehow…)


Intermarketing: Selling the Blackest Secret Crisis Apocalypse War

The opportunities to gradually, indetectably and painlessly turn the casual fan into the deeply committed spendthrift fanatic are nothing short of legen — wait for it — dary. The easier it is to buy, and to find more things to buy, the more the consumer will spend. (No? How many MP3 music tracks have you bought from iTunes or Amazon? Have an iPhone? How many apps have you bought? How much have you spent, overall? Have you bothered to keep track? Now that you think about it, do you really want to know?

First of all, there is a lot of room for improvement in how I can keep track of my digital purchases. It should be ridiculously easy for me to see what series and issues I own and what holes there are in my collection. I should be able to set up a quick background download of any “playlist” I want and have them moved from the cloud database to any of my digital devices so that I can carry them around and read when convenient. Comixology’s storage-space management tools are good, but if my whole library is going to be digital, it needs to be more flexible.

Buy a single issue and there should be a link inside to take you to a purchase page for a subscription. Other links may take you to pages offering to sell you other titles featuring the same characters or that are part of the same overarching storyline. The very existence of easy-purchase interlinking like this will massively increase sales overall. If it is easy enough, people will buy more.

Furthermore, since you are storing each customer’s personal purchase record in the cloud, you can always push new things to him that you think he will like. Did he buy Muskrat Man last year? Offer him Power Platypus #1 from the same artist at a small discount next time he opens his comic reader app and you may hook him on an impulse buy. (If the discount is only available by acting right away, so much the better.)


The social side: making your fan your salesman

Social interaction at the comics store is great, but your untapped market is the folks who don’t have time to hang out on Wednesday — but still like to talk comics with friends and fellow enthusiasts. The smart digital comics distribution group will build digital social interaction right into the same software that organizes and displays the digital comics. When you finish reading an issue, one click will take you to that titles digital forums where you can share your views on the issue — or to your personal homepage where you can share reading lists, recommendations, ratings and reviews.

Your personal profile will share as much or as little as you choose to make public about your reading habits, likes and dislikes. It will also let you brag a little about your collection by awarding you badges for completing runs, commenting frequently, and participating in ongoing trivia quizzes, games and contests. (For real fun, steal an idea from GetGlue and offer real stickers or other physical trophies for completing collections or reading milestone issues. Maybe there’s a partnership worth looking at, actually. Linking GetGlue to the Comixology comics apps could be just the social link that is needed.)

Sharing is caring and it is also a great way to sell more comics. The system should encourage sharing. I envision a way to send a sharing link to a friend, allowing them to view perhaps the first four pages of a comic you want to recommend, along with an immediate purchase link for the full issue or a subscription. If your friend subscribes based on your link, you might get a small credit toward your own future purchases.  This sort of “instant affiliate program” can spread good comics virally, tapping the immense power of the fanbase in a way that benefits both the publisher and the fans. And, of course, don’t forget the marketing power of offering easy gigging of individual issues and subscriptions to your digital comics enthusiast friends! 

You need not leave out your print fans in all of this. They should be able to use the apps to participate in the social fun even if they never buy a single digital issue, posting reviews and ratings for the print version of every title and every issue right alongside those for the digital release. Now that DC has revived their letters pages, these should also be linked to the digital distribution apps, allowing fans to send comments instantly from within the app as soon as they finish reading it.

Here is a chance for the publishers to help out the loyal local comics shops, too, giving them easy access to the digital fanbase. The social interaction pages can be easily set up to display ads for comics shops only to those who are in the appropriate locality. When I log in, I’ll see ads reminding me to visit Comic Quest in Evansville, IN, while Andy Ihnatko will get ads for The Outer Limits in Waltham, MA. Smart local retailers will use these ads to link to special sales and offers for things that can’t be bought digitally, such as spinoff merchandise like t-shirts, figurines, and other collectibles. Make these ads cheap or even free to the local stores on a simple rotational basis for their local customers. Everyone will benefit.

The Comixology apps have already brought me back from the nearly dead as a fan, and day-and-date releases at reasonable prices is likely to pull me call the way back in again in no time at all. You are already seeing older fans reborn and new fans created, and teaming the digital model further will only accelerate the process. It is raining soup, publishers — grab a bucket! But you have to do it right and reach out for the dollars from the customer who you don’t already have in your pocket (or don’t have any longer) instead of just trying to squeeze more dollars out of the shrinking fanbase you still possess.

Come on, DC & Marvel — take my money. Please.

Getting my money’s worth on the iPad

Well, if my iPad wasn’t already earning it’s keep, it certainly is now. I’ve been laid up since Friday night with an injured left foot. It appears I have torn the tendon that goes under the arch to the heel. I’ll know more once my doctor sees me and they do some imaging this week.

Menwhile, I can’t put full weight on the left foot. (This is an improvement from Friday night when I could put no weight on it at all.) I can now make short treks (to the bathroom, thank goodness) with a walker and determination, and I otherwise live in a lift chair temporarily. But I can’t easily make the U-turn necessary to get behind my desk.

This leaves me using my iPad as my primary connection to the world. I spent a good deal of the weekend sleeping off my pain pills, but with the iPad I have an endless supply of books, articles, video, news, music, and instant communication.

Thank you, Apple. Thank you, Twitter and Tumblr. Thank you, Flipbook and Zite. Thank you, Netflix and Air Video. Thank you, Angry Birds and Plamts vs Zombies. Thank you, Google Reader and Amazon Kindle Store. Thank you, NPR and TWiT.tv.

Drawbacks of the iPad 2 that Mossberg missed

Doggone that Walt Mossberg! His recent piece on drawbacks of the iPad was supposed to put to rest his supposed reputation for bias toward Apple products by pointing out the places where the device has been left vulnerable to honest criticism. Unfortunately, he seems to have missed a number of things that make the iPad 2 a less-than-ideal device.

Your CouchGuy, however, is not afraid to speak truth to power. Here are just a few of the many ways the iPad 2 falls short of perfection.


Disappointing Movie Performance

The iPad was much lauded as a personal entertainment device that many claimed was the best movie experience on a portable device. You’d think the iPad 2 would better this experience by a good deal, but in fact it fails to deliver improvements that would have assured it market dominance.

First of all, it doesn’t even come with any movies! Not even one little Hollywood blockbuster! Pop open your new iPad and there’s nothing to watch! Oh, sure, you can download a huge variety of films wirelessly from the iTunes Store, or download the free Netflix app, open a Netflix account, and watch hundreds of movies for one low monthly fee. But the original iPad can do all of that! What makes this new thing better?

Old-timers like me remember when you bought a Mac with a Superdrive, you used to get a free Pixar movie on DVD! Well, Apple has taken a giant step backward, here. If you want movies, you’ll have to pay for them. Even if you already own DVDs, you can forget about playing them here — there’s no optical drive at all. “Best movie experience on a portable device?” Ha!

And you can forget about the new iMovie app for the new iPad 2 as well. The name would make you think you’ve finally found something that does something that the original iPad can’t — but no! I downloaded and ran the iMovie app for hours, and it never made a single movie for me. How am I supposed to stay entertained with this thing?


Weak battery systems

Mossberg did tweak Apple’s nose about the iPad 2’s battery life only being slightly better than advertised and as good as that of the original iPad. But he didn’t go far enough. What do you have to do when the battery (eventually) runs down? You have to plug in a cord to charge it! Isn’t the whole point of the iPad to be a wireless device? Well, this one requires a wire or it will stop working altogether — sooner or later! Apple’s had almost a whole year to work on this since the iPad came out, but the iPad 2 is no closer to fixing this glaring error in design.


Inconvenient touchscreen

The iPad design was hailed as making interaction with a computing device more effortless than ever before. I have to admit that’s true, but we expected the iPad 2 to make a quantum leap forward in ease of use. Rather than a leap, we got a letdown. The iPad screen still requires you to touch it to make it work.

It is not just a matter of failing to eliminate those messy finger marks that appear on the iPad screen. The iPad 2 still puts wear and tear on your fingertips from all those touches. Plus, it is just not as efficient as a true thought wave interface would be. Apple had their shot to keep the curve moving upward in this regard, but instead they seem to have reached an innovation plateau here. Sad, really.

Speaking of that screen, the iPad 2 also does not squeeze down to fit in your shirt pocket, then stretch out to the size of a wall the way Phineas J. Whoopee’s Three Dimensional Blackboard did back in the mid-1960s on TV. I know!


Fragile design

The original iPad had a nice hefty feel to it. The iPad 2 is much thinner and lighter, so I checked to see if it was any more useful as a protective shield than its predecessor. I am sorry to report that the iPad 2 is no more bulletproof than the original. That’s a real shame in this case. Were the iPad pocket-size, no one would really care. But the iPad and iPad 2 have the perfect dimensions to slip into the front of your shirt as emergency body armor. If you had such plans for your iPad 2, best give them up now. It may feel good against your skin, but the iPad 2 won’t stop a .38 slug any more than the iPad 1 did. According to our professional teardown, there’s not a speck of vibranium, adamantium, uru, nth metal, supermanium, scrith, or magnetically-reinforced collapsium in the whole construction. Can you really afford such a security risk?


Unstable flight characteristics

The first iPad had a rounded back that made it a passable airfoil. Here, again, is a place where the iPad 2 takes a giant leap backwards. The iPad 2’s flat back means you can forget about “flat flip flies straight” when you sail it across the high school cafeteria or in the stands at a concert venue or ball game. The guys at Wham-O are just sick about it.


Not an outstanding value

Here’s the unkindest cut of all. The iPad 2 costs money! Yes, if you want it, you’ll have to buy one. (Well, not Mossberg, probably. Maybe that’s why he was so easy on it.) Apple has billions in the bank in cash, more buying power than any other consumer electronics firm, and the heart of every component manufacturer in the world stored in jars in Steve Jobs’ closet — and they still couldn’t manage to bring the price to zero. Heck. Android is free — shouldn’t Apple be trying to beat that by paying us to take home the iPad 2? We’re going to have to buy all our apps from them, anyway!

Conclusions

Looking at all these failures to improve on the iPad 1, I suppose we will have to conclude that it is better for us to wait for all of the many iPad competitors to arrive. As these devices are still mostly imaginary, we can still hope that they will succeed where Apple has failed and deliver on all our dreams of the perfect tablet. It is certainly clear that the perfect device in this category (you know, the category that Apple created out of thin air with the iPad) has yet to be shipped. You should all wait for it. It might be just around the corner. Why settle for less when the tablet of your dreams can be yours — when tomorrow comes. Remember, the best device in any category is the one that hasn’t shipped or even been announced yet. Don’t settle for something real. Buy nothing except the one that isn’t available. That one will never disappoint you.

Anticipating the iPad 2

I suppose I may as well chime in on my thoughts on what Apple is likely to drop on us on Wednesday as the iPad 2. (Will it even be called that? I think it more likely they’ll just call it the new iPad, and leave it to us to figure out the model upgrade nomenclature, as they have with the iPod and iMac…) As upgrades go, I am expecting something that a lot of people will initally think of as modest, but will turn out to be just right to kick off another big run on the device. Here’s what I think we will get (perhaps accompanied by a few notes on what I hope we will get).

Front and Rear Cameras

I can’t imagine a new iPad without these, with all the emphasis on FaceTime right now. I don’t think the iPad is really suited for a lot of picture-taking, so I expect the camera facing away from the user will be pretty modest. It needs to be enough for “augmented reality” uses, scanning barcodes, etc. (These are the uses I’ve really missed on the iPad.) I don;t expect the camera functions to be nearly as good as those on the iPhone 4 because I just can’t see the iPad as being a commonly-used tool for picture-taking. The FaceTime camera, on the other hand, will get most of Apple’s attention and promotion. I could wish it would have the ability to tilt so that how you hold or set up the iPad would not be so critical for using FaceTime, but I don’t really expect to see that.

Lighter and Flatter

The distinctive iPad bulge is likely to be gone, and I suspect it will be significantly lighter than the existing iPad. The carbon-fiber rumors ring true to me, and I would not be surprised to find this sort of construction replace the aluminum on the new model. (If not now, almost certainly the iPad 3 will have this change.)

More Powerful Processor

I certainly expect Apple to beef up the processor power on this model. In the long run, this may end up being the most significant change, though it is getting the least attention. It all depends on what Apple does with the additional processing capability in iOS 5.

More RAM

The iOS 4 architecture with multiprocessing cries out for additional RAM, and if Apple can leverage their buying power to do that while keeping the price reasonable, I think they will do so. 1 GB? Maybe.

More On-Board Storage

I’m really thinking Apple will go to 32/64/128 GB internal storage for the new models, though they may hold out for iPad 3 (later this year) for that change. I bought the mid-range system and I really do with I’d held out for more. Apps drive the popularity of iOS devices, and they demand more and more space.

Thunderbolt Port

I think this is going to be the rabbit-out-of-the-hat on this upgrade. The new iPad needs a surprising feature and I expect this to be it. I never bought the idea that Apple would take a step backward and add an SD card port to this thing, no matter how many photographers crave one. SD is yesterday, and Apple is totally unsentimental about yesterday. With the new Macbook Pro featuring a Thunderbolt port (and the next iMacs bound to get one), putting one on the iPad makes perfect sense. The iPad really needs a faster wired connection to iTunes, and the video out capability of the port means it can do double duty — just the way Apple likes.

iOS Minor Update

I’d love to see an ultra-new iOS 5 come out alongside the new iPad, but I don’t think we’ll see that. I do think there will be a fractional update for iOS 4, and that it might have a few surprising features. I’m truly hoping for wireless syncing, as it is something the iPad desperately needs.

MobileMe

I anticipate a very big MobileMe announcement alongside iPad 2 — something bigger than making the current services free. Apple needs to centralize a truly up-to-date and broad-spectrum cloud service for iOS devices with backup, file sharing, media streaming and more. Such a thing would make the iOS platform a quantum leap ahead of any potential rivals. I think it is coming. I hope it is coming Wednesday.

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