Who should buy the iPad? Hint: People of a certain age (and that's not you)
"Who will buy?" is the question to ask now that Apple has turned on the advertising spigot. I saw the first iPad commercial three times during yesterday's Academy Awards program. No one should underestimate the power of Apple marketing for generating millions of initial iPad sales. Advertising will differentiate iPad from ebook reader or tablet competitors.
For years, Apple advertised iPod unchecked. Competitors simply didn't aggressively advertise their MP3 players. So from about 2002 through end of 2004, iPod owned media player advertising -- at least in the United States. For a short time, Creative had a campaign, then nothing after 2005. No wonder so many people bought an iPod -- it seemingly was the only choice.
What other competitor will offer another choice to iPad through such aggressive marketing? You tell me. The first commercial is very benefits oriented, putting common PC-like functions in the lap instead of on the tabletop. Apple should be wary of consumer confusion. Some potential buyers might not easily understand the difference from iPhone or iPod touch. Whom that might be will become more apparent in a few paragraphs.
I predict that within a few months of release, unless there is a shortage of storage cards, Apple will reconsider the 16GB model -- as it did the original 4GB iPhone; 16GB is the new 4GB, but for different reasons. From the start, summer 2007, 8GB iPhone quickly outsold the lower-cost 4GB model. Buyers wanted more storage. At $499, I expect the 16GB iPad to easily outsell the $629 16GB 3G or 32GB WiFi model. But in short order, many iPad buyers will find that 16GB storage is inadequate. They'll want more storage, which they didn't get at first because of price -- how affordable is $499 compared to $629. There are reasons why retailers use prices like $19.99 or $599. The six in $629 seems so much more than $499. I expect Apple to make price adjustments by summer. Latest. But only after an iPod touch price reduction or introduction of 128GB model at $399.
All this meandering finally leads to the question posed by this post's title: Who should buy iPad? With no backing data -- but a good sense about marketing -- I can see four consumer demographic groups that should buy iPad. I'm ignoring institutional segments like education or training; none of the four groups would fit nicely into analysts' survey spreadsheets. They are:
People Steve Jobs's age or older. Apple's CEO may run a company producing hip products, but Jobs is middle aged. Jobs turned 55 on February 24. He's a Baby Boomer, and iPad is for his generation and that of his parents. It's computing made easy, with all the basics covered in a device simply and comfortably handled.
Yesterday, a friend asked if his 85 year-old dad should buy an iPad. "Absolutely," I said. He was surprised because of my post "12 reasons why I won't buy an iPad." The iPad will get the dad on the Web with email and other connected features, serve up ebooks and provide applications that are easily chosen, purchased, installed and used.
Apple's tablet isn't right for me, or many other people comfortable with technology and used to multitasking. In its first iteration, iPad is more a single-task device, which is right pace for many older folks (Hey, this isn't agism just the reality of aging). Among the Boomer-plus set, I expect iPad will appeal most to digital immigrants, meaning those people who didn't grow up with computers and aren't all that comfortable with them (Gen Xers tend to be digital resident aliens and the Millennials digital natives).
The iPad as a device for the old (55 and older) could be quite good for Apple. According to a recent AdMob report, 65 percent of iPod touch users are 17 or younger. By comparison, 72 percent of iPhone users are between 18 and 54. Neither device has much pull with those 55 or older, 14 percent and 5 percent, respectively. The 55 and over crowd is a desirable market segment. Marketers assume this group has more discretionary spending power because of savings and less pull by outside factors -- children, for example. Then there is the large number of Baby Boomers (in the United States about 77 million still living out of 309 million total population, according to Census data). The oldest Boomers reached retirement age in the Noughties.
The Mac faithful. It's often called the cult of Mac for a reason. Anecdotally, this group can be relied on to buy pretty much anything new with an Apple logo.
Mac wannabes on a budget. From a marketing perspective -- looking at Apple computing products as a range of features and prices -- iPad fills a gaping hole in the Mac product line between the $399 iPod touch and $999 MacBook. More importantly, iPad lets people pining for a portable Mac get one for less than $500. Suddenly, the cheapest, functional Mac portable is $499. The average consumer doesn't care about the operating system, whether iPhone OS 3.2 or Snow Leopard. Mac wannabes will care more about what the device can do for them. Apple has packed most of the basic, most appealing functions of the Mac portable -- including iWork -- into iPad. Then there's the App Store offering loads of fun applications that are cheap and easy to install.
Niche buyers. Singly, niche buyers won't amount to much. Combined, they could be a sizable buying segment. Among them I see people interested in ebooks, gadget collectors (especially those obsessed with geek envy) and artists.
To many artists, iPad should be a desirable canvas. Anthropologically, used together, the mouse and keyboard are an unnatural user interface. Human beings are tool users. We experience and interact with the world through five senses. The best tools are really extensions of the hands; the mouse and keyboard UI is neither. Hands, fingers and touch are especially important for experiencing and manipulating objects or surroundings -- and for artistry. Apple's tablet is the canvas for which many artists' hands will create. What will the hand and finger create on the touchscreen? Who knows, the answer might be a future iPad commercial.