Let's keep the iPad in proper perspective

Can you vehemently disagree with a colleague and still respect him? Despite the often passionate claims of our readers and commenters, who may have forgotten the era of Siskel & Ebert, I believe you can.

I'm as much a fan of a vigorous debate as anyone else. In my previous column last Thursday, Enough with the Apple bashing!, I apparently stepped on the baby toe of fellow Betanews contributor, Joe Wilcox. As scathing as his response -- entitled Of course media bias favors Apple -- was, I assure you I've got pretty thick skin.

In the interest of open discussion -- and because I was always taught to finish what I started -- I'd like a chance to address some of Joe's contentions:

If no one cared about early sales figures, why were there so many blog posts or news stories about them?

Popularity has nothing to do with precision, Joe. A lot of people wrote about Tiger Woods and his mistresses, too. Does that mean they all really cared about Tiger? Or did they simply want a titillating bit of trivia before they headed into work? Bloggers can ruminate about iPad pre-sales figures until they're blue in the face, but it'll be much ado about nothing. The only thing that matters is months from now. And when a large enough installed base results in a large enough market for advertisers to take notice, the first few days of pre-order stats won't matter in the least.

Ongoing rumors about iPad have helped lift Apple's share price into the stratosphere. Investors have every reason to talk up Apple.

Joe gives the iPad way too much credit. Last I checked, Apple sold a number of other significantly powerful product lines, including the Mac, iPhone, and iPod, all of which contribute mightily to the company's revenue and, consequently, its stock value. As the iPhone closes in on its third birthday, it continues to expand its market share and generate rivers of cash for both Apple and its carrier-partners worldwide. Investors don't have to make up good-news stories about the iPad when they can pick and choose from Apple's existing products. Quarter after quarter of consistent top and bottom line revenue growth, not quick-hit new product rumors, are driving the long-term share price growth.

[$200,000 is] a surprising amount to spend per ad on an untried new media platform with arguably low initial distribution.

Carmi Levy Wide Angle Zoom (v.2)Desperate times spawn desperate measures. Publications like Time which, as Joe notes, has gotten major advertisers like Unilever, Toyota Motor, and Fidelity Investments to pony up the equivalent of a small condo in Indianapolis for a single ad in each of the first eight issues of Time's iPad edition -- have no choice. Dead-tree editions of magazines and newspapers are in circulation freefall. Advertisers, suddenly awakened to the reality of an increasingly fractured, online-centric audience, are now demanding alternative means of connecting with readers. The iPad represents one possible swing-for-the-fences channel to accomplish just that. I'd worry if magazines like Time weren't making big-time bets on the iPad. This is not a time for the publishing industry to be timid, and the hype surrounding the iPad platform could be just what this dinosaur sector needs to survive.

Clearly some media companies and Wall Street analysts have drunk the Kool-Aid, given their seemingly unquestioning faith in the unproven iPad.

See above. Media outfits have no choice. Either they evolve or they die, and the iPad holds a better-than-even promise of building a new form of paperless, value-added publishing industry. See "iPod" for an earlier example of a similar renaissance for the music business. As far as Wall Street analysts are concerned, no one really cares if that business dies.

There's reality distortion if the product is less than what the marketing makes it seem; same can be said when bloggers, journalists, media companies and their advertisers or Wall Street analysts are so positive about a product that's unproven and not even released.

Track record counts for a whole lot here. We can cut Apple some slack because of its relatively high percentage of successful products throughout its history. Other companies that have spent years in purgatory may not get as much free rein. When Palm, for example, released the Pre and its related webOS operating system last year, an enthusiastic response by media, analysts, and consumers to an obviously slick piece of technology was tempered somewhat by doubts about Palm's ability to rise above nearly a decade of organizational and product mediocrity. A so-called unproven product from a company that's proven repeatedly that it can deliver deserves a fair shake more than an unproven product from a company with a track record for failure. Palm's results since then prove we were all right.

Do you own a Mac or iPhone? Do you invest in Apple? Did you preorder iPad or plan to buy one next week?

I've got two Macs in the house, and they coexist happily with an HP laptop, a Samsung netbook, and a couple of white-box desktops, all running various flavors of Windows. I hold no investments in Apple, and I'll buy an iPad when Apple builds a memory card slot into a future version. Otherwise, it's useless to me when I'm doing photography on the road. Like all consumers, I decide what to buy based on how well the feature set fits my current and projected needs. As you can see, Apple doesn't win every battle.

I suspect Joe and I will agree to disagree on this and many other issues, and I welcome future skirmishes on whatever issues get under our respective skin. Whether or not we drink the Apple Kool-Aid or Fanta or Crystal Light, or we believe Steve Jobs is the modern-day equivalent of a consumerist Messiah, or we plunk down our hard-earned cash on a yet-to-be-seen-or-proven iPad, I consider both of us lucky to have the opportunity to duke it out in such a public forum.

Carmi Levy is a Canadian-based independent technology analyst and journalist still trying to live down his past life leading help desks and managing projects for large financial services organizations. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.

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