The Apple iPad Buying Decision: Your Use Case Will Vary

| About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

The first Apple iPad reviews are in and not-too-surprisingly they are all bullish on the device. Unfortunately, you’re not going to learn much about the iPad from the reviews until you take one for a spin and ponder your own personal use case scenarios.

Let’s consider:

  • Walt Mossberg says the iPad could be a laptop killer. Mossberg notes that the iPad will “change computing profoundly,” make touch bigger than the mouse and is “more than an e-book or digital periodical reader…better in my view than the Amazon Kindle.” Overall, Mossberg says that the iPad can allow you to forgo the laptop for many uses (except viewing Flash and heavy work like spreadsheets and the like). Later in the review, Mossberg adds the netbook-killer theme, but hedges a bit and says that “only time will tell” if the iPad challenges the laptop or netbook.
  • David Pogue at the New York Times does two reviews. The first one is for techies—the folks that smirk at the thought of the iPad replacing a laptop. And the rest of the world that primarily uses Facebook, reads and consumes content. According to Pogue, the iPad is a big iPod touch for most folks.
  • To PC Mag, the iPad “just makes sense.” E-books, movies, iWork and other perks all work well on the iPad. However, PC Mag notes that no ports—USBs or otherwise—tell you that the iPad isn’t meant to be a full-blown computer. Indeed, why would Apple do anything to cannibalize the MacBook?

Add it up and the iPad reviews are all generally positive. That fact isn’t surprising given the first wave of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) reviews are usually positive at first. I can’t recall any time when Apple gets crushed on reviews out of the gate.

So what did we learn here?

Not much. Like you, I need to head out Saturday morning and look at one of these puppies for myself. At $499 starting price, the iPad is positioned well even if it turns out to be a big iPod touch. As for the laptop replacement, it’s hard to see me carrying the iPad as my only computing device on the flight to San Francisco. Unfortunately, I have too much heavy work as Mossberg would say.

That brings me to the netbook conundrum that has plagued the technology industry for years. Do you spend your money on a device that is sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really a laptop replacement. The iPad is a tweener device. On the e-reader side of the equation, there’s really only test I have for the iPad: Can I read it outdoors like I can the Kindle? If I have to squint on the beach or patio with the iPad it’s use case has fallen dramatically for me.

The bottom line for me: Does the Apple iPad really consolidate anything? If it does then the iPad makes a lot of sense. If not, color me a late follower to the iPad bandwagon.

For what it’s worth, here’s how I’m thinking through the iPad buying decision. The following thought process—in order of importance to me—applies to any tablet purchase (because you know the Android, Microsoft slate devices are coming).

  • Can I read the tablet outside? In reality, I would most likely use the iPad as a reader with plenty of options for diversions. I like the e-ink because it’s easier on my eyes (I already stare at a computer screen most of my waking hours). Everyone will be different.
  • Is the content selection there? In the iPad case, this is a no-brainer. There are apps everywhere and the iPad looks swell as a personal movie theater. However, for every other e-reader, tablet, slate or whatever the content is a key component of any buying decision.
  • Can I do heavy work if needed? The real selling point would be taking the iPad to a work trip and have the option to do all the things I may have to do (PowerPoints, PDFs etc.). One open question is whether I can blog a 500-word post on it.
  • Ergonomics. I have a few issues: RSI; sometimes my neck feels like it comes unhinged; I can’t look down for long periods of time; and generally would rather stand than sit. How does the iPad play to that equation? It sounds absurd, but just a simple thing like propping up the iPad (and the accessories I’ll need to do that) may be a deal breaker for me.
  • What’s the killer app? The battery life sounds like it will be more than enough to keep me occupied on a full flight. Is this an app a game, a magazine app or something else? At this point, I have no idea, but I’ll know it when I see it.

Your use case and considerations will look entirely different. The truly unfortunate thing is you won’t know the answers for many of those aforementioned buying points for a few weeks after you buy the iPad. That’s why day one reviews don’t do a lot for me. It’s all about the repeated exposure. I didn’t hate my netbook and give it to my daughter in week one. By week six, I was done with it. That timeline is usually past the report of returns—to the store at least.

Original post