The iPad is Steve Jobs’ Waterloo

Jobs has put together a remarkable track record at Apple over the years, not only releasing a string of hit products (overshadowing the few duds… like Apple TV) and making the company solidly profitable with a plurality of analysts rating it a solid buy even with a P/E of 20:1.

Having said all that, Jobs is still a mere mortal and the iPad is a dud which will seriously deflate his carefully crafted image as a hitmaker with a Midas touch precisely because he himself has publicly attached so much significance to the iPad product, which by the way is simply an awful product name that has evoked well deserved criticism as something that suggests Apple is getting into the feminine hygiene product market.

The primary problem is that Apple is competitively targeting everyone with this product despite having glaring deficiencies when pared against specific competitors. Before I get to that, let’s call a spade a spade, the iPad is a supersized version of the iPod Touch, which in itself is interesting to consider because the market typically heaps praise on companies for making successful products more capable and smaller, rather than taking successful products and simply making them bigger.

Apple is clearly putting the Amazon Kindle in their sights but against the Kindle the iPad comes us short. FIrst the screen, yes it’s big and beautiful but so is the Droid and that alone doesn’t make it better than an iPhone… but a big bright screen is exactly what I don’t want in an e-reader for 2 reasons, battery life and readability. The Kindle, and if you have used one you simply know this as fact, has a display like paper, not as good as Sony’s display in this respect but pretty close and that makes the reading experience really pleasing on the eyes, you simply don’t get eye fatigue looking at the thing.

The iPad is also much bigger and weighing it at about 1.5 pounds it needs to go on a diet. It’s remarkable how much you notice a few ounces here and there when you are using something like an e-reader, or what the effect is of throwing another 2 pounds (power cord, case, etc.) in your travel bag. Apple fundamentally erred by not using advanced composite materials instead of aluminum and something other than glass for the display. This thing is too damn heavy.

People will say “yeah but imagine watching videos on the iPad!” and that’s a fair point but how are you going to feel the first time you go to Hulu and find out you can’t watch it because the iPad doesn’t support Flash?

Apple says the battery is good for 10 hours between charges but nobody can deny that Apple has a history of optimistic battery life estimates and to achieve 10 hours the networking components will have to be turned off, which gets to the next point, netbook replacement.

Apple also called out netbook makers but how good is the iPad as a netbook replacement when you have to carry around a separate keyboard that Apple has yet to release? Sorry to be a luddite but there is no way a virtual keyboard will replace a physical keyboard for a device used as a subcompact notebook computer… ain’t gonna happen.

On pricing Apple surprised everyone by offering the device for $500 but if you need 3G, which most will, the price jumps up to $629 and then there is another $360 of data (unlimited, who would risk going with anything but?) per year. All of this adds up to a bit of sticker shock for me… it’s too expensive as an e-reader replacement and given the peculiarities of the design (e.g. virtual keyboard) somewhat pricey as a netbook. On the latter Apple has successfully delivered on a well honed premium pricing strategy so I will acknowledge that on price alone it’s probably not an issue in the netbook market but in this economy I don’t think anyone should take anything for granted.

I am also somewhat dismayed that Apple continues to stick with AT&T in the U.S. market… I simply cannot understand how Apple can overlook the customer satisfaction issues and hitch their wagon to AT&T yet again.

I have predicted leading up to this announcement that Apple would suffer the same fate that every other tablet maker has experienced, nothing in yesterdays product announcement makes me feel any differently. If you want an e-reader you are better off sticking with Amazon and if you want a netbook there are plenty of very capable options available for less and that give you more, and if you just want a touch computer then you should get a Microsoft Surface because it’s simply far more capable (there’s something I never thought I would write).