Who will buy the iPad?

The tech-savvy set has expressed mostly disappointment with Apple's latest device. But that doesn't appear to be Apple's intended audience.

Steve Jobs iPad
Steve Jobs demonstrates how to use the iPad. James Martin/CNET

The reaction to the iPad has been far less positive than what we've become used to when new Apple products debut.

Many took to Twitter, Facebook, and tech blogs, including here at CNET , to voice dissatisfaction with everything from the size, the price, the specs, and the content available, to the usage model--what do we use this for and what does it replace?

Here at CNET, we saw something similar in the reader response to a poll we ran immediately after Apple's event Wednesday. Though it's far from being scientific, it does illustrate a consensus among our readers. We asked "Would you buy the iPad?," and more than 22,000 people chimed in.

Just over half, or 11,649 respondents, said "No way. It's not what I hoped/expected." A quarter of respondents, or 5,741, said "Haven't decided yet," while 20 percent or 4,653 said "Definitely! My credit card is already out." Three percent said "Other," and left comments, which you can read here .

Many serious lovers of technology sound disappointed that Apple did not surpass or even meet the outsized expectations they placed on this new device. The thinking goes: The iPad is not quite a computer, and doesn't make phone calls, and costs more than an iPod Touch. So why should I buy it?

True, the device does seem a bit mysterious from that perspective. But it's less so if you step back and look at where Apple has come from and where it wants to go .

If you look at it from the perspective of someone who's not super technical, but does enjoy consuming media, the iPad could actually work. As previously mentioned , I keep thinking of my mom as the perfect use case for this device. She knows how to use an iPod, and really only uses her laptop to check her e-mail and go online to read the news. And it's not her first choice to take her laptop anywhere because it's "too heavy" for what she would actually use it for.

However, she does travel fairly often and is an avid reader. Having what is essentially a color e-book reader with the ability to quickly check e-mail and download some movies and TV shows from iTunes is probably good enough. She could care less that there's no Flash support, in other words.

That will not be compelling enough for everyone to spend $500 to $830 for one, and this may not be a huge hit the way the iPhone has been. However, I really don't think the example of my mom is unique. John Gruber made an excellent point Wednesday: "Apple doesn't talk much about the technical details of the iPhone. They never talk about CPU speed or the name of the chip being used. They don't tell you how much RAM is in there. Part of their vision for moving computers from technical culture to popular culture is about getting away from defining these things by their technical specs."

There's much more that could be done with the iPad, and it's not hard to imagine there's more to come with subsequent product updates. But Apple's not being upfront with the technical details and having the latest and greatest technology, while it seems to infuriate/disappoint people with technical chops, might mean this device is not for them. At least not yet.

The manner in which Steve Jobs demonstrated the iPad Wednesday illustrated this. I don't think it was because he was feeling like kicking back during an exhausting presentation that he walked us through how to use the iPad while seated in a cushy low-slung chair. He was not seated at a desk or table the way you would use a computer. And he wasn't standing up the way he's demonstrated the iPod or iPhone, which is meant to be used on the go. He was using it in the way he envisions people using it: in a casual setting, like a living room, a bedroom, or perhaps an airport lounge. If you watch the person using the iPad in Apple's marketing video, they too are casually dressed and reclining while using the device. Apple clearly wants potential buyers to think of the iPad as a casual entertainment device.

But who will Apple market this to? It's not a laptop and it's not a phone or a music player. So what is it, and how exactly will they explain it to potential buyers? We'll find out in less than 60 days.

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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