Finweek English Edition - - Techtrends - SIMON DINGLE

THE WORLD OUT­SIDE the United States joins the iPad hype cy­cle in mid-May with the in­ter­na­tional launch of Steve Jobs’s lat­est prod­uct. While de­tails on South African avail­abil­ity are yet to be an­nounced, it seems cer­tain the first of­fi­cial launch wave will in­clude us. But should South Africans be lin­ing up for this de­vice?

The iPad has no mar­ket on paper. It isn’t a lap­top but does some of what a lap­top does, and it isn’t a smart­phone ei­ther. It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine what you’d use it for, es­pe­cially if you have a phone and lap­top. But then you get your hands on one, as I have, and it all makes sense. While this cer­tainly isn’t a phone or a lap­top, it does cost far less than those vi­tal bits of technology. My 16GB iPad was bought in the US for $500 – less than half the price of an iPhone in SA. Pric­ing is the most im­por­tant bit of Ap­ple’s strat­egy be­cause it means peo­ple who don’t need but just want this de­vice can have it with­out break­ing the bank.

And that, per­haps, is what the iPad is – a “want” de­vice. Cer­tainly not some­thing you need but rather a pleas­ant lux­ury. Its best uses are in con­sump­tion – and that’s where the iPad is un­ri­valled, be it phones or lap­tops. It can’t cost more than it does be­cause most peo­ple wouldn’t be able to jus­tify buy­ing it.

Read­ing web­sites, elec­tronic books and other pub­li­ca­tions on the iPad is a treat. The form fac­tor makes it per­fect for the couch, air­craft or even bed. In those places – where you’d typ­i­cally re­lax with a book – the iPad beats both your phone and com­puter.

Books in both Ap­ple’s iBooks and Ama­zon’s Kin­dle ap­pli­ca­tions are great. But, of course, South Africans are limited in what they can do in that depart­ment.

The Ap­ple iTunes Store is avail­able in SA – but only for ba­sic iPhone and iPad apps. South Africans aren’t al­lowed to buy mu­sic, movies, games or books. There’s a sim­ple way to get around that – by ly­ing about your lo­ca­tion and us­ing pre­paid vouch­ers. But that de­pends on whether or not you want to sup­port a com­pany that isn’t in­ter­ested in our mar­ket. It’s also more ef­fort than most peo­ple will be will­ing to go to.

That’s not the only prob­lem. By the time mar­gins and other costs have been fac­tored in we’re go­ing to be pay­ing prices in SA start­ing at R5 000 for the iPad – which im­me­di­ately changes the buy­ing de­ci­sion and pushes the de­vice out of the clever pric­ing strat­egy ap­plied in the US.

If you’re happy with the el­e­vated price and ne­ces­sity for ly­ing and loop-hol­ing your way into de­cent con­tent then we’re back on par.

The only crit­i­cism I have is that the iPad can some­times be a bit awk­ward, such as when you’re ly­ing on your side in bed, for ex­am­ple, or sit­ting up­right in a chair with­out a ta­ble. I also found my­self slump­ing over the de­vice to en­ter text while sit­ting, which isn’t ideal. The screen is glossy and a mag­net for fin­ger­prints. Within min­utes of us­ing the de­vice it gets very smudgy.

That said, my crit­i­cism fades when I go back to read­ing, brows­ing and watch­ing – whether books, movies, pho­tos of the kids or Twit­ter – in which case I can’t fault the ex­pe­ri­ence.

The best way to de­scribe the iPad is as a com­put­ing ap­pli­ance. It’s dead sim­ple to use and brings to mind the way in which cars have be­come un­com­pli­cated. In their early days you had to know a bit about en­gines to keep a car on the road. Now we just drive them from A to B with­out giv­ing a thought as to what’s un­der the bon­net and the iPad is per­haps the first com­puter that lets you get on with the job at hand with­out wor­ry­ing about the ac­tual com­puter bit.

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