Hurry Up With the iTablet Already, Apple

We're already dipping our toes in November, and there isn't an iTablet to be found.

Don't blame Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) . It's not the one speculating on the portable computing device. Everyone else seems to be writing about Apple's tablet, even though the company has never promised one.

Maybe it's just that it makes too much sense. A year ago, Steve Jobs said that he had no interest in joining the hot netbook market because Apple "doesn't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that."

However, now that netbooks, smartphones, and e-book readers are gaining in popularity, there is a logical push to create a gadget that consolidates many of these features. A flat touchscreen Apple device that can check email, display the morning paper, and stream video of your nephew's birthday party would be cool, but -- for now -- it's not real.

Apple has never been one to rush a product to market, so it's a pretty safe bet to cross off an iTablet from your holiday wish list.

Pity.

Apple is blowing a huge opportunity here. As cool as Apple may be, it can't afford to drag its feet with what even the executive editor at New York Times' (NYSE: NYT  ) namesake publication -- a newspaper giant that would be privy to any behind-the-scenes chatter of an iTablet with digital reader intentions -- calls "the impending Apple slate."

Waiting is the hardest part
No matter what any Apple fan may tell you, Apple doesn't have the luxury of time.

It doesn't have to be first. Even if the iTablet is similar to Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ  ) new DreamScreen, Apple has earned the right to a fashionably late entry among its computing peers. Plus, its scope will be far larger than HP's constrained tablet entry.

The reason that the clock is ticking on the iTablet is that the competitive landscape is already shaking out this holiday season -- with or without Jobs' tardy slip.

Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) has slashed the price of its Kindle three times, a 35% haircut since its debut two years ago. There is no way that Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) would be pricing its presumably superior Nook at the same $259 price point if Amazon wasn't trigger happy with its pricing gun. Is this going to impact Apple's pricing? Yes. The iTablet is going to cost more -- likely a lot more -- because it's Apple and the slate will likely do so much more than just display books, newspapers, and magazines. However, lower prices will help the Kindle and Nook penetrate the market at a brisk pace. Once someone invests $259 in an e-book reader, they are unlikely to make another hardware investment for similar functionality in the near future.

So what if the iTablet can interact with social networks, stream last night's V debut, and mix a dirty martini -- consumers won't just snap up any device because there's a partially bitten apple logo on it. If you don't believe me, wipe the cobwebs off the Apple TV.

Can Apple be following in Palm's footsteps?
Delaying the iTablet may find Apple repeating Palm's (Nasdaq: PALM  ) lackluster Pre debut. Palm's smartphone should have been a winner. Between the operating system's multitasking functionality and its choice to go with a cheaper carrier, Palm could challenge Apple and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) on spec sheets and wireless pricing. Unfortunately, most of the consumers that can afford smartphones had already made their choice between the iPhone and BlackBerry, with the two-year contracts to show for it.

It may be true that e-readers and existing Wi-Fi-tethered tablet PCs aren't hog-tying users to multiyear commitments. However, Apple risks either entering a market where the demand isn't there (as in the Apple TV or the Newton) or the suppliers are overwhelmingly entrenched.

I'm sure that when the iTablet sees the light of day -- and it will, bet on it -- Apple will draw long lines and gushing reviews. It may very well be the one device that bridges the gap between the MacBook and the iPhone in a way that only the Cupertino crusaders can. It just needs to be a little more impatient here. Ticking clocks can become time bombs.

The costs of being a no-show for the 2009 holiday season are lower prices and higher expectations for the 2010 season. It also gives every rival more time to satisfy the market, with or without binding two-year contracts.  

Apple and Amazon.com are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been an Apple fan for ages, but isn't sure if he will be hopping on the iTablet after buying a Kindle last year. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2009, at 12:29 PM, iPhonzie wrote:

    Releasing a product that's not ready for prime time would be worse for Apple than missing the 2009 holiday season. The current lineup of tablet devices have marginal interest to the general populace. Apple doesn't want that, Apple wants a mass market appeal product - an "iPod" not an "mp3 player". If Apple releases a product that has interface flaws, isn't supported in the iTunes App Store, has constrained manufacturing capacity, etc., they will get hit hard by the press and the public (can we say "Newton"?). Apple won't announce or ship the product until they're damn well ready, and that's a good thing.

  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2009, at 1:42 PM, speedieone wrote:

    One of the keys to Apples product success is not just having a cool product but content. Without a clear concept of how the device will be used and supplying that device with content (hello app store), the device would be just another e-reader like device. From what I have heard (all rumor at this point) Apple is looking to provide a device to replace traditional print with the bonus of video content mixed in. As much as people talk about the Kindle, I actually do not know anyone who owns one, yet all my friends have at least one iPod. I can wait.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2009, at 2:13 PM, anothy wrote:

    Didn't we hear pretty much the same thing about the iPhone for a long time before it was actually released? Assertions that "of course" Apple would release the product by date X, to hit event Y (some holiday or whatnot), because they "had to" hit the hot market, came and went for about a year and a half. Having missed all those deadlines doesn't seem to have hurt them too terribly.

    Apple does its best (on its vision, and for its shareholders) when it does what it does best: creates the best computers out there. Jobs is exactly right: the price point for netbooks precludes the sort of quality (and margins!) Apple thrives on.

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