Judging by the headlines, you'd think that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) screwed up the latest iPad launch something fierce.
- In Australia, the LTE-enabled version is sold as the "iPad 4G," but it can't connect to the local LTE networks. Aussie regulators are up in arms about this misleading marketing, and Apple has offered full refunds to unsatisfied customers Down Under. Swedish regulators are looking into the same problem half a world away, and others could follow -- after all, the LTE connection is only supposed to work in the USA and Canada. The chips Apple chose only work with American 4G standards while other markets use the AT&T (NYSE: T ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) spectrum slices for other things like 3G connectivity or TV broadcasts.
- The battery runs hot compared to the iPad 2. LTE connectivity and the extra horsepower needed to run that gorgeous display sure give the battery a workout, and some users are getting uncomfortable.
- Moreover, the iPad seems to report a full charge even when the battery is more like 90% full. Sounds a bit like the misreported wireless signal strength of iPhones past, doesn't it?
- Finally, some users report downright terrible Wi-Fi reception. That's a deal-breaker for the Wi-Fi only version, and it could pose dangers to your wireless bill on the 4G iPad. What fun is an iPad that won't even connect to your network?
Big trouble in little Cupertino?
Of these, I'd say that the most serious concern should be the misleading marketing message. There are laws against this in many countries, and sticking with the current naming conventions even where they don't match reality could get Apple in hot water.
On the other hand, that 4G moniker has been abused like Linus' security blanket for years as many so-called 4G networks don't conform to 4G specifications at all. In fact, today's LTE networks should really be known as 3.5G because they only go halfway to the next level. So maybe Apple gets off the hook based on a history of industrywide abuse of that term. I mean, your Aussie-market iPad could still connect to 4G networks while vacationing in America, right?
The rest of these complaints range from ridiculous to pointless. A temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit is mildly uncomfortable but far short of scorching hotness. Chances are that the battery in your laptop gets hotter than this on a regular basis, regardless of make or model. You can often fix the Wi-Fi issues with simple tweaks to your iPad's or wireless router's settings. This means that the Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM ) Wi-Fi chip is innocent and a software patch should make the problem go away. And battery-charge levels are black magic to begin with -- Apple just manages the information display in a somewhat unexpected manner.
Nothing to see here, move along
So no, I don't believe that quality control went downhill as soon as Steve Jobs shuffled off this mortal coil. Minor issues like these exist in nearly every gadget you'll ever buy. But Apple's high-profile and extremely concentrated product catalog puts every bug under scrutiny that nothing else can match. If Antennagate didn't kill the iPhone, then iPad users will soon forget all about this miniature firestorm as well.
None of these issues will kill the iPad, or even hurt it. But don't confuse me for a rosy-cheeked, bushy-tailed Apple bull when I say that, because I'm not.
If you want to worry about the new iPad, you should probably focus on the lack of game-changing innovation here. Like the iPhone 4S, this iPad is simply a more polished version of the previous year's product. The new screen is nice but hardly changes the way you use your device. And Apple is actually late to the 4G party, just as it was to the 3G party many moons ago. Worst of all, Apple didn't even bother to bring the iPhone 4S's saving grace, the Siri voice assistant, to the new iPad.
But hey, Apple fans are buying this thing by the millions, so it can't be all that bad. But I think we should worry about Apple's creative juices running low. How many times can you persuade the same set of core customers to buy essentially the same product in slightly different formats and with a new coat of polish?
That's one reason I'm not comfortable buying Apple today, and it's why I have a bearish CAPScall on the stock. If you really want to invest in the iPad and iPhone boom, you're better off with shares of the component providers inside the iDevices.