Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bigger is Not Always Better

The Apple iPad hit stores yesterday and consumers from coast to coast were eager to get their hands on the tablet sized portable computers. As noted in Friday's edition of this blog, the iPad is intended to occupy territory somewhere between a smart phone and a small laptop computer. Much in the same way it could be said that Smart Cars occupy an area between motorscooters and economy cars.

So just how does the iPad stack up against the Smart Car?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, Smart Cars are a brand of economical "microcars" that were launched as a joint project of Swatch and Mercedes Benz. Available in Europe since 1994, the Smart car brand became wholly-owned by Mercedes Benz in 1998. The Smart Car was immediately successful in Europe but was only released in the U.S. in 2008.

While few could argue against the benefit of a car that offers 33mpg city and 41mpg highway, the Smart Car's reception on these shores has been nonetheless mixed. America's love affair with the automobile is long standing and well known. In Europe the Smart Car is ideal for the narrow streets and tight parking spaces of cities like Amsterdam, Paris and Rome. However Americans with their vast highways and love of big, roomy, status symbol cars have been slower on the uptake.

In January of 2009, some nine months after the Smart Car's U.S. roll out there was a twelve month waiting list to attain one. However by June of the same year there was no waiting list and dealers nationwide had them in stock for immediate delivery. Perhaps the April 2008 edition of Men's Vogue put it best when they raised the question: "in a nation where your supersized car is your castle, is the Smart too mini for a man?"

At the moment, consumer interest in the iPad is certainly off to as good or better a start. While other brands of tablet computers have not done well in the past, it's just possible that in this case Apple may have done things right. The iPad's usability for Internet and email applications as well as it's ability to serve as a delivery system for all manner of media, including books, television and movie rentals, would seem intriguing.

The iPad is bigger, and more comfortable than a smart phone, yet more portable than a laptop. Seemingly this would make it ideal for relaxedly doing one's emails on the couch or reading an e-book or the news on the subway.

While the sales figures are not yet in, analysts have predicted that Apple will sell between 300,000 and 400,000 iPads this weekend. Perhaps proof positive that in America, bigger is better . . . except when it comes to portable computing devices.

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