Are Tablets Getting Ready To Leave The House?
During the usual iPad release weekend rush of stories (line lengths, sellouts, etc.), an interesting tidbit emerged from the Apple-Tracker.com site. It looks like cellular versions of the iPad Air are especially scarce. The site tracks Apple Store inventory and availability for new Apple devices. Generally it showed remarkable availability for the new tablet relative to past release cycles. That was my experience on Friday when I ordered my iPad first thing. I discovered I could pick up my unit same day at the local Apple Store. When I arrived after 11 a.m., there was no line in sight. The Apple assistant told me that the in-store pick-up arrangement seemed to handle much of this year's demand.
But according to Apple-Tracker this weekend, you were in no such luck if you were looking for high-capacity (64GB and 128GB) versions with AT&T or especially Verizon cellular built in. This could be a matter of slightly more consumer demand than expected, but I suspect I was not the only one who made this their first generation of iPad they bought with cellular.
A number of forces finally have converged to make the cellular option more viable this time around. Foremost, carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile have announced reasonable data plans, including shared data pools, free data with T-Mobile and low-priced day passes for AT&T. Add to that the widespread availability of LTE networks and the fact that we now have a pool of people who have enjoyed LTE for a year. In most remote locations I have found that the LTE bandwidth on my iPhone is almost always faster than whatever free local WiFi networks I may have at my disposal.
In past generations, cellular iPads were far outsold by cheaper WiFi-only models. I will be greatly interested in seeing whether the share of iPad air and Mini units with cellular bumps up appreciably. Beyond that it remains to be seen whether the availability of constant connectivity on tablets also impacts habits and encourages people to use them outside of the home -- and for more connected rather than stored media consumption.
Look for tomorrow's Mobile Insider column for a more comprehensive set of impressions about the iPad Air. But the key selling point -- its slimmer, lighter profile -- is only one piece of the portability appeal. I wonder if the combination of greater portability combined with cheaper and faster cellular broadband access will help move tablets out of their traditional home environment. I think that it is a long way off before tablets actually vie with smartphones as genuinely mobile. But we are seeing the groundwork laid on which changed behaviors can take place.