New iPad Sets New Creative Bar for Tablets
CNBC Technology Correspondent
This presents a vexing challenge to other tablet OEMs. Should they attempt to match Apple's Retina Display? For most everyone (with the possible exception of Samsung), that's not really an option. Apple knows it can move tens of millions of tablets in a year, justifying the upfront cost of manufacturing the screen. Apple also has a custom chip capable of driving the display, and specialized software that takes advantage of its capabilities.
That leaves two more possibilities: try to compete at the mid-range with the old iPad 2 at a $400 price point, or compete at the low end, with the Kindle Fire.
At the mid range, expect a couple of approaches to emerge. One: tablets with screens under 9.7 inches that cost about $400 and have better cameras than the iPad 2. Two: tablets with screens at about 9.7 inches that cost about the same as the new iPad, but have cameras with higher megapixel numbers, or that include more storage. Apple's rivals have tried these approaches before, with limited success. The arrival of Windows 8, with its Metro interface and Office software compatibility, could give them a better shot.
And then there's the low end, where the Kindle Fire now rules. It seems likely that Amazon will continue to sell millions of Kindle Fires. The question, though, is whether buyers will continue to use them long enough for Amazon to monetize them through increased digital sales.
Bottom line: From a competitive standpoint, the new iPad has changed the terms of the tablet debate in a way that's going to make things harder for even scrappy players like Amazon. From years of HDTV shopping, consumers know how to spot a better screen in an in-store lineup.
Is It a Threat to PCs?
Which brings us to the final question: How big is the iPad's opportunity here? Is it a threat to PCs? Can it continue doubling sales year-over-year, for the next few quarters, or will that growth trail off?
Apple has put itself in a good position there: the iPad launches in 10 countries on Friday, and 25 more a week later. In the U.S., it will be on shelves at Walmart , Sam's Club and Target as well as Best Buy and Radio Shack , ensuring that it gets mainstream shopper exposure, not just repeat Apple customers.
Then there's the fact that pre-orders of the new iPad are already sold out; that bodes well for demand. Apple could very well have a repeat of the iPhone 4 situation on its hands, where the biggest challenge isn't making consumers aware of its technology, it's building them and shipping them as efficiently as possible.
Will this kill the PC? Not even Apple CEO Tim Cook is predicting that. But if you're making a list of things a PC can do that an iPad can't, that list keeps getting shorter.