iPad 2 selling out in US, but is it safe?

By Jonny Evans

The iPad 2 is selling out all across the US this weekend as demand exceeds supply. No one else has any chance in the current landscape, particularly with Amazon perhaps plotting a free Kindle knockout later this year. All the same, security, or the lack of it, is the elephant in the room in this 'Post PC' age.

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As Changewave yesterday confirmed, Apple [AAPL] is a runaway train. Its new product is generating queues all across the USA today. The company's online store now warns of a 2-3 week shipping delay on new iPad 2 sales, up from 2-3 days when the product first went on sale. You don't need a weatherman to know which way this wind blows, Apple's iPad 2 launch is a repeat of last year's launch, but on a far, far larger scale.

Feelin' groovy

Positive experience drives success. No surprise then that it isn't just new customers flopping their plastic down to pick up the 'Pad, over 10,000 original iPad owners traded them for cash in order to buy a new model, according to Gazelle. A second report says one-in-five iPad 2 sales will be made to existing iPad 1 customers.

No one else has an audience like this -- this is people voting with their wallets, not a hype-led circus. Speaking of hype-led circuses, how are Xoom's sales doing? Are they over-, or under-whelming. Guess now, then click here.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

It doesn't take too many guesses to surmise that Apple hasn't enough iPads to meet initial US demand. I'm already fairly sure international audiences should be prepared for delays while iPad 2 manufacturing ramps up.

That could even equate to being an opportunity for other tablet makers to corner a slice of the international tablet market, if they only had shipping product at reasonable prices and an App Store as elegant and focused as Apple's own. They don't.

Welcome to an App planet

Beyond specs and features, it is an intuitive user experience and the Apps that make the tablet magic happen. ABI Research figures claim 7.9 billion mobile App downloads took place in 2010, 5.6 billion of these going to Apple devices.

Contrast the App Store with the horrible Android Market. Riddled with malware this is a place in which customers often experience failed purchase and downloads. It's not a happy experience, purchased Apps demand permissions most users haven't a clue on the ramifications of.

This means Android Apps purchasers don't usually want to part with cash, making the platform a little less attractive to developers. The advantage here is you get fewer of those lousy Apps, and the good Apps get to reap the benefits of standing out among the others, at least at present.

I'd challenge that Google has failed to properly comprehend the importance of the App revolution. It thought Android was all about smartphones.

Amazon invades?

All this could be moot, of course. Amazon is widely expected to offer Amazon Prime members a free Kindle at some point this year, with at least one writer noting the company might widen this franchise. Blogger John Walkenbach thinks it is possible Amazon's electronic book might be free by November 2011. Should Amazon do this then it will achieve two things:

  • Consolidate its existing hold on the eBook market
  • Kill the low-end Android tablet market

Forrester Research analyst Sara Rotman Epps may have had a slight inkling of this when she pointed to Amazon as Apple's biggest potential future tablet competitor yesterday.

After all, Apple is a direct threat to Amazon in eBooks, the retailer already has a huge congregation of converted consumers, has a brand and a sales channel and -- crucially -- people already trust Amazon with their credit cards. Challenges exist -- should Amazon choose to use the Android Honeycomb OS then all other tablet contenders might be forced to leave the room.

Back in the room, I'm just squeezing in past the analogous elephant that's filling the space. Two important considerations here:

Introduced less than three years ago in July 2008, this is still a relatively new device, some users will only recently have seen their contracts expire and will no doubt be hanging onto their phones pending introduction of the iPhone 5 later this year. But right now, all those users are facing a huge security risk.

That's because iOS 4.3 introduced a range of security enhancements for the Safari browser. Security firm Sophos warns Apple's denial of a security patch to users of these older devices (and they really aren't that old) leaves users vulnerable.

"Details of the security fixes are included in an Apple knowledgebase article, and include protecting against maliciously-crafted TIFF image files that could be used to run malicious code on your device, and multiple memory corruption issues exist in WebKit, which could mean that visiting a boobytrapped website could lead to unauthorized code being executed," Sophos warns.

  • The second consideration is the way we use our tablets. Despite market analysts such as iSuppli or IDC refusal to count iPads as PCs, people who use their tablets use them ever increasingly in the same way they use PCs. Including using them to access online banking websites and to exchange confidential data over less secured networks.

Harris Interactive claims 48 percent of tablet users transfer sensitive data using their device. Just 30 percent of users are as ready to swap sensitive information using their smartphones. I think this is because iPads offer both a more personal and more PC-like experience. People like to use them and use them for more and more activities.

"We have effectively entered the post PC era. As the use of tablets increase across the world, mobile security will become a vitally important factor in the delivery of services to these platforms, especially as users more willingly trust these devices for sensitive and private information," said Jeff Cavins, CEO of FuzeBox, in a statement.

Security, security, security

Putting these last two security considerations together, the risk to iPad users is that Apple will arbitrarily cease to deliver security upgrades to their devices within three years.

Given that consumers aren't necessarily security experts, many may not see the importance of this and may carry on using their devices to swap confidential information. And they'll be at risk.

I suggest that Apple should respond to these concerns by offering a transparent guarantee for user security. Given its anticipated move to offer mobile payments, I think it can expect this year to be characterized by competitors poking at its security record. They won't have to look too far for sticks to beat Apple with.

Apple must respond, or it risks ceding some of the market it has worked so hard -- and so successfully -- to create. Though I doubt the company is too worried yet -- as I've written in the past, Android security is even worse.

Your thoughts? Let me know in comments below. I'd be very happy if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I'm able to let you know as new reports get published here first on Computerworld.

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