The 'iPad Era' dawns

How a 'perfect storm' will make iPad the biggest cultural phenomenon since The Beatles

April 3 is the big day, when everything changes. Are you ready?

I think the iPad is the most important launch in Apple's history -- bigger than the Mac, iPod or iPhone. More than that, I think it's the most important cultural phenomenon of this generation. It's bigger than technology.

I'm no fanboy. I've tried to envision some conceivable series of events that might leave the iPad as only moderately successful, but I can't come up with any. All circumstances, facts and events in technology, media and elsewhere seem to point to the same inexorable outcome: The iPad will be huge.

Pundits, bloggers and gadget enthusiasts are talking about the iPad like it's just another device, on a par with other devices. My view is that the iPad is utterly unique.

I and the others part company because they're looking at the device, for the most part, and I'm looking at the markets. That's markets with an "s." There are many of them.

The success of a consumer electronics product depends not on how powerful, functional or fully equipped something is, but entirely on the answer to a simple question: How many people will buy it? And how many individuals buy something depends on how many types of people buy it.

Normally, when we tech journalists or others consider a product, we have one type of person in mind: people like ourselves. When a new gadget comes out, pundits say, "I want this, and therefore it's going to be successful." That's just faulty reasoning.

When you look at the massively popular tech products, only those with the broadest possible appeal, spanning the greatest number of groups or types of people, truly succeed. Examples include Google, Facebook and cell phones.

I'm predicting that old people, toddlers, baby boomers, teenagers, twentysomethings -- OK, that all age groups will use the iPad in significant numbers. It will be the first consumer electronics product in recent decades to match the age demographic of the TV.

Everyone from engineers to neo-luddites will buy iPads. It will be the first device in recent years to match the technical-enthusiasm range of the cell phone market.

Gamers, readers, TV watchers and movie enthusiasts will get one.

Schools, churches, libraries, small businesses, restaurants, nightclubs, malls and other organizations will put them to use.

Pilots, teachers, public speakers, artists, contractors, writers and other professionals will enhance their careers with iPads. The Pentagon will go nuts for this thing.

The combination of touch, rich media, third-party applications and a familiar (iPhone-like) user interface make it ideal for people who would never dream of buying most other categories of consumer electronics.

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