The iPad may, or may not be, just 20-odd days away from store shelves, but there's still room for rumors to swirl. The latest ones are actually fascinating stuff for Apple fans, as they concern its launch date, and e-book pricing.
Launch Date: To Delay or Not to Delay?
Steve Jobs was vague about details at the launch, but that's okay--the iPad is clearly in production, and the delivery mechanisms are gearing up. So much so that several sources are pointing at a Friday March 26 U.S. launch, at 6 p.m. in a style reminiscent of the original iPhone's launch. Store employees will get training starting from March 10, and the big ad campaigns will hit March 15. That's all for the Wi-fi-only version of course, and if Steve is reliable the 3G version will hit about 30 days later.
But Canacord Adams analyst Peter Misek is peddling a different message. According to party pooper Pete, a manufacturing bottleneck at Hon Hai Precision has put the squeeze on iPad production, and resulted in delays. The upshot: 300,000 units will be available at launch, instead of a predicted million or so units. This has led Peter to speculate on a one month delay to the launch (a very un-Apple event,) and has led others to wonder if the launch will be limited to the U.S. at first. We're skeptical on this, as it all sounds like the kind of mistake Cupertino tries very very hard to avoid.
Wi-fi Models to Outstrip 3G Ones--Or So Says AT&T
Chalk this one up under "Huh?" since it makes little sense given the seeming enthusiasm for the 3G-enabled iPad version, but AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson is now on record as saying he expects the iPad to be a mainly "Wi-Fi driven product." Why's he thinking about this? Because while he expects Apple's products to remain key to AT&T revenues for "quite some time" (no end to exclusivity, then) he doesn't expect the iPad to generate many more "subscriptions" for AT&T. Odd that, given that we've heard that the iPad won't be a data-subscription 3G device in the U.S. and instead you'll be able to dip in and out of paying for AT&T's service--similar to the way some 3G data systems work in Europe.
So is Randall making sense? Not really. Customer enthusiasm studies have pointed out that there's almost as much public hunger for the top-end 3G version at $830 as there is for the entry level Wi-fi only version at $500. Randall's possibly just underlining the fact that the iPad is somewhat of a different beast to the iPhone, and AT&T shouldn't try to see it in the same light. Or, and this is speculation, he's gently trying to reassure pissed-off U.S. iPhone users that AT&T's 3G grid isn't going to swirl down the toilet bowl under the burden of all those millions of 3G data-hungry super-sized iPad apps.
E-Books May Retain the Hardcover/Softcover Distinction
The e-book pricing debate has spun to various highs and lows, which has apparently prompted Macmillan's CEO John Sargent to weigh in with his informed opinion, in an attempt to clear up some of the mystery.
Among the explanations, there's one surprising fact: Sargent says that Macmillan, while happily pursuing the new agency model for e-publishing, is actually likely to maintain the distinction between hardcover editions and paperbacks almost exactly as in the physical editions. He's not being crazy, or merely forgetting that digital editions are all digital--the point is that premium publications will be sold at an elevated price at first (while still remaining cheaper than the typical price for a paper version) and then later at a lower price, reminiscent of the point at which a book moves to paperback editions. That means that e-hardcovers will likely go for around $13 to $15 in the iPad iBooks store, and e-paperbacks will go for prices as low as $7. It's extremely likely that a similar pricing bracket will emerge for the Kindle too.
Oh, and though the iBooks store is U.S. only at launch (according to the iPad Web site) Apple hasn't forgotten it's truly a global company now, and there's clear evidence in the form of employment adverts that the digital bookseller will be going global...eventually.