I was just listening to last week’s MacBreak Weekly podcast (my favorite Mac-related podcast) and Leo and company were speculating about 3G connectivity in the rumored Apple tablet. They also mentioned the Kindle, discussing it as a dedicated device and how reading on its e-ink screen is preferred by many over reading on an LCD screen as would appear on the tablet. This got me thinking about the Kindle a little more and its Whispernet connectivity that offers free 3G connectivity – no sign-up required, no contract, and it’s free for as long as you own the Kindle (at least Amazon hasn’t said anything to the contrary).
A little light bulb then went on above my head: What if Apple will offer free 3G connectivity – like Amazon does with the Kindle – with their new tablet? Here’s what makes me think that this is very possible:
- In my view, it’s unlikely that Apple wouldn’t offer a portable device like a tablet – which will presumably be a device meant for media consumption and maybe as a partial laptop replacement – without 3G connectivity. So far, Apple hasn’t offered any laptop computer with a built-in 3G modem, unlike almost every other computer manufacturer. They are overdue in offering this. Plus, seeing the success of the iPhone with it’s 24/7 internet connectivity via 3G/EDGE or wi-fi has probably got them thinking about what this could mean for future products. More connectivity = more media consumption = more App Store/iTunes sales.
- Most iPhone users already pay for an unlimited data plan (some carriers offer limited data plans, though they still charge an additional fee for this on top of the voice plan) and adding another data plan for another device on top of that would be highly-unattractive and most likely unfeasible for many. Apple wouldn’t want to automatically drive away iPhone users who don’t want to foot yet another bill for internet access. Offering this for free would mitigate this issue.
- Apple recently purchased Quattro, a mobile advertising network. *I can’t see Apple using this network on the iPhone for their own apps, of which they have relatively few at this point: Remote ($0), iDisk ($0), MobileMe Gallery ($0), Texas Hold’em ($4.99) and Keynote Remote ($2.99). It wouldn’t make sense for them to put ads in their free apps – Apple is not hurting for cash and these apps simply augment the functionality of existing Apple products (MobileMe and any Mac). They could place ads in their paid apps, but Apple didn’t purchase Quattro simply to add revenue from 2 apps. But, their own mobile ad network on a wildly popular tablet device could probably easily fund 3G connectivity for the lifetime of the device.
- One more thing: Apple purchased Lala, a streaming music service, in December. Leveraging this with a tablet (that will probably sell like hotcakes) with free 3G connectivity (plus the iPhone, given the data plan users are already paying for) would be a smart move to establish a large customer base right from the start.
*The New York Times speculated that Apple purchased Quattro to compete with Google and offer app developers advertising for their apps, providing an all-in-one experience for developers who want to show ads in their apps to earn revenue. While this is possible, I don’t think this is why Apple purchased Quattro. Apple isn’t in the business of selling ads. They sell hardware and software melded together to give a specific customer experience, plus content through iTunes which is also presented in a way to enhance the customer experience. Apple won’t push ads simply for the sake of revenue in established channels – this feels vastly out of character for them in my view. Apple is smart, and if they’re going to offer anything free to a large number of customers, they’ll have a way to stay in the black to satisfy shareholders that works for them with minimal fuss.
As a former Kindle owner (I had a first-gen Kindle for a few months before I changed my mind about having a dedicated device for reading that cost $200 when reading on my iPhone with the free Kindle app worked just as well for me), I can attest that having free 3G on a device meant for media consumption is absolutely fabulous. In fact, that was my favorite feature of the Kindle – instant access to browse for new books, or to even browse the web with its experimental browser is a killer feature and it has led the Kindle to be the foremost ebook reader on the market today. I think it’s a formula for success for an Apple tablet that can be a mobile media hub for users.
So, that’s my prediction. What do you think? I haven’t seen anyone put all of these pieces together like this so far though I admit I haven’t read the entire internet to confirm this, but I haven’t gotten this idea from anyone else. I totally call dibs on credit for this prediction if it turns out to be true. 😉
(See my previous blog post for more Apple tablet thoughts.)