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iPad – neither loved nor loathed by consumers and retails. Yet.

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Despite the media hype, iPad – which launched in the UK and Europe last Friday – is failing to set consumers and retailers alight with desire, being seen by consumers as not good enough to replace either the iPhone or the laptop and being viewed by many retailers as just another device to develop apps of limited appeal for.

According to a study of consumers carried out by research agency Simpson Carpenter in April when the iPad launched in the US, consumers who saw the iPad admired its cool good looks, but they weren’t able to find enough rational argument to justify taking the plunge and parting with at least £500 for one. As a standalone purchase it occupies too much territory already covered by smartphones, PCs, laptops and traditional media. After months of anticipation and in light of Apple’s reputation for producing game-changing innovations, consumers were expecting a revolution.

“Our focus groups revealed that the consumer verdict is that what they got was incremental change and for most that’s just not enough,” says Mike Stevens, Director of Telecoms Media and Technology at Simpson Carpenter. “So the conclusion is that the iPad doesn’t appear to have a compelling role for the UK mainstream.”

Similarly, retailers are viewing it as just another screen and OS that needs to be developed for within an already overly complex mobile world. The large screen offers a better experience than on a mobile, but doubt still remains as to its place in the device food chain. Low sales of only 2 million since launch, also make it far from mass market.

“The iPad provides a rich platform to engage with consumers and will undoubtedly present a premium environment in which brands can interact with a specific audience,” says Alistair Crane, CEO of Grapple, which makes cross platform apps for all manner of devices. “But success for brands and businesses will be dictated by the demographics of the user base. Sales, while impressive as a number in isolation, do not represent any kind of significant penetration in terms of mobile devices and early user demographic data positions the iPad as a tool for targeting two niche audiences – Technologists and Young Affluent Singles, neither of which are represented in great numbers. In short, the iPad will complement a wider reaching mobile strategy but in the vast majority of cases, will not deliver ROI in isolation.”

One retailer that seems to think that the iPad demographic is right up its strasse is Gap. It was the first retailer to launch an iPad app. Developed by AKQA, it features a range of branded and Gap-related content, and allows users to browse and purchase products from its 1969 range of clothing. Gap’s free application invites users to browse through a selection of video content, press coverage, celebrity imagery, and a range of Gap products, but seeks to take this experience further by exploiting the user interface of the device.

For example, web content is accessible from within the app, alongside Twitter feeds from Gap staff such as designer Patrick Robertson. Each piece of content prompts the user to share it with friends via e-mail, and features a call to action prompting users to purchase from directly within the app.

The iPad’s location-based functionality is also used, allowing users to identify the nearest Gap store via Google’s map product. Unlike some applications currently available for the device, the entire experience takes place within the application itself — without directing the user to browser windows, even for content on third-party sites.

Others are likely to follow, but it doesn’t get away from the fact that the iPad is still to prove itself to most retailers who are currently just getting to grips with what they can do with an iPhone.

Mike Stevens, Director of Telecoms Media and Technology at Simpson Carpenter thinks that we just have to watch and wait. “When the iPhone was launched, it revolutionised an existing category that people understood. The iPad is at the vanguard of a new category that sits between the computer and the phone – so it’s not surprising that many consumers struggle to see how it could fit in their lives. Niche groups with specific emotional or functional needs love it; but right now there isn’t a compelling incentive to get mainstream consumers to buy it. Of course this may change once they see how early adopters use it – but in our view the iPad will take longer to achieve the sales growth and wider market impact of the iPhone.”

The other thing that industry experts are warning against is going down the iPad app route prematurely – other tablets may soon also be available.

“ Looking further ahead, the industry should also prepare itself for the introduction of other tablet devices, on different and open platforms, all of which will encourage more innovation and provide huge potential for growth,” says Rimma Perelmuter, Executive Director at the Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF). “Retailers should consider the unique attributes of the device they are developing for; they should evaluate the different business models for engaging with the consumer; and they must be clear about their marketing strategy and short-term and longer term goals.”

Others are more circumspect. “When a company asks us about mobile commerce strategy, we would not include an iPad – it’s not a mobile device,” says Jason Taylor, vice president of mobile products at Usablenet, which builds smartphone and iPad apps. The interest in iPad apps it has seen to date has been from multichannel retailers wanting an in-store kiosk-like experience for sales associates. “The iPad is like a netbook,” Taylor says, referring to the category of smaller, low-priced notebook computers. “It’s a device that allows you to access the web in a full-browser, full-computer environment. It’s not a mobile-specific environment.”

Let us know what you think of iPad from a retail perspective.

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