iPad Mania: Pre-Orders Ship From China, But Can It Live Up to the Hype?

Say what you will about Apple, but this is a company that can generate hype without even trying—literally, in the case of the iPad, which is the most uninteresting product the company has launched since its restyled remote control for the Apple TV. But the question isn't so much whether the iPad will deliver on the style and design that Apple fans expect. Of course it will. The real question is simple: Can the iPad live up to the hype?

As I write this, my own iPad preorder has shipped from Shenzhen, China—the remote location from which Apple's manufacturing partners build all the Cupertino company's products. (Don't worry, they're still "Designed in California," as Apple boldly declares on the packaging for all its products.) I'll be reviewing the iPad, of course. But then, I've been waiting for a thin and light movie player such as this for years. Even if the rest of it is a bust, I'll be happy.

I'm more worried about you, the general population, so to speak ... the wider audience that Apple is apparently targeting with this sort-of-new product. (Apple fanatics need not apply, as they all preordered iPads the second such an act was possible.) You see, depending on who you ask, you're either not buying enough of these things or you're responsible for the first batch of iPads selling out in just a few weeks.

The reports are all over the map. And some of the more ludicrous tech news outlets—as if trying to justify putting the iPad on the front page of newspapers and the front cover of magazines while ignoring releases from other tech companies—are now in furious backpedal mode. Fortune reported, for example, that iPad preorders fell off a cliff after an initial sell-through in the first 24 hours (as if Fortune had some kind of inside look at Apple's ordering systems).

On the flipside, Apple has apparently sold out of all the iPad devices it made in time for the April 3 launch date. And if you order one now, Johnny-come-lately, you won't see it until April 12 at the earliest. The question is whether Apple's China-based partners made the device in quantity. Did they deliver 10,000 units? 100,000? A million? No one knows. (The number is probably in the hundreds of thousands, I'd guess.)

My favorite iPad story comes from the reliable market researchers at NPD. I like this one because, unlike the speculative trash being spewed forth by major news publications and two-bit bloggers alike, NPD simply did what it does best: ask real people—a lot of people—whether they'd be buying an iPad. The results are interesting: 18 percent of those surveyed said they were interested in the iPad overall. And if those surveyed were already Apple product owners, the positive responses jumped to 24 to 27 percent, depending on age group. Of the dissenters, 57 percent said they wouldn't buy an iPad because it was too expensive (which it is), and 51 percent said they'd rather spend that money on a netbook or laptop (which is probably the right decision if they need such a thing).

But then common sense and Apple mania rarely, if ever, go hand in hand. My bet is that the iPad will be at least reasonably successful—that is, not a blockbuster like the iPhone but enough to keep the line going—and that Apple will aggressively upgrade the device (adding a camera and more storage, for starters) and lower prices, and do so very quickly. In fact, I'd be surprised if we entered the 2010 holiday season with the same iPad lineup and pricing as we see now.

Speculating is all part of the fun. And my track record for prognostication isn't so great. But one thing I've learned over the years is to not bet against Steve Jobs and the new Apple. They've surprised us again and again. And it's going to happen again with the iPad. Probably. I think.

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