Apple tablet "won't be a niche": Analyst

The long-rumored Apple Tablet got a numbers work-up from Piper Jaffray: it will sell about two million units and boost the company's overall revenue by 3 percent. These are what I like to call "analyst numbers," in that they are the end result of some no doubt honestly devised formula that has so many unknown and guesstimated variables plugged into that any results it spits out are almost certainly worse than useless. But I'm really puzzled on a number of levels by the assertion that this tablet thingie won't be a niche. First of all, it appears to be just that -- an assertion. Piper Jaffray says that the thing will be "geared towards users who want convenient, inexpensive computers for simple tasks like Web browsing and checking e-mail." Well, I think has history has shown that that is kind of a niche, or less than a niche; nettops and i-computers and what have you have been floated ever since the days of dial-up, with little success. The idea that someone would drop $600-$700 on a Web-only device that you can't do any serious typing on is baffling to me.

But, while we're talking niches, I'm left to wonder why the analysts are dropping the word like it's a bad thing? Apple's actually doing great right now in one niche market: the high end. The iPhone, at 2 percent of the handset market, is undeniably a niche; but at 32 percent of the segment's profit, it's doing handily for the company. Apple is also making big bucks off of higher-end notebooks.

What's the difference between those niches and the one the tablet proposes to enter? Well, the biggest one is that Apple is occupying there the high end of product segments that already exist, rather than trying to revive several product segments that have -- nettops, tablet PCs -- that have repeatedly failed. I'd love to be proven wrong here -- either that the tablet will be wildly successful or that Apple isn't actually building one -- but I have a sinking feeling that I'm not.

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