The iPad’s not too secret weapon: a virtuous cycle

In April, just as the iPad had hit the streets I wrote a post about how accessories set the iPad a world away from the competition.  That was based on the number of accessories that had been announced in the two months that had gone by since the device had been first introduced by Steve Jobs.

There was already a large number of companies making myriad models of cases, stands, bags, etc.  All of this was happening even before the device was available for purchasing.

All this came back to mind today as I read a post on GottaBeMobile which described how the author had spent some time in an Apple Store checking out iPad accessories and presented his thoughts on how the accessory landscape for iPads differs from other tablet devices.

His impressions are now based on three months of iPad availability and on the selection of accessories he could actually purchase in the Apple Store, instead of on press-releases and it only substantiates my original hypothesis.  The number and variety of accessories available for the iPad will set it apart from any other competitors which may be released in the near future.

This is one consideration that should be foremost in the minds of the people working on creating tablets to challenge the iPad.  It is very important for these companies to provide some accessories of their own, as Apple does with the dock, keyboard, etc.  Having a base set of accessories available from the manufacturer should help them attract more attention to their offerings.

I remember how, back in 2003 when I was considering which Pocket PC handheld to get I ended up choosing Dell’s Axim over HP’s many models exactly because Dell offered a full set of accessories I could get along with the device.  I ended up getting a foldable keyboard and a leather case as well as screen protectors all in the same order.

One important aspect of the iPad for accessory manufacturers however, is clearly lost on many of Apple’s potential competitors: a single design.   Apple offers six iPad models but they all look the same and all have essentially the same dimensions.  This means that when you create a case or a stand for the iPad, you are essentially creating a product which will be usable by all of the millions of iPad users.

Now compare that to what it would be for manufacturers considering the creation of similar accessories for the products of companies that will be introducing tablets with two or three different screen sizes. These companies would be looking at creating add-on products for a variety of models and form factors, each one with a potential market that is much smaller than that which is already available with the iPad.

The large number of accessories already available for the iPad, along with the large number of applications specifically designed for it, help to make it more attractive to potential users.  At the same time the rapidly growing number of users help make the iPad more and more attractive to accessory manufacturers as well as software developers.

At this point, just a few months after its initial public release it seems clear that Apple has already managed to start a virtuous cycle for the iPad which will be very hard for competitors to break.

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