Finding an Audience Is Already Tough...
The iPad is reasonably priced at the low end, with the cheapest model running $499. Says Piotrowski, "Pricing is the part of the whole presentation that got me the most excited. It's right in between the iPhone and the cheapest MacBook, and it's really perfect for people who need a computer for day to day stuff, like email and organizing photos," while Seyler says, "I think we were all pleasantly surprised at the pricing. It should give the device much broader, quicker adoption than a higher price point would have."
However, PopCap's Stein isn't totally convinced. "The price, although still a bit expensive, seems quite reasonable for the technology that's packed into the iPad."
It seems likely that the nice price and Apple's clever marketing will help the iPad ride a wave of early popularity. But not everybody's sure what audience the device is ultimately going to attract -- which will affect its long-term prospects.
"The iPad targets a space between a mobile device and a home computer. I think this is kind of an odd move for Apple, who normally seems to prize an elegant simplicity," says Smith.
Piotrowski agrees with Smith about the device, but sees more potential in its position. "It's right in between the iPhone and the cheapest MacBook, and it's really perfect for people who need a computer for day-to-day stuff, like email and organizing photos. I think my mom would like one of these."
However, neither seems confident just who might buy it -- and whether that will turn into success for game developers. "I'm not sure who the exact market is, but I doubt people will be buying these things for gaming primarily, though that may not matter too much to its overall success. I really like how shiny it is, though," says Piotrowski.
"Who wants an iPad? Does it target folks like me, who already have an iPhone and a MacBook?" asks Smith. "Or does it target folks new to the Apple family, or those who don't own both devices already? I really wonder how large the install base is going to be and of what demographic it will be composed."
This ambiguity could lead to poor sales potential, says Smith. "The iPad is exciting, but it doesn't strike me as 'must have,' not to the extent the iPod and iPhone were," he says. But, he concedes, "If I'm wrong, and the install base is huge and hungry for games, then that's an exciting opportunity for us game developers."
Gingold notes that thinking about the iPad as a computer may be entirely wrong, as "consoles are another example of a computer that is just about addressing basic human desires -- in this case, play, games, and socializing," implying that the iPad will find its own niche.
"Adoption will be interesting," says Gingold. "I think that iPhone adoption started to really take off, in terms of seeing everyone around you with one, when the initial buy in price was 100 to 200 dollars, thanks to the weird subsidy thing the cell phone industry does."
He also thinks that the whole phone thing is essential to the iPhone's massive success. "I really think that people buy iPhones because they are the first cell phone without a garbage UI, plus it does lots of other cool stuff, like play games, surf the web, and be an iPod."
Unity's Seyler also thinks the iPad's user interface is significant. "The interface is what you'd expect from Apple: beautiful, intuitive, and crisp. These attributes have always set the iPhone apart from other mobile phones and I think it will do the same for the iPad."
The e-book functionality of the iPad, with its iBooks software and store, might help push the device, Gingold thinks. "I hear e-readers are rapidly growing in adoption, and they are totally at the cusp of a Model-T moment, so maybe the iPad can ride that wave. A non-painful e-reader would be nice."
Whether that will help game developers, though, is highly questionable. Pusenjak sees a direct connection, here, however, with the possibility of expanding the device to serious games. "I also feel the iPad will be very attractive to educators and we could see some great new educational apps and games."
If anything's become clear over the past couple of days, it's that there's a tremendous breadth of opinion on the device -- as these developers' reactions illustrate. There's the history of the iPhone, both good and bad, to consider, as well as the fact that Apple is hoping to create a new market for a device that slots in between a smartphone and a laptop.
To that end, Apple's marketing is so fulsome that it borders on the ridiculous. The iPad's slogan is "Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price" -- and the company's fans are instantly rapturous, as always.
On the other hand, the company is entering largely uncharted territory, here, a fact that the developers recognize. The iPad may actually have the revolutionary potential it promises, but only if it connects with an audience. It may be such a simple and appealing way to interface with the internet that it supplants computers; on the other hand, it may be such an inflexible and limited device it attracts nobody at all.
There's no doubt, however, that game developers will be pulled along by the tide until and unless the device bombs out of the market. And whether or not that happens won't be apparent for months. For now, it seems, cautious optimism in the face of serious questions may be the best approach. With a device this capable, with a future so uncertain, there's plenty room for innovation, and for failure.