It’s a beautiful spring day in the Midwest. The bees are buzzing, the flowers are blooming, and absolutely no one on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is talking about Apple’s new iPad. I say that with more than a little surprise.
After padding the streets of a Big Ten university for a couple of hours, hitting every coffee shop and the lakeside Student Union, I have yet to spot an iPad. In fact, I have yet to find a student who has expressed even a modicum of enthusiasm for Apple’s new device. Tops on these students’ lists of reasons they’re not in the market for a tablet is price, followed immediately by the fact that they already have a laptop that pretty much does what they need it to do while on the go.
“It’s just too much money,” said Shelly, a freshman sipping on a coffee amidst a pile of textbooks and what looks like an overloaded backpack. “I already have a laptop and an iPod touch.”
As a reporter who has covered the iPad from rumors to launch, I was baffled that I was unable to find even one iPad on a campus of more than 50,000 students. I talked to a faculty member who didn’t wish to be named, and he said he couldn’t see his students purchasing an iPad. When asked whether savings from purchasing eTextbooks would be an incentive, he said it’s not enough to offset the initial cost.
“Most of my students buy used textbooks,” he said. “If I had to guess, I’d say they spend around $100 per semester on textbooks.”
The textbook angle wasn’t a big sell with any of the people with whom I talked. Davis and Jeff, a couple of students hunkered over laptops in the student union (Davis on a Macbook and Jeff on a Dell), said they preferred paper texts. Jeff said that as a student, he simply wasn’t interested in the iPad because Apple’s $499 base price wouldn’t allow him to do everything he’d like the device to do.
“By the time I get an iPad where I want it, with 3G and enough memory and all that, I’m at $1,100. For that, I can get one of what he’s using,” Jeff said, pointing to Davis’ Macbook, “or three of these,” he added, pointing to his Dell. “It’s just not anymore useful than a latpop. Besides, I’d have to use Pages and it’s my understanding that Office isn’t available for it yet.”
Jeff also bemoaned Apple’s lineup of accessories, saying the keyboard dock was a hard sell both for its cost and lack of practicality.
Davis said that while he’s not interested in the device for use as a student, he could see it being a fun gadget for around the house. “I could definitely see it being a fun home Internet gadget, but I’m just not going to buy one for school.”
When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, he used words like “revolutionary” and “magical.” But the feeling I got wandering around campus today was more wishy-washy than Jobs’ superlatives promised. The feeling I got from the students here was more like, ‘Kinda cool, but look what I’ve already spent on your devices, Mr. Jobs,’” as they held up their iPhone and Macbook.
I talked to Don, a middle-aged alum hanging out in the student union. He laughed when I asked him about the iPad. He said it’s kind of cool but that he can pretty much do everything he needs on his iPhone.
“It’s just smaller,” Don said. “But I can take it anywhere.”
Of course, after adding that he was less than pleased with AT&T’s service, Don said that he was probably not the right demographic to be talking to about the iPad, suggesting that younger students were the ones who would really be gobbling up the iPad. “Go have a beer out there by the lake,” Don said, “and wait for them to come to you.”
While I didn’t have the beer, I did sit out by the lake for a while, waiting for an iPad user to come drifting my way. While I talked to a lot of students with varying degrees of interest, none of them actually had the device, and those who were interested were only slightly.
Granted, my search for the iPad on campus is not a scientific one. Nor is it exhaustive and it was conducted only two days following the April 3 launch of the device. However, I did cover every coffee shop at the heart of campus, as well as most of the popular student hangouts and still came away empty-handed.
One thing is for sure: Cupertino better hope there’s more student enthusiasm for their new device than what I saw today. I talked to one quietly lunching student, who simply responded, “iPad?” and promptly held up his Asus netbook, saying: “Three-hundred bucks. Does everything I need.”