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The Hiccups of Apple's iPad Launch


A few last-minute hitches in next month's iPad premiere.

For someone who coolly attends one of the most widely watched media events of the year while his forthcoming device is touted during a commercial break, Steve Jobs doesn't look a bit worried about Apple's (AAPL) iPad launch. Granted, Jobs is a man of calculated optimism with a wealth of assurance, but the shiny tablet's April 3 debut might not go off as flawlessly as he predicts.

As the iPad ad asserts, the device will be made available domestically on April 3. Jobs was only off by six days from when he announced the iPad's availability as 60 days from the conference, but in the tech world, that is a pregnant pause. Canaccord Adams analyst Peter Misek conjectured the delay was due to "an unspecified production problem" and could limit the number of units to roughly 300,000 -- a far cry from the 1 million expected upon release. This could lead to shortages -- as was the case with the iPhone 3G -- and a bevy of unhappy Apple customers.

Daring Fireball's John Gruber is told by his sources that the delay is due to a software issue, which puts the problem within Cupertino. However, that doesn't quite explain why an ostensibly simple upgrade of the iPhone OS would prolong the release and why the iPad's overseas launch would come a few weeks after the US. Gruber says that a worldwide release date might not have been the plan all along.

Another potential headache for Apple is the 3G-equipped iPad. Hypothetically scheduled for April 27 -- or "90 days" from Jobs' pronouncement -- the 3G iPad has no official launch date and could possibly be delayed along with the Wi-Fi iPad. But delays aside, early buzz suggests that the iPad won't be nearly as popular on 3G as the $130 cheaper Wi-Fi version.

Who thinks so? Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T (T), that's who.

Yes, the CEO of Apple's 3G provider is pessimistic with the demand of the iPad on his very own network. Believing the iPad to be a "Wi-Fi-driven product," Stephenson said. "My expectation is that there's not going to be a lot of people out there looking for another subscription."

You may very well be right about that, Randy -- especially after the walloping Verizon (VZ) gave AT&T's 3G network in its recent string of ads. Could the AT&T CEO be as wary of bandwidth clogging and dead zones as much as his customers?

And those already committed to the company's 3G network with an iPhone won't have tethering as an option. Jezper Söderlund, an AppleInsider reader, recently contacted Steve Jobs via email to inquire about the capability and actually got a response. Söderlund wrote, "I'm also awaiting the release of the iPad. However, I have one question: Will the wifi-only version somehow support tethering thru my iPhone?"

Jobs' terse reply: "No."

Well, so much for that.

With iPad pre-orders beginning this Friday, Jared Newman of PC World poses a few remaining questions. What accessories will be available at launch? Will the magazine apps be ready? Will the iPad also be available in Best Buy (BBY) stores or will we have to wait? Can the purported limited supply trump a pre-order with a "first-come, first-served" caveat?

The iPad already has much stacked against it. No USB or firewire. No disc drive. No Adobe Flash (ADBE). No multitasking. No camera.

With the Kindle (AMZN), Nook (BKS), and Sony Reader (SNE) already commanding sizable user bases -- and considering the new tablet projects for Android (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) -- the answers to these questions and solutions to these problems better please the increasingly skeptical customers.

Or Steve Jobs might just stay home next Oscar season.
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