CUPERTINO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Has all the hype pushed the iPad bar too high or will Apple ( AAPL) again work its magic, turning its new tablet into an object of desire? After all the brouhaha, the dust is finally settling on this past weekend's headline-hogging iPad launch. Wall Street is now eager to see whether the iPad will join the iPhone in the pantheon of lasting, hot gadgets.
The iPad, however, is a different animal than the iconic smartphone. Whereas cellphones were de rigeur when the iPhone made its debut in 2007, the iPad is a move into uncharted waters. Previous tablets from the likes of Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) have hardly set the world on fire, although Apple is confident of creating a new technology fiefdom somewhere between iPhones and Macs. Ultimately, the iPad's success will depend on the tech bellwether's ability to lure software makers and partners onto its new toy. "Once normalcy returns, it will be up to software developers and content creators to turn the iPad into a cultural phenomenon, much like the iPhone that preceded it," wrote Charlie Wolf, an analyst at Needham & Company, in a note released on Monday. "On this score, the early returns are already encouraging." More than a million applications have been downloaded to iPads from Apple's App Store, and developers are already scrambling to build applications for the new tablet. The iPad works with most of the 150,000 existing iPhone and iPod Touch applications, although a new breed of software is starting to emerge. There are over a thousand iPad-specific apps already available in the App Store. These include a downloadable Wall Street Journal, E*TRADE Mobile Pro, and a Marvel Comics application. Still, there are big gaps in the iPad story, most notably its lack of support for Adobe's ( ADBE) popular Flash video technology. "
This will have a limiting effect on the iPad's sales potential," warned Francis Sideco, principal analyst at iSuppli, in a recent note. "Absent Flash, iPad users will not be able to enjoy Flash-driven content, which is used in a considerable amount of Web sites, as well as Web-based games and videos." The analyst firm explains that with a lot of Flash content available for free, Apple is not so-subtly pushing users towards paid content. The company is likely to stick with this non-Flash strategy until iPad sales are impacted, according to iSuppli.
Flash or not, there has been healthy demand for the technology. Apple sold 300,000 iPads by midnight Saturday and iSuppli estimates that this figure could reach 7.1 million by the end of this year. Looking out, sales could double to 14.4 million next year and nearly triple to 20.1 million in 2012, it added. With its large 9.7-inch screen, it is inevitable that the iPad will find a home among video gamers, and the touch-screen device is set to become a force in the e-reader world. Last week, even Amazon ( AMZN) jumped on the iPad bandwagon, unveiling an e-book application for the device. Although the iPad competes directly with Amazon's Kindle, the e-retailer is clearly acknowledging its rival's strengths as an e-reader. Unlike the Kindle, the iPad offers color, not to mention a host of other Internet capabilities. Underlining the tablet's potential as an e-reader, Apple says that a quarter of a million books have already been downloaded onto the iPad. Because the iPad lacks voice capabilities, Apple is pushing the device as an intense visual experience -- the tablet is expected to perform well in areas such as education and healthcare. However, other tablets in these sectors, like Panasonic's ( PC) Toughbook, are more robust, but the iPad is much cheaper with its $499 entry price. Touted as a netbook challenger by Apple, the iPad has had generally positive reviews, although the Flash issue continues to rankle many techies and reviewers. Unquestionably, the device looks great, but it could be months before we see the iPad truly carve out its niche. Will the iPad emulate the iPhone's phenomenal success among consumers? Probably not, but it will revolutionize the tablet market. -- Reported by James Rogers in New York Related Stories: Apple Investors See iPad, iPhone Upside Greenpeace to iPad: I'm Eco-Worried Apple's Prime Time iPad Preening Five Android Phones Attacking Apple Follow James Rogers on Twitter and become a fan of TheStreet.com on Facebook.