The iPad vs. 3DTV: Which is more revolutionary?

I was at a joint Intel/HP event at DreamWorks yesterday and Jeffrey Katzenberg spoke to us about 3D and how it was likely the biggest thing to happen since color.

We often get caught up in the hype surrounding Apple products but other things have been vastly bigger than the iPod like radio and TV largely because they were supported by multiple vendors.

However we also forget that they moved slower. For instance the iPod was an undisputed success after 3 years, it took 16 years for color TV to even start to really ramp. It would follow then that the iPad initially will be a bigger hit but eventually it will be eclipsed massively by 3D.

Let’s talk about why this week. 

3D vs. Color

Many of us grew up with color TVs and think they were an instant success.  They weren’t, in the US the ramp started in 1944 but people didn’t actually start buying the sets in volume until the Walt Disney Wonderful World of Color started in the early 60s, but even then, the networks didn’t really embrace color until 1966 and completed their conversion by 1967. So it stated to be successful after 16 years but took between 22 and 25 years to really take off. What was needed was a combination of inexpensive TVs and compelling content, lots of it. 


Now 3D has actually been around for a long time as well. In fact in 1935 the first 3D move was produced but the technology was all over the map and didn’t really start trying to get on TVs until the early 1990s. Commercial grade TVs enabled for 3D started showing up last year some of which will support the new 3D specification which requires active shutter glasses.

Prices are initially relatively high but should drop to acceptable ranges within 3 years for most people but one thing that makes 3D different is the glasses. You see 3D TVs require expensive glasses which is something color TV’s don’t need. These glasses cost upwards of $150 apiece, can’t be used for anything else, and have to be taken off if you want to read or look away from the set while watching a program.

So 3D has a problem that Color didn’t have. TVs that don’t require glasses are coming; unfortunately this technology is still very young and expensive. For instance TCL out of China makes a 42-inch set, the TD-42F, which costs about $20K. Katzenberg, who has been meeting with many of the set manufacturers and found Samsung to have the most aggressive plans (so they partnered with them), believes that these new sets will become affordable around 2018 at the top end of the market.

By then there should be plenty of programming suggesting that 3D TVs may really start to ramp around 2020 when volume price points are met and the existing installed base of flat panel TVs goes through a replacement cycle. That’s ten years from now. 

The iPad

The advantage the iPad has is that it isn’t such a big change this video really says it all for me. Folks have been playing around with Kindles, iPod Touches and iPhones for some time now. The device largely consumes existing media so there isn’t a media problem, it doesn’t require special glasses to use, and it is (compared to a new 3D TV) relatively inexpensive.  

But the value and impact of the device really isn’t that great. You can actually do more n a 3G connected laptop computer, Smartphones are more portable, and it doesn’t yet have an outdoor viewable display. But people will begin to learn to change how they read, how they watch, and how they make content. In the end, the device really isn’t the best part of the iPad, it’s what people will learn to do with it.  

Wrapping Up

In the end 3D will undoubtedly be a bigger deal than the iPad, however it will take around a decade to really ramp. The iPad will ramp this year and that is because it gets to where it needs to go more quickly and less painfully. And, who knows, you might actually get 3D on it, or another small device without glasses, years before you buy a 3D TV.

Apple will likely make more profit off the iPad over the next two years than the TV industry will make off 3D by 2015. Makes you think there could be a better way to bring out things like 3D TV doesn’t it?  The reason the iPad will ramp more quickly is because it is less revolutionary.