Apple CEO Steve Jobs today (January 27) unveiled the highly anticipated iPad, his company’s latest consumer-electronics gadget. Priced starting at only US$499—some analysts were expecting a price tag of US$999—the touchscreen tablets will be available worldwide in late March.
Jobs took to the stage at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center saying, “We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a truly magical and revolutionary new product.”
After talking about Apple’s success in the mobile space—the company has sold 250 million iPods since that device was first introduced in 2001—Jobs said, “Everyone uses a laptop and/or a smartphone. The question has arisen lately: is there room for a third-category device in the middle?”
The iPad, he said, is “so much more intimate than a laptop, and it’s so much more capable than a smartphone”.
Weighing only 1.5 pounds, the iPad is very thin, coming in at half an inch. It looks like an enlarged iPhone, with a black rim around the 9.7-inch IPS (in-plane switching) screen and an aluminum unibody case, much like the newer MacBooks.
There is a single “home” button at the bottom of the device, which is all the iPad needs, because it uses the precise Multi-Touch technology used in the iPhone and iPod Touch. The gestural interaction popularized by those devices—swiping, pinching, and flicking—are how you’ll navigate the iPad applications, and as with those gadgets, when you rotate the iPad, the screen automatically orients to its new position. Up is always up, down is always down. When the iPad is in landscape, the on-screen keyboard is large enough for two-handed typing.
Apple designed its own chip for the iPad. Called the A4, it is a 1-GHz processor. Battery life maxes out at 10 hours, and the devices come with Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. Some models also include 3G cellular connectivity. It comes with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of solid-state storage.
That makes for six iPad configurations: Wi-Fi 16 GB (US$499), Wi-Fi 32 GB (US$599), Wi-Fi 64 GB (US$699), Wi-Fi + 3G 16 GB (US$629), Wi-Fi + 3G 32 GB (US$729), Wi-Fi + 3G 64 GB (US$829).
However, only the non-3G models will be available worldwide at launch. In the U.S., Apple has arranged for two no-contract, prepaid data plans with AT&T: US$14.99 per month for up to 250 MB, or US$29.99 for an unlimited plan.
The 3G iPads will be made available in other countries as carrier deals are put in place. Jobs said he hoped those would be ready to announce this summer. The 3G models are all unlocked, and because they use GSM micro SIM cards, Jobs said, “If your carrier uses micro SIMs, there’s a very high likelihood it’ll just work.”
The iPad syncs over USB like iPhones and iPods, and was built to be able to run software already available in the App Store. If you’re an iPhone or iPod Touch user, you’ll be able to sync most of those applications with an iPad.
Apple has also released a new iPad SDK (software development kit) to allow developers to take advantage of the iPad’s larger display.
Showing off iPad applications during the media event were Gameloft, showing an iPad version of the game Nova; the New York Times, presenting in-line video within articles; Brushes, demonstrating painting on the iPad; Electronic Arts, with a version of Need for Speed: Shift; and MLB.com, with a “whole new experience” including replay video, live-updating box scores and statistics, and even digital baseball cards.
Software incorporated into the iPad includes similar maps functionality as the iPhone, Apple’s Mail, and the Safari Web browser. Photos are able to leverage the “events, places, and faces” sorting features from iPhoto. And the iPad features complete integration with iTunes for sampling and purchasing audio and video content.
Apple also revamped iWork—its suite of business applications including Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentation)—for the iPad by rethinking how users would interface with the software. The iPad versions of those programs are compatible with their Mac counterparts, and are priced at only US$9.99.
But it is Apple’s new iBookstore that could be the game changer. The significance of the iPad—coming from the company that revolutionized the music business with the iPod and iTunes—is as much about content and distribution as it is about the gadget itself.
In introducing iBooks, the e-book reader software available on the iPad, Jobs said, “Amazon’s done a great job of pioneering this functionality with the Kindle. We’re going to stand on their shoulders and go a little further.”
Apple’s decision to support the ePub open book format is the biggest threat to Amazon, as its Kindle uses a proprietary, DRM-restricted format. What is unclear is what the experience of reading text on the iPad’s LED-backlit display will be like. The Kindle uses E Ink for its display, which more closely resembles ink on paper.
Presented as a bookshelf, iBooks permits the purchase and download of e-books directly to the iPad from the iBookstore. Titles purchased appear on your own digital bookshelf.
The iBookstore will only be available in the U.S. to begin with, and participating publishers include Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette. Separate deals to license books for various territories are being made.
Apple has also designed some accessories for the iPad, including a dock, a keyboard dock, and a case that makes the iPad into what looks like a digital photo frame.
What’s missing? There’s no camera, either for photography or video-conferencing, and it appears that the iPad is not able to multi-task, so you can’t run multiple programs at the same time.
In closing the press briefing, Jobs said the iPad is “our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price....The reason we’ve been able to create products like this is because we’ve tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts.”
Rhetoric aside, there’s no doubt that the iPad is nicely designed and extremely functional. The question is whether it’s different enough from the alternatives—smartphones and laptops—to make a difference.