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Available now (USA), soon (rest of world)
The Apple iPad is one of the most anticipated product launches for a while. Sitting in the small gap between high-end smartphones and netbooks, it competes with devices like the Nokia Booklet 3G in trying to bring truly seamless and ultraportable data connectivity wherever users go.
It's not just a compact computer, the interface is derived in part from the iPhone and uses a completely different set of design concepts from a standard PC (or Mac) interface. The overall effect is that the iPad feels like something that has dropped out of a time-warp from the future, and it makes offerings like Nokia's look old-fashioned.. even if they are just as functional.
Apple are pricing the iPad in the US at just $499 for the basic 16GB WiFi model, up to $829 for a 64GB iPad with WiFi plus 3G support, with lots of price points in between including a 32GB variant. Apple say that the iPad should be available in 60 days for the WiFi only version (so the very end of March) and 90 days for the 3G + WiFi variant (end of April).
It looks like a stretched iPhone, with a large 1024 x 768 pixel 9.7" touchscreen display dominating the design plus an iPhone style button at the bottom. Inside is a 1GHz "Apple A4" processor (we guess this is ARM-derived), the iPad supports 802.11a, b, g and n WiFi, it comes with Bluetooth 2.1 support, GPS and a compass, plus a microphone and speaker.. we don't know if it's possible to make voice calls on it though, or even if you would want to try! The iPad is around 13mm thick and weighs very roughly 700 grams, which is impressively thin and lightweight for a fully-featured device such as this. The iPad also includes USB connectivity for local synchronisation.
Despite all the hype, the iPad is just a tablet computer, and these have been around for years.. but that's a little like saying that the iPhone is just a mobile phone. Apple will no doubt add their own magic to the concept, and will somehow persuade consumers that they actually want to go and buy a type of device that they have previously always avoided.
Apple's raison d'être for the iPad is that phones are often just too fiddly for web browsing, watching videos and carrying out everyday tasks like email, but a traditional laptop computer is often overkill. To this end, the iPad is designed to be simpler to use and comes with an interface similar to the iPhone's, including the famous "slide to unlock" gesture that users start with.
It's not just the interface that looks like the iPhone, the iPad can run iPhone applications unmodified either in a small window on a black background or by doing an on-the-fly pixel resize to run full screen. Presumably this also means that applications for the iPad will be tightly controlled, although we have yet to see. Applications will need to be rewritten to take full advantage of the iPad's hardware though.
From initial indications, it looks like there's a heavy emphasis on games and content from the likes of the New York Times and similar publications, and the iPad can also be used as an e-book reader.. although you probably would be very upset if you left your iPad on the bus or dropped it in the bath. Everything is available for purchase directly through the iPad itself.
Apple will also make available a version of their iWork productivity suite, although it has been re-engineered to fit in with the iPad's user interface and takes into account that the underlying hardware is somewhat more modest than on a Mac. The form factor of a tablet PC means that it is far from ideal when doing serious work though, although there is an optional keyboard dock available. Each component of the iWork suite is slated to cost just $9.99 to download in the US. As a comparison, the full version of Microsoft Office retails for around $400.
Annoyingly, there appears to be no multi-tasking support on the iPad, meaning that it is designed for running just one application at a time and this may well be a key weakness. This is bizarre, because the underlying operating system is a descendant of Unix which has had full multitasking since 1969.. although you can't fit a PDP-7 in your pocket.
There's no built-in keyboard on the iPad, but the large touchscreen leaves plenty of space to have a virtual one on-screen which should satisfy most casual users. Of course, the Apple iPad has WiFi built in, but it also has optional cellular connectivity which should be a lot easier than the traditional messing around with dongles, cards and Bluetooth connections.
Apple say that the data plans available with the iPad in the US will be $29.99 per month for "unlimited data" and $14.99 for a much more modest 250MB limit, available through AT&T. Contracts can be cancelled at any time without notice, which is not a bad idea considering that many iPads will never roam beyond a WiFi connection. International deals should be in place in June. On a side note, one unusual feature is that the iPad uses something called "GSM micro SIMs" which we have not come across before.
The Apple iPad won't appeal to everyone, and the price tag makes it more expensive than some low-end netbooks. The huge size means that it won't be replacing many people's mobile phones, and for serious computing power the iPad is never going to challenge desktops and laptops. But Apple are betting that there are enough people who are looking for a device just like this, and we have to say that it certainly looks compelling and slick enough to be a success.. and a potential game-changer in the industry.
Apple have more details of this device at at www.apple.com/ipad.
Apple iPad: Promo Video
This is Apple's promo video demonstrating some of the new iPad's capabilities:
Images and video courtesy of Apple, Inc.
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