Apple reveals the iPad tablet after months of hype. Is it worth the wait?
SAN FRANCISCO -- For months, the same questions have been bouncing around the computing industry: What will the Apple tablet do? Will it redefine the laptop? Can it reinvent the publishing industry? Could it even -- gasp -- save print media?
On Wednesday morning, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs made his latest bid for gadget immortality. A crowd of journalists, analysts and invited guests packed an auditorium here to see the thin, bespectacled Apple co-founder unveil the iPad, an 8-by-10-inch, wireless-enabled slab of metal, plastic and glass.
The iPad, due to ship in late March, looks like either a big iPhone or a MacBook Air laptop that's been severed from its keyboard half. But it's aimed between those devices.
"Everybody uses a laptop and/or a smartphone," Jobs said as he started the 1 1/2 -hour presentation at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. "The question has arisen lately: Is there room for a third category of device in the middle?"
That middle ground has been more of a burial ground for such past ventures as tablet PCs running Microsoft Windows software and "palmtop" computers with miniaturized keyboards. Cheap, lightweight netbooks have sold well but require compromises in capability and usability.
The iPad -- starting at $499, hundreds of dollars less than what analysts and other Apple observers had expected -- could fill that hole in the market if it lives up to an introductory pitch heavy on words such as "magical" and "revolutionary."
Part Web browser, part media player, part e-book reader, the iPad is only half an inch thick but, at a pound and a half, a little too hefty for walking-around use. A high-resolution, touch-sensitive color display fills its front and accepts text entry through a virtual keyboard. On the inside, it runs an upgraded version of the iPhone's software on a processor developed in-house by Apple instead of its usual supplier, Intel.
The iPad (some spectators raised an eyebrow or two at the way the name evoked feminine-hygiene products) will include Wi-Fi wireless networking. Some models, starting at $629 and due around the end of April, will also connect to 3G mobile broadband from AT&T -- which, in a departure from standard industry practice, will be sold on a no-contract basis at prices topping out at $29.99 a month for unlimited data usage.
Apple said the battery will power 10 hours of use, with standby time of a month.
The iPad runs almost all programs written for the iPhone, Jobs said -- though when enlarged to fill a prototype iPad's screen, those applications' text and images often looked blurry or fuzzy.
But Apple means for this device to be much more than an overinflated iPhone.
Its most fascinating aspect may be its electronic-book program, iBooks, that seems targeted squarely at Amazon and its Kindle e-book readers. "We're going to stand on their shoulders," Jobs predicted.