It is official. On Jan. 27, Apple held an invitation-only press event where it demonstrated the new iPad. For more than a year, Apple enthusiasts have been waiting for this mythic device, which Apple has kept under tight wraps until now. Though shown at the event, the iPad will not be available on store shelves until the end of March, or April if you want the 3G cellular network model.
Steve Jobs took the stage at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, the usual Apple venue for iPod related announcements. Jobs stated that the new iPad is not an iPod and not a MacBook, but something in between, a whole new device category.
The iPad is available in three storage sizes, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB - all flash memory-based storage. It has a 9.7-inch color LCD touch screen, similar technology as the iPhone/iPod Touch. It weighs only 1.5 pounds and is half an inch thick.
The iPad has built-in WiFi wireless networking (802.11 a/b/g/n), and Bluetooth 1.2 with EDR. You can also get the iPad with cellular data networking using a micro GSM data card. At this time, AT&T is the only network slated to be available to the iPad, but this may change over time since the iPad is said to be an unlocked device.
For 3G data access, Apple and AT&T have teamed up to do something surprising. AT&T will offer two no-contract data plans for the new iPad. There is a 250MB/month plan for $14.99, or an unlimited data plan (it will likely have a 5GB cap as does the iPhone) for only $29.99 a month. Compare this to the iPhone unlimited plan which is $60/month and requires a 2-year contract.
Getting back to the iPad, the screen is very crisp and colorful with a resolution of 1024 by 768, a very common screen size, 10 years ago. This screen size is most likely a compromise. While most were expecting something wider, this device is not going to be used for just watching video. Wide-screens are great for wide-format video but not great for reading books or viewing Web pages. Also, the iPhone/Touch has a 4:3 ratio screen allowing the iPad to run many of the iPhone/Touch Apps in full screen mode. The software in the iPad just doubles the pixels allowing it to fill the screen.
Inside the iPad is a new Apple branded processor called the A4. This new chip is in the category of 'system on a chip.' The A4 has the CPU, a graphics processor, and other support chips all on one die. The A4 runs at 1GHz and is based on the same ARM processor used in the iPhone. It uses very little power, which should allow it to run longer and generate less heat than a laptop would. The iPad has a non-removable battery stated to run for 10 hours or more and can stay in standby mode for up to a month. These numbers may change after production units become available for testing.
Since the iPad is to be placed in between the iPhone/Touch and a MacBook, it will perform different tasks for different people. For most, it will likely be an Internet device. Having a portable device like the iPad allows one to have instant access to all kinds of data. Just like the iPhone/Touch, the iPad has the full Safari web browser plus Mail, iCal, Contacts, Maps, Photos, plus it's an iPod.
Apple states that most of the over 140,000 Apps on the Apps Store will run unmodified on the iPad. During the show, Apple announced the release of a new SDK (software developers kit) for the iPad so there will likely be new apps made specifically for the iPad when it's released.
During the event, Apple showed off games like N.O.V.A. from Gameloft and Need for Speed Shift from Electronic Arts. Apple also showed off special versions of their iWork programs Pages, Numbers, and more importantly Keynote. These 'office' type programs have been rewritten for the iPad with a whole new user interface to take advantage of the iPad and its touch screen. The demo for the iWork apps was very impressive showing that Apple really does think differently when it comes to the user interface.
The other big use for the iPad will be as an E-reader. This means everything from fiction, non-fiction, magazines, and newspapers. Some of the demos showed that iPad-based magazines and newspapers could have embedded video and/or audio content. While e-book readers are not new, the Kindle from Amazon is currently the most popular e-book reader today, the iPad seems to be better suited for non-linear type browsing, something people do when reading newspapers or magazines. The Kindle is great for linear type reading, like a novel where you read page 1, 2, 3, 4 ... etc.
The biggest surprise came near the end of the event. It wasn't really a feature but the pricing. The iPad starts at only $499. This is much lower than the predicted 'under $1,000,' which most were thinking $999. The pricing is $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. For the 3G networking models it's an extra $130.
Now for the negatives, and there are a few, but remember that this is a device that is not even shipping yet. It does not have an HD display. Many of the rumors stated that it would be able to play back 720P video. It does not. It does use the iPhone OS, actually version 3.2, which means no multitasking. We don't know for certain but this likely means that you cannot listen to your iTunes music while you surf the Web.
Surprisingly, the iPad does not have a Web camera. While this may not be important for others, this could be a big negative for some. Video chatting with friends and family thousands of miles away is a great way to keep in touch. And of course, the iPhone version of Safari does not have a Flash player. Sites like Hulu or even some banking/financial sites will not work.
Even with some of the negatives, the iPad is an amazing device and will likely be a game changer. How well it sells is something we will not find out until the end of March. For some the iPhone is more than enough, for others a MacBook makes more sense. Apple is hoping that there are enough people in between to make the iPad a hit.
The price is definitely right, the software is there, and Apple is king at creating products that people crave. I don't think I need an iPad, but I do want one.