Apple's 'Truly Magical' iPad Debuts

Apple CEO Steve Jobs today unveiled the worst-kept secret in the Silicon Valley: Apple's tablet PC, dubbed the iPad.

The device delivered most of what had been long rumored: It's got a 9.7-inch screen with pixel-doubling technology to play back high-definition video and 16 to 64GB of flash storage. Networking is handled courtesy of its support for 802.11n, Bluetooth and 3G wireless, which will be available on some models and supported via Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) partnership with AT&T. And the unit is a half-inch thick, weighing just 1.5 pounds.

The price tag, however, proved one surprise: The device starts at $499 -- far below most pundits' expectations. That's for the barebones unit, though, with 16GB of flash memory.

The 32GB and 64GB units are $599 and $699, and if you want a model that supports 3G networks, it's another $130 on top of those prices.

AT&T is supporting two data deals for the device: a $14.95 plan with a 250MB limit, which Jobs said "most people will get by on," and a $29.99 unlimited data plan. The No. 2 U.S. carrier -- already the exclusive U.S. partner for the iPhone -- is also allowing free use of its Wi-Fi to those subscribers. Additionally, there is no set contract involved, enabling users to cancel at any time.

One rumor that did not pan out was that of a partnership with Verizon Wireless. Although an announcement today of a deal with the carrier for either the iPhone or the iPad was widely believed -- and for critics of AT&T's 3G service, widely hoped for -- neither company announced such an agreement. As a result, Apple remains firmly with its iPhone partner, AT&T.

Apple did have one more surprise for the audience, however. The iPod Touch and iPhone use an ARM processor, but the iPad uses what Jobs called the Apple A4 processor, a 1GHz chip "that just screams," he said.

Making its own processor marks a sea change for the way that the Mac maker has long done business, though it's been dropping hints on the move for some time. In 2007, Apple acquired chipmaker PA Semi, a move seen widely as a precursor to the company rolling out its own mobile-friendly processors.

The Apple iPad is expected to begin shipping some models in the next 60 days, but it will be another 30 days after that for 3G-capable units to become available.

Apple today also announced two iPad accessories: a keyboard/dock that charges the device while holding the pad up like a PC monitor, and a lid that protects the screen and, when the iPad is in use, folds behind it to similarly prop up the unit. Prices were not discussed.

The company also today showed off its new foray into e-book sales: The iPad's free iBook e-reader app, and the Apple iBookstore -- its corresponding e-book store. The setup enables users to browse, buy and access purchased e-books similarly to iTunes, and like Apple's popular music store, syncs with desktop and notebook devices.

The company also introduced a new version of iWork, Apple's desktop productivity suite. The included applications are now all designed to work with the multitouch screen of the iPad, and will sell through the App Store for $9.99 each.

Apple iPad to be next iconic mobile device?

Jobs said today's debut of the iPad was the culmination of Apple's long history in reinventing and creating product categories. Speaking from the stage of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, he talked about Apple's "firsts" in laptops -- the 1991 PowerBook was the first laptop with a thin-film transistor (TFT) screen, a pointing device, and a raised keyboard with palm rest.

Apple then reinvented the smartphone in 2007 with the iPhone.

"Is there room for a third category of device in the middle? Something that's between a laptop and smartphone?"

Evidently, to Apple, the answer is yes.

"If there is going to be a third category of device, it has to be better at these tasks, otherwise it has no reason for being. A lot of people thought that would be a netbook. The problem is netbooks aren't better at anything," he said to loud laughter.

Instead, Jobs said, "we want to kick off 2010 by introducing a truly magical product."

That product, the iPad, has 10 hours of battery life and one month of standby power. The touchscreen keyboard, which functions similarly to the iPhone's, is near full-size. And the device can run most iPhone apps -- giving it at launch an instant software library consisting of many of the 140,000 applications available on the Apple App Store.

To help developers create new applications tailored for the device, Apple announced a new software development kit, to be released today.

Reactions to the iPad

So far, early reaction from Apple-watchers appears positive.

"This looks like a device I'd want instead of a laptop," said Tony Bove, publisher of Tony's Tips for iPhone Users. "The software keyboard will work fine on the bigger form factor."

Bove, who launched the first magazine about desktop publishing back in the early days of Macintosh, said the iPad looks set to shake up traditional publishing just as the Mac/LaserWriter combination did back in the day.

"There's been an inexorable trend towards multimedia, but it really hasn't come together for people sitting in front of a computer, even a laptop," Bove told InternetNews.com. "What I'm seeing here is something that could have a similar effect that iTunes did for music, which is to help out a suffering industry -- in this case, publishing. Books, newspapers and any other content that deserves some kind of price is going to have an opportunity here with the iPad."

Bove also took note of the $10 pricing for individual iWork applications for the iPad.

"Apple is forcing prices down. We saw it in music and I think we're going to see it in books and applications -- we already have on the iPhone," he said. "I'm sure we're going to see a slew of low-priced photo-editing applications, and you have to wonder how Adobe's going to respond with Photoshop's relatively high price."

He also thinks the iPad presents a serious challenge to Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) Kindle line of e-readers.

"Kindle is just a platform, where the iPad is an ecosystem," Bove said. "Some of my 'For Dummies' books are on the Kindle, but that's because my publisher got them there. As a small publisher, I can get on the iPad directly -- that's huge."

Industry analyst Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, was likewise very positive on the device.

"There's no question that this has the potential of finally consumerizing tablets. Its price point is aggressive, and I think that if you were looking at buying an e-book reader with much less functionality, especially the Kindle EX, this is a much more flex platform than Kindle," he told InternetNews.com.

Senior editor David Needle contributed to this story.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


iPad, Apple, smartphone, tablet, netbook