Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The iPad Finally Arrives !

Steve Jobs finally introduced Apple's new tablet computer, called the iPad.

The question now is whether regular consumers will buy the iPhone-like device, which starts at $499 and can cost as much as $829.

Mr. Jobs, appearing energized but gaunt, a result of his continuing health challenges, unveiled the iPad at a press event here on Wednesday morning. Its features and specifications, once the stuff of Internet myth, are now sharply in focus: The half-inch thick, 1.5-pound device will feature a 9.7-inch multi-touch screen and is powered by a customized Apple microchip, which it has dubbed A4. The iPad will have the same operating system as the iPhone and access to its 140,000 applications.

The price of the device will start at $499 for the most basic model, with a Wi-Fi wireless connection. More expensive models will be offered with more memory and with 3G wireless access from AT&T, which will charge up to $30 for an unlimited monthly data plan.

Wi-Fi-only versions of the device will be available in March, Apple said, with the more expensive 3G models coming 30 days after that.

The most expensive models, with 64-gigabytes of memory and 3G connectivity will cost $829.

However, the device lacks a camera, the ability to make phone calls and does not work with the ubiquitous Flash software that runs many Web sites. Apple is selling accessories like a stand and a keyboard.

Mr. Jobs positioned the iPad as a device that sits between the laptop and the smart phone — and which does certain things better than both of them, like browsing the Web, reading e-books and playing video.

The iPad “is so much more intimate than a laptop and its so much more capable than a smartphone with its gorgeous screen,” Mr. Jobs crowed. “It’s phenomenal to hold the Internet in your hands.”

Mr. Jobs also dismissed netbooks, another interstitial computing device seeking to fill that role. “Netbooks aren’t better at anything,” he said.

But perhaps the most significant application was its own, called iBooks, an electronic book store that turns the iPad into a direct competitor to Amazon’s Kindle. Apple said it would sell books in the open ePub format. That conceivably means that e-books sold by Apple would also run on other devices that support ePub, like the Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.

Mr. Jobs said Apple has struck relationships with five major publishers, Hachette, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, and was eager to establish relationships with others, including textbook publishers.

The announcement puts Apple on a direct collision course with Amazon. Mr. Jobs credited Amazon with pioneering the category with the Kindle, but said “we are going to stand on their shoulders and go a little bit farther.”

Gerry Purdy, an independent analyst who keeps a close eye on the e-reader industry, said, “Reading a book on an iPad isn’t necessarily going to be that much better — a whole lot better — it will still be in black and white. The Kindle still represents a good vehicle for people who only want an e-reader.”

“Right now, it will have some effect on the Kindle market but it won’t be gigantic,” he said. “There will still be people who want to buy the Kindles or the Nooks.”

Scott Forstall, an Apple senior vice president, said that developers can modify their apps to take advantage of the large touch-screen display, just as Apple did with its calendar, iTunes, e-mail and YouTube apps. The iPhone SDK, a set of programming tools for developers, will be enhanced to support development of the iPad, and the new SDK will be released today.

“We think its going to be a whole other gold rush for developers as they build apps for the iPad,” Mr. Forstall said.

Among the partners at the San Francisco event that showed off new software compatible with the iPad: Gameloft, a game developer, which demonstrated a first-person shooter game on the iPad; Electronic Arts and The New York Times.

Apple has been working on such a tablet computer for more than a decade, according to several former employees. But early prototypes, which used PC microchips, quickly drained batteries, and Apple executives could never figure out how or why people would want to use such a device, which lacks a traditional keyboard and computer mouse.

Other companies, like Microsoft, have also sold tablet computers for years, but the category has never caught on with consumers.

But advances in technology have since made tablets more feasible. Battery technology has improved, and the ubiquity of 3G networks and Wi-Fi now allow such devices to remain tethered to the Web at all times.

Traditional QWERTY keyboards have also, to many people, become expendable. In 2005, Apple acquired Fingerworks, a company founded by two researchers at the University of Delaware to develop gesture based computer interfaces. Their work has been integrated into the iPhone and now, the iPad.

In 2008, Apple acquired a semiconductor company, called P.A. Semi. That group is responsible for the development of the A4 chip in the iPad.

The remarkable success of the iPhone and its cousin, the iPod Touch, have also shown a path forward for tablets. People have been willing to pay to customize those devices with a large pool of third party tools, called applications, turning them into video game machines, compasses, city guides and e-book readers. There are now more than 100,000 applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which are expected to generated $1.4 billion in revenue in 2010, according to an analysis by Piper Jaffray

from New York Times

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