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01. 27. 2010

Is the Apple iPad "magical"?

Today was 2010's first iDay- the announcement of a new or updated Apple product, predictably following months, or in this case years of feverish speculation. Steve Jobs gave the gathered press the first glimpse of the super-tablet himself, proudly declaring the new iPad not just revolutionary, but magical. It is undeniably sleek, beautiful, and impressive to look at but is it necessary, especially for people already toting around iPhones or iPod Touches, along with a MacBook or a MacBook Air?

Here are the specs:

-9.7" LED backlit, fully multi-touch display, with IPS technology (IPS provides wide viewing angles and good color reproduction, important for a tablet that you may use both laptop-style, and as a media player). There's also a special fingerprint-resistant coating, obviously good for a screen with a touch interface.

-Up to 10 hour battery life for video, music, and wifi surfing.

-Half an inch thick, weighs 1.5 lbs, 9.5" high, 7.5" wide.

-Wifi, Bluetooth, and optional 3G through AT&T (yay, not). Assisted GPS on 3G models only.

-On-screen keyboard only- but wide enough, apparently for something approaching touch-typing. Jobs typed with all his fingers, not just thumbs during the demo. There's also an optional hardware keyboard which also charges the iPad.

-The iPad will run all current iPhone/iPod Touch applications, plus have its own iPad-only apps.

-The iPad is an advanced e-book reader, using the iBooks app for reading and the iBookstore app for browsing and buying books. iBookstore has licensing deals with some of the biggest publishers so book selection should quickly get competitive with the Amazon Kindle's, plus iBook supports the EPUB standard, which offers thousands of free books. The best part? The Amazon Kindle and BN Nook use low-powered e-ink displays which are easy on the eyes and give great battery life, but they are not backlit or in color. The iPad is both, and while battery life is sure to be less than the Kindle's, 10 hours is still really, really good.

-iWork, Apple's answer to MS Office will be available for the iPad. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote (Apple's versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) will be $9.99 each, a great price for a full featured app.

What are the advantages of the iPad over the iPhone or iPod Touch? The screen, obviously is almost three times the size, a huge improvement for web surfing, watching videos and viewing photos, email, and working on documents. The on-screen keyboard, which will surely elicit much discussion, won't please everybody, but will surely be more comfortable for typing longer docs and emails, and there is the optional hardware keyboard.

Why would you get the iPad instead of a MacBook Air? There are some great tablet PCs out there already (I have and love the Viliv, for example) and while they are less popular, thus far, than netbooks (low-priced, lightweight, and usually lower-powered small notebooks), I think they are a separate beast from the laptop altogether, one that makes a lot of sense to me. I'm currently 9 months pregnant, needing to keep on top of email and everything else work-related, but my hormonal brain mostly wants to be entertained. I use my MacBook Pro for work, but honestly these days I use it just as much to watch TV, listen to music, and shop for baby things. I don't really need the MacBook Pro to do those things. I also use my Kindle for hours since I can't spend as much time in bookstores. Wrap up the e-book reader, iPod, iPhone, and most of the features of the MacBook into one device and my electronic load lightens considerably. The iPad won't replace your MacBook or any other notebook computer; it's a media player that can do some work too.

Some questions remain:
-No word on if Safari on the iPad will support Flash. That's the thing that most drives me crazy about my iPhone- going to a site and seeing a big nothing because the site is entirely in Flash. All the streaming video sites like Hulu utilize Flash, so perhaps that's a marketing decision on Apple's part to make sure iTunes is media central, but it's a huge, huge, disappointment. Perhaps a deadly mistake, and a reason to look at other tablets.

-The flash-based storage on the iPad can't be supplemented with memory cards so the 16 GB-64 GB storage options seem excruciatingly paltry- especially since Apple is pushing their high-def movie content on iTunes. If you get the baseline 16 GB and you load up a few movies, you're going to run out of space very quickly.

-No built-in camera for Skype and other video conferencing. This too seems odd as Apple have long been including webcams in their notebook and desktop computers.

-There were rumors that AT&T was losing their iPhone exclusivity as of today. Nope, and in fact, if you want to have 3G service on your iPad, you'll need service through AT&T. There are two plans available, and both are, blessedly, without contract so you can cancel at any time. $14.99/month for 250 MB and $29.99 for unlimited use. You also get free AT&T wifi, which I personally only ever find in Barnes and Noble stores.

Will I buy it? Oh probably. I was an avowed PC user for years and years and the iPhone was my downfall into the Cult of Mac. I never thought I'd fall in love with the iPhone but now I literally don't go anywhere, even into another room of my house, without it.
Do I think everyone needs it? I acknowledge that there are some serious issues, especially if there's no Flash and the lame storage options, but this could be the computer that gets your tech-phobic dad able to use email for the very first time, and will be equally enthralling for a middle-schooler who wants to play games and do homework research.

When can you get it? The wifi only models will be available in about 60 days. The wifi+3G won't be available for another 90 days. The pricing? Well yes, it starts at just $499 but that's for 16 GB model which has wifi only. The highest end model will have 64 GB, with wifi and 3G, and cost $829. I'd highly recommend waiting for the $829 model. You'll need the storage and unless you live somewhere with widely available wifi, you'll be frustrated when you leave your home and lose access to most of the features of the iPad.

Get more details at Apple.

For the minute-by-minute account earlier today, I was following Ryan Block's excellent coverage on gdgt.

Posted by Mia    Category: devices
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