Sleek, stylish iPad debuts
By EDWARD C. BAIG
SAN FRANCISCO — The iPad is Apple's newest iStar. That's the way it seems at first blush, anyway.
The tablet computer that CEO Steve Jobs unveiled yesterday is the machine that Apple's most loyal patrons have been pining for. It's light (under 1.5 pounds), slim (0.5 inches thick) and beautiful.
The slab lets you surf the Web, play games, watch high-definition movies, listen to music, dispatch and receive e-mail and read electronic books and newspapers. And, with color pictures and video, the iPad certainly out-Kindles the Amazon Kindle, the current king of the burgeoning e-reader market. Of course, Apple's device is a lot more versatile and more expensive than the single-purpose $259 Kindle.
As for price, Apple delivered its ballyhooed tablet at lower sums than most expected: $499 for a 16-gigabyte Wi-Fi-only model, $599 for 32GB and $699 for 64GB. Add 3G wireless access, and prices climb to $629, $729 and $829, respectively, not outrageous, but still a hit for folks in this economy. Monthly cellular data plans through AT&T are priced aggressively: $14.99 (for up to 250 megabytes) or $29.99 for unlimited data. Jobs said most people will get by on the cheaper plan. I'm not so sure.
The iPad without 3G is due out in 60 days; models with cellular arrive about a month later.
The news that AT&T was the solo wireless provider brought groans from folks hoping Verizon or some other cellular alternative would also be on hand.
The new hardware feels like something you'd want to hold and carry around, though it's obviously a product you'd stash in a backpack rather than your pocket. It seems fast at handling such things as displaying maps, right down to a crisp street-view image.
Its 9.7-inch backlit LED multitouch display looks sweet, with what appears to be a wide viewing angle. Those with an iPhone or iPod Touch won't have much of a learning curve. IPad runs just about all the 140,000 apps available in the App Store. You can tap and pinch to summon apps, change pages and zoom photos or Web pages, or rotate the machine to go from portrait to landscape orientation.
I'll have to spend more time with iPad's "soft" or virtual nearly full-size keyboard before reaching a final verdict on its ease of use. You can connect a physical keyboard through the standard iPod dock connector at the bottom of the iPad.
Apple promises up to 10 hours of battery life. If it's close, you'll be able to board a trans-continental flight confident you won't run out of juice.
No matter how slick the device is, questions remain, even for Apple fans. The tablet form is largely unproven. It's still unclear if folks will embrace something larger than a smartphone and smaller than a notebook, much less carry all three devices.
For the most part, the iPad is all about consuming rather than creating media, even though Apple showed versions of its iWork software suite for the iPad (sporting the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet and Keynote presentation software).
You can't watch Web videos based on the popular Adobe Flash standard on iPad. Another thing on my wish list is a camera; it seems to me the form would lend itself to video conferencing. But Apple executive Phil Schiller said it's all about making certain design and cost decisions.
Meanwhile, as the electronic reading space evolves, it will be worth watching how iPad slips in. Apple has struck deals with publishers HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette, but it's unclear out of the gate how many of the best sellers people want to read will be available. Apple has also embraced the ePub format, an industry standard that Amazon currently doesn't support.
During Steve Jobs' presentation at Apple's launch event, Edward Kennedy's True Compass e-book for iPad was priced at $14.99, compared with $9.99 for a Kindle version. But Apple's e-books bring multimedia pizazz, and The New York Times on iPad looked far superior than any newspaper I've seen on Kindle.
Like most Apple products, the iPad is sexy and lovely. Once I've had time, I'll offer a more comprehensive look.