Introducing the iPad

After months of speculation and anticipation, Apple’s latest creation is finally unveiled. Last Wednesday, with a packed amphitheater of journalists poised on the edges of their seats, Steve Jobs and colleagues showed off Apple’s new tablet PC, the iPad. Since then bloggers and journalists have been filling pages with there impressions of the iPad ranging from ecstatic to skeptical. Here’s a short overview of the iPad and the world’s reaction to its arrival.

The iPad is a 9.5 by 7.5 inch, half-inch-thin tablet PC, with an aluminum case, and a 10-inch LED multi-touch display. It has a custom-designed 1 GHz processor for high performance and a long 10 hour battery life.

Not unlike a giant, thin and sleek iPhone, the iPad has the same button and port configuration as an iPhone, and runs all of the iPhone apps at a larger, higher resolution. It also runs software specifically designed for it including Apple’s iWork word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. The iPhone OS and interface that runs on the iPad has been updated to take advantage of the large display.

The iPad has most of the features of an iPhone 3GS including an accelerometer, Assisted GPS, Bluetooth, portrait or landscape viewing modes, and a software keyboard. Users can purchase a regular external keyboard which connects to the iPad dock. The iPad can then act like a notebook, utilizing the touchscreen in place of a mouse. There is also an optional case that doubles as a stand for convenient movie viewing, and laptop computing.

The iPad connects to the Internet over Wi-fi networks or over AT&T’s 3G cellular network. Unlike the iPhone, there is no subscription plan required. Two prepay options are available. One provides 250 MB for $14.99/month. The other is unlimited data for $29.99/month. Users are free to use the iPad exclusively over Wi-fi to eliminate monthly fees altogether.

Wi-fi-only models of the iPad range in price from $499 to $699 depending on the size of the hard drive, while iPads that support both wi-fi and 3G start at $629 and run up to $829. Wi-fi only models will be available at the end of March with Wi-fi+3G models arriving a month later.

What distinguishes the iPad from previous Windows-based tablets is the user interface and software. The iPad comes instantly out of sleep displaying the home screen. Swiping across the display reveals pages of applications. Apples implementation of the multi-touch user interface looks very elegant, intuitive, and easy to use. While the iPad runs all iPhone software, it’s large hi-def display will serve some applications better than other. Movies, books, newspapers, magazines, and photos look beautiful on the iPad display even at extreme angles. This makes it easy for two or three people to view simultaneously. Maps and GIS applications are sure to be popular on the iPad. Games will take on a whole new aspect viewed on the iPads large display and controlled via the accelerometer. Apple’s iWork software supports more productive activities while the Web browser and social network applications provide user’s favorite online activities. Without doubt, software developers will be using the iPad’s software development kit to design many applications that take advantage of the iPad’s unique form factor. There should be many more enticing apps available by the time the iPad hits the market.

The reviews of the iPad are mostly favorable, with some well known silicon valley journalists practically gushing over it. However, there are points of dissatisfaction as well. The iPad has no camera, and is unable to function as a phone over AT&T’s network. The iPad does not support multitasking to the level where multiple applications can run in multiple windows. So when switching between applications, the user must always return to the home screen and relaunch the application. The iPad does not support Flash, so some Web content will not be viewable. The iPad is extremely limited on ports. Besides its headphone jack, it has only its one Dock connector for connecting to a PC. Perhaps the largest concern expressed over the iPad is it’s lack of open standards. It appears that all media content on the iPad will be locked down with digital rights management. Movies, television programs, books, magazines, and newspapers will have to be purchased from Apple partners. DRM is the norm for ebook readers like the Kindle, and video services like netflix. However, an iPad-like tablet based on Google’s open Android or Chrome OS platforms, could garner a fan base of users who feel Apple commands too much control over its users.

No matter what level of success the iPad achieves, its impact on the market will be considerable. While the iPad doesn’t have enough power or features to compete with regular notebook computers, it is likely to make life difficult for ebook readers like the Kindle, and netbooks. It’s lower-than-expected price, is already causing other tablet manufacturers to drop their prices in order to better compete when the iPad hits the market. Just as 2008 was the years of the smartphone, and 2009 was the year of the netbook, it is likely that the iPad will make 2010 the year of the tablet.