The iPad Report: Apple Strives to Exceed Media Expectations

January 27th, 2010

Consider your choices. You can spend $489 for an Amazon Kindle DX (unless they suddenly drop the price), which does little more than read books and publications. You can spend $300-$400 for a netbook, which is a pathetic excuse for a note-book computer — or you can, beginning in March, buy a basic Apple iPad for $499.

Which would you choose?

Before I go there, however, consider this: Whatever Apple does, there will be complaints. After reporting record income that beat estimates from the financial community, some analysts were still carping that Apple didn’t meet some of those inflated iPhone sales estimates. The analysts had been talking about nine million or more, whereas Apple reported 8.7 million sold, actually a 100% increase over last year. That ought to be a good thing, but not when the prognosticators are working their Ouija boards overtime.

That takes us to Wednesday morning’s special event in San Francisco, more highly anticipated than any previous Apple product intro. Indeed, Internet traffic during the presentation, as folks tried to access live blogs, ended up knocking out networks. From Macworld to Ars Technica, getting a proper feed was difficult. Macworld finally ditched its live event software, and just kept providing manual updates at their site. Ars, using the same “Cover It Live” software, kept displaying this message: “This event is currently at Capacity. Please try again in a few minutes.”

At the same time, Wall Street seemed to take an initially pessimistic view of the event as Apple’s stock price dipped throughout the presentation (it rose after the iPad’s unveiling). And although some observers, such as The New York Times, reported that Apple CEO Steve Jobs appeared frighteningly thin, his presentation was robust, with that trademark “reality distortion field” twinkle in his eye.

Now when Apple introduced its iPad in response to eager expectations, I doubt that the initial description of the new product and its features, basically a grown-up iPod touch, came as much of a surprise. What did come as a surprise was the $499 starting price. That’s surely a game changer, and much less than most financial and tech pundits predicted. By the way, the iPad tops out at $829 with 64GB of Flash memory and 3G connectivity. The entry-level gets you 16GB of memory and no 3G. But at least there’s 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The rest of the iPad’s specs were close to what was predicted, including a 9.7-inch IPS display. The iPad is also a half inch thick and weighs a pound and a half. The processing chip, which integrates the CPU, graphics and other functions, was identified as a 1GHz Apple A4, thus vindicating Apple’s purchase of PA Semi, a processor designer company in 2008. Unfortunately, there is no camera, nor telephone capability, at least for version 1.0, unless something is changed between now and the shipping date.

Battery life is described as 10 hours for video, and one month on standby. If you opt to buy an iPad with 3G, which costs $130 extra for each configuration, you can order data packages available through AT&T, starting at $14.99 and $29.99; the latter for unlimited access. Sorry, folks, Verizon Wireless isn’t a part of this scheme, at least not yet. However, there are no price subsidies, no early termination fees, and you can keep the data plan on a month-to-month basis.

Keyboard entry is predictably touch-based, with the keyboard scaling up to the iPad’s larger screen. Whether that is a deal-breaker, I’m not certain. For short notes Multi-Touch is fine, but Apple’s decision to support external keyboards will address the need for better input capabilities in an exemplary fashion.

Now when you run an iPhone app, you have the choice of the standard size, or clicking on the 2X button to get an expanded view, which, according to observers who saw the presentation, actually looks quite good. But I expect iPhone apps will soon incorporate the ability to display natively on the device’s full size without touching a button. Indeed, Apple has already posted a revised iPhone SDK to handle those chores. However, according to senior vice president Scott Forstall, the iPad will run “virtually” every existing iPhone app, now numbering over 140,000, “virtually unmodified.”

The built-in iBooks reader app will give you a link to e-book content via the iBookstore, initially from such big industry players as Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette Book Group. Nothing yet from McGraw-Hill, the largest textbook publisher, but expect more deals with content providers to be announced between now and the iPad’s March shipping date. Prices for iPad e-books will range from $7.99 to $14.99 and are formatted in an open format called ePub, which means that Apple won’t have a complete lock on the content you can read from other sources.

Watch out Amazon!

The iPad’s basic functions are pretty much what you’d expect, such as email, Internet access, movies, music and, of course, e-book reading and gaming. During the presentation, Forstall demonstrated the enhanced multimedia experience of reading your daily newspaper on an iPad as compared to just browsing through the site or reading the printed version. But it’s too early to tell whether Apple has saved the newspaper industry.

When it comes to creation as opposed to consumption, Apple responded with a demonstration of iWork for the iPad, part of an expected lineup of productivity apps that will be premiering on the new platform. The revised apps will be available ala carte, at $9.99 each.

Now when I started talking seriously about a tablet computer from Apple, I had to wonder whether I’d buy one. Considering the lower price of admission, I’m tempted, sort of. But time will tell whether I actually place an order.

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6 Responses to “The iPad Report: Apple Strives to Exceed Media Expectations”

  1. dfs says:

    There are some nifty things about the iPad I didn’t expect. Above all the low price-points and the ability to use an external keyboard (but exaclty how useful is it without a an external mouse or other pointing device)? There are few things I had hoped it would have that I’m sorry not to see, such as a standard USB port and a card reader slot, for inst. It seems port-poor although there’s plenty of room around the edges to accommodate them. And I had outside hopes that Apple would revive handwriting recognition and give it the kind of Wacom-like capacity we traditionally associate with the word “tablet.“ Such extra capacities would help differentiate it from other Apple products. E-book reading is of course one thing it can do that the Phone/Touch can’t, and we can’t really judge the value of that until we see just what kind of books we are giong to be able to access with it. It might turn out, for inst., to have special appeal to the education market, if enough textbooks become available on it. I can see schools and universities buying them like mad if the right media becomes available. The other thing it can do is use iWork apps to create documents. But I’m not quite sure how, once you have created them, you are supposed to get them out of the iPad into your Mac or otherwise share them. Do you have use a cable and physically hitch your iPad to a computer (which will get annoying in a hurry), or can you exchange documents via wi-fi and/or the cloud? And will documents created with iPad open with the Mac iWork apps. and vice versa? If we get the right answers to these questions, then document-creation will be a terrific thing. If not, then the value of this capacity seems rather limited.

  2. Spike72AFA says:

    The iPad will sell a lot of units. However, I think the think will take off like a rocket when McGraw-Hill announces that it is on board. Imagine any college student who can now carry all her texts, tools for work (iWork) plus all the entertainment and social media in a 1-1/2# device which fits in a purse or small bookbag. Everyone will want one.

  3. Tom B says:

    Gene, your first paragraph says it all: well done! Anyone expecting Time Travel, Levitation, or faster-than-light warp drive will be disappointed, but these are intriguing devices–they would be great for the kids or for air travelers. Apple should offer a 4 for the price of 3 family pack.

  4. Andrew says:

    If it ran MS Word I’d replace my MacBook Air with one. As it is, I have to think about it. It would cut my load in half, double my battery life and still sync with my Exchange server (I assume since the iPod touch does). I would be able to view Word docs and possibly edit using Pages, but at least on the Mac Pages breaks the formatting on legal pleadings, so I need real MS Word. I have to seriously think whether or not I can live with that limitation as I frequently send complex documents back and forth with my paralegal on the road as we fine-tune a document. Those documents are always in Word (they have to be).

    Is the convenience of the iPad worth giving that up? That is a VERY tough question.

  5. BC says:

    This, for me, is the lowest common denominator for productivity +
    fun. I am not bothered by the lack of multi-tasking or the lack of a camera,
    plus this is not an iPhone. Ordinarily Apple must worry about a dearth of
    applications but this will not be the case with the iPad. (They were obliged
    to throw in a real keyboard option in case the public can’t adjust to the
    new paradigm.) This is minimalism at its best … assuming it works as
    advertised. My only question is which version to order? Do I really need the
    3G (not near to a metropolitan area), and will 32GB suffice?

    I can see this replacing machines especially laptop machines. 9 lbs are gone, 6 lbs are gone, 3 lbs will disappear, Apple just ‘lowered’ the bar. Would you want to be seen lugging around a conventional laptop on the road if all you are doing is emailing and performing a little lite spreadsheet work? Apple has just made it uncool (pardon my old word here) … to use a laptop.

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