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The iPad Report: Apple Strives to Exceed Media Expectations

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.