Apple has finally unveiled its hotly-anticipated tablet PC, announcing the first devices will go on sale in March.
Apple said the iPad bridges the gap between smartphones and PCs, being lighter than notebooks or laptop PCs, but offering more functionality than a smartphone.
The device will sell at prices starting from $499, well below the $800-$1,000 price range expected before the launch.
The iPad looks like the iPhone’s larger brother, featuring a 9.7-inch LED touchscreen that orientates content when you turn the device. It is only half-an-inch thick, and tips the scales at 680g. It is designed to handle web browsing, email, photo albums, video and TV, games and e-books.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs described the device as “magical,” stating that it “defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way.”
Although Apple didn’t confirm if iPad shares the same OS as the iPhone, it has been designed to allow users to run their existing applications, as well as accessing the full catalogue of content in the Apps Store. Apple will also launch a new bookstore – iBookstore – offering access books from leading publishers.
Apple has developed three new apps for the tablet, offering the ability to format documents, prepare presentations and handle spreadsheets. iWork, Pages, and Keynote are priced at $9.99 each.
Two versions of the device will be available, one with Wi-Fi only, the other with Wi-Fi and 3G, and users can opt for 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of flash memory. The combined Wi-Fi and 3G model will launch in April.
Pricing varies according to the specific model and memory package chosen. The Wi-Fi only version is priced at $499 for a 16GB model, $599 for 32GB and $699 for 64GB. The combined WiFi/3G model costs $629, $729 and $829 respectively.
AT&T Wireless will offer pre-paid 3G data plans to iPad buyers, though Apple hasn’t confirmed which other carriers will sell the device.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the deal marked a further decline in the hold of US operators over the customer. "Apple has systematically tilted the wireless playing field more and more in their advantage," Craig Moffett, a senior analyst at Bernstein Research, told the Journal. "Apple extracts more and more of the value, while carriers get more and more of the cost."
Early reactions to the device were positive. Typical was New York Times tech reviewer David Pogue, who described it as “essentially a giant iPod Touch” and “seems like a dream screen for reading and watching—at some loss of convenience in creating.” But it was too early to draw any conclusions, he warned.
Research firm InStart said the device was impressive, but refuted speculation that it would immediately kill off the eReader market.
“In the short term, I don’t see the iPad demolishing Kindle sales,” In-Stat analyst Stephanie Ethier said.
But the iPad will blur the line between tablets and eReaders, and kick off the nascent tablet market. “The blur between tablets and e-readers starts within the year, and will impact the outlook for future Kindle - and all eReader – sales,” she said.