Apple unveils $499 iPad

Promotion photo courtesy of www.apple.com

It’s called the iPad, it looks just like what everyone
expected
– like a supersized iPod Touch – and it’s first and foremost a
Web and media tablet.
By Brier Dudley, The Seattle Times

It’s called the iPad, it looks just like what everyone expected – like a supersized iPod Touch – and it’s first and foremost a Web and media tablet.

Introducing Apple’s much anticipated new gadget at a launch event in San Francisco, Steve Jobs said that “it is the best browsing experience you’ve ever had … way better than a laptop, way better than a smart phone. … To see the whole Web page is phenomenal.”

Apple will begin delivering the devices in 60 days and models with 3G wireless service from AT&T in 90 days.

Prices will start at $499 for a WiFi-only version with 16 gigabytes of storage.

“At $499 a lot of people can afford an iPad,” Jobs said.

A 32-gig WiFi model will cost $599 and a 64-gig version will be $699.

Versions with 3G wireless capability will cost an additional $130, or $629, $729 and $829 for 16-, 32- and 64-gig models.

Apple’s also selling a keyboard/docking station accessory that could enable people to use the iPad as a low-powered desktop workstation.

“The iPad, if you were to sum it up, is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price,” Jobs said.

At its starting price, the iPad will compete with lower-end laptop computers, media browsing devices and electronic reading devices such as Amazon.com’s Kindle.

In a direct challenge to Amazon, Jobs announced a new online bookstore called iBooks that links to the iPad, has one-click purchasing and places your purchased books onto a rendering of a wooden bookshelf.

Jobs praised Amazon’s early work with the Kindle but said the iPad will “make a terrific e-book reader.”

“We’re going to stand on their shoulders and go a bit further,” he said.

Some models of the iPad will come with AT&T 3G wireless available in two plans for iPad owners. One provides up to 250 megabytes of data per month for $14.99 per month or unlimited data for $29.99 per month – “real breakthrough prices,” Jobs said.

The AT&T service is contract-free, available month-to-month, and is activated from the device. Internationally, the company plans to have service plans available by June, but in the interim, carriers’ GSM micro SIM cards may just work in the “unlocked” device.

After a quick review of its features, he sat in a cushy leather chair for a full demo – simulating the at-home experience of using the iPad. He began by showing how the New York Times renders on the device, whetting the appetite of media companies.

The device has a nearly full-sized on-screen touch keyboard that can be called up for doing email and other text-entry tasks. The only button on its front bezel is a home button, just like an iPhone or an iPod Touch.

“Watching it is nothing like getting one in your hands and feeling all that right in your hands and right underneath your fingertips,” he said.

The specs on the device:

-It’s 0.5 inches thin and weighs 1.5 pounds. “That is thinner and lighter than any netbook,” Jobs said.

-It has a 9.7 inch IPS touch-screen display.

-It has a 1 gigahertz Apple-engineered “A4” chip and 16 gigabytes to 64 gigabytes of Flash memory storage, 80211.n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1.

Jobs said the device has 10 hours of battery life and a month of standby battery capability, drawing a big applause. “I can take a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo and watch video the whole way on one charge,” he said.

Jobs demonstrated e-mail and a calendar on the device and searched maps (Paris and Napa Valley, Calif.). He also used the iPad to peruse photos and show a quick slideshow of a trip to Paris.

The device also has a “built-in iPod” – he flicked through a media collection and tapped to play the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, all while sitting back in the leather chair.

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Despite the tension between Apple and Google, Jobs used Google Maps in a demonstration of the iPad’s mapping capability and a YouTube video to show its video playback.

Before introducing the iPad, Jobs went over a few news items: The company sold its 250 millionth iPod a few days ago, 3 billion apps have been downloaded from iTunes, and Apple just reported $15.6 billion in quarterly revenue.

“That means Apple is over a $50 billion company,” he said.

Apple is a mobile devices company, Jobs said – noting that its revenue comes from iPods, iPhones and Macs that are mostly laptops nowadays.

“It turns out that by revenue Apple is the largest mobile device company in the world now.”

That was a setup for him to explain that there’s an opening for a new product sized between phones and laptops.

“All of us use laptops and smart phones now. Everybody uses a laptop or a smart phone. The question has arisen lately is there room for a third category of devices in the middle, something that’s between a laptop and a smart phone? We’ve pondered this question for years now. … Those devices are going to have to be far better at doing some key tasks … better than the laptop, better than the smart phone.”

Netbooks were a solution seen by some but “the problem is, netbooks aren’t better at anything – they’re slow, they have low-quality displays, and they run clunky old PC software,” he said.

Apple’s software senior vice president, Scott Forstall, later demonstrated how the iPad runs iPhone applications.

“All of those iPhone apps that you know and love will run on the iPad,” he said.

But it looks like iPhone apps may look best in a roughly iPhone-sized window that runs in the middle of the screen. That’s how he demonstrated the SnoCros, a snowmobile game, before enlarging it to run full-screen.

Apps made for the iPhone will run on the iPad but developers wanting to take advantage of the device’s larger screen are being offered a new software developer kit.

“We think it’s going to be a whole ‘nother gold rush for developers as they build apps for the iPad,” Forstall said.

Apple also announced new word processing, spreadsheet and presentation productivity applications developed for the iPad with touch controls. The new iWork apps will sell for $10 apiece.

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