After months of speculation, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs on Wednesday unveiled the iPad, a handheld, tablet-sized computer that gadget lovers, legions of Apple product users and tech pundits have been buzzing about since early last year.
In fact, the anticipation, predictions and supposed “leaked” photos and specifications over the last several months were being published and tweeted about at such a feverish pitch, many people in the last few days began delivering humorous posts and tweets that this Apple device would be so incredible that it would “cure cancer,” “deflect asteroids away from Earth” and “radically reduce humankind’s carbon footprint.”
The iPad introduction event did little to downplay the preceding hyperbole, and Steve Jobs and crew continually described it with superlatives such as “magical” and “revolutionary” and pitched that this new device would be offered at an “unbelievable price.”
Positioned as a bridge product between a smartphone (e.g., iPhone/iPod Touch) and a laptop (e.g., Macbook Pro), Jobs outlined key tasks this iPad could do phenomenally well — browsing, email, photos, video, music, games and ebooks — but he was very clear that unless it did so better than anything else on the market, it had no reason for existing, implying that the iPad was the perfectly positioned device optimized to perform those tasks.
Jobs then proceeded to demonstrate the device and tout its features (and you can see the entire keynote yourself streamed here) and it is amazing that so much capability is packed in to such a small device:
9.7-inch diagonal, LED-backlit display features IPS technology (very clear, great viewing angles) at 1024×768 pixels (132 pixels per inch)
A half-inch thick and just 1.5 pounds (1.6 pounds for 3G)
9.5 inches x 7.5 inches
1 GHz Apple A4 chip (created by Apple in silicon, a MAJOR development from this company and one that is certain to set them apart from others trying to emulate their devices)
Multi-Touch display over its entire surface
Three models with 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB solid-state hard drives.
10-hour battery life (though one online reporter quipped, “Is that ‘real’ hours or ‘Apple’ hours?” referring to Apple’s often-exaggerated claims for battery life under only the most perfect conditions)
Several models with Wifi and 3G (mobile) wireless connections
Soft keyboard (comes up right on the display like an iPhone keyboard).
Pricing is interesting, but there is uncertainty over which model to buy because of the unusual number of variables that are atypical for Apple as it works hard at limiting the choices to make it simpler to decide on which product to buy:
In addition, there is a cost to the 3G services.The iPad has 3G through AT&T, there is no contract, and an iPad user can cancel at any time. For 250 MB of data a month, the cost is $14.99 per month, and one with unlimited data use is $29.99.
NOT EVERYONE SEES IPAD AS MAGICAL AND REVOLUTIONARY
After the introduction event, many Minnesota Twitter users began to tweet that they were a little disappointed in what they saw revealed — especially compared with all the buzz during the time preceding its launch — and using words and phrases like, “Yawn,” “I was underwhelmed” and “I’ll stick with my cheap netbook.”
Within a couple of hours after the launch, many of us noted something fairly unprecedented with any technology announcement over the last several years: virtually every single link on the blog/article technology tracking site, TechMeme, was filled with iPad posts linking to dozens and dozens of other posts and articles. Many were from mainstream news organizations, several from nationally known technology news blogs and sites, and some from pundits within related communities, like those in the open-source software movement, who have concerns about whether this device will be closed and proprietary (like today’s iPhone, which controls what software can run on it) or would be open to run any software that works on its operating system, like a personal computer does today.
Even Twin Cities developer and gadget lover Eric Caron is not yet convinced:
Ignoring all jokes about the less-than-creative name, I’m finding it hard to see anything that’s worthy of Steve Jobs’ quote, “This will be the most important thing I’ve ever done.” I expected something unexpected, but there’s nothing in the iPad that I want to talk about at the water cooler.
In many respects, this initial concern comes from people who have not handled or used the device and led one tech pundit, Robert Scoble (@scobleizer), to say on this video during the event (now a recorded replay) that people must “wait until you use it to pass judgment” and tweeted, “First take: this isn’t as revolutionary as iPhone, but I will still get one. Problem is I’m weird. Will normal people buy one? Hard sell.”
SO WHO WILL USE THE IPAD?
It’s always an interesting exercise trying to ascertain Apple’s thinking on the target market for a device like the iPad. One thing is certain: Folks there understand why (and who) buys their products and the sorts of needs people have that have driven sales of 250 million iPods since 2001 and 90 million iPhones and iPod Touches since 2007.
Even a casual observer can stand back and look at overall trends, which gives us a strong clue why Apple delivered this device with these features now:
The shift to the “always-on and always-connected” culture continues to accelerate with ubiquitous WiFi and a continued increase in mobile wireless speeds and coverage
In its study, “Internet, broadband, and cell phone statistics,” Pew Internet found that 74 percent of American adults (ages 18 and older) use the Internet, with 60 percent of American adults using broadband connections at home. But the more important statistic is that 55 percent of American adults connect to the Internet wirelessly, either through a WiFi or WiMax connection via their laptops or through their handheld device like a smart phone.
Anecdotally, if you speak to leaders in Internet, web or social media technologies, it’s clear that users are increasingly demanding something bigger than their smartphone and nearly as capable as a laptop. Though inexpensive netbooks are easier to tote around as we become increasingly mobile with our Internet usage, they’re not as user friendly as an iPhone, Palm Pre or other new smartphone types.
When I reached out to a couple of select leaders in Minnesota to get their take on who will use the iPad, the feedback I got tells a somewhat different and somewhat more positive story.
I think of the iPad as a perfect example of an information consumption device. Sure, we can still send email and do many more things, but ultimately it’s the first viable computer that lets us consume information and entertainment. So from that perspective, the iPad would allow much easier, faster use of social networking sites. Like the iPhone, its simplicity should drive uptake. A 1.5 pound computer that has 10hr battery life should allow us to take the darn thing everywhere, and be more attractive to folks who don’t want a smartphone.
For those of us in social media, the iPad provides the crossover device that we’ve talked about before. The instant-on aspect, fast access to sites, services and content, ability to navigate more intuitively, larger screen and reasonable on-board keyboard. All these things are targeted to content consumption — and social interaction is part of that content. I think the iPad will be an enabler for social media for both the practitioners/knowledge experts, and the mainstream users. Of course it’s also the new device to be seen with in 2010.
Eric Larson, academic technology consultant at the University of St. Thomas, had this to say about the iPad’s chances in higher education:
Will students buy the iPad? Sure; that’s an easy one. Some will.
The more interesting question is whether schools will be intentional about using it as a standardized “platform.” The iPod Touch drove the price down, eliminated the subscription requirements and could provide the same in-class benefits as an iPhone (if WiFi access is solid)… but now we start to get into economic questions of whether students will pay for (or schools will “absorb” the cost of) a device that has to be carried around and can’t be used as a phone. Even at $499, the iPad seems to be a bit too pricey for schools to buy or mandate for their students, and when I see it, the word “rugged” doesn’t come to mind.
There is no question that many of us have a “let’s wait and see” attitude about this device and its potential and that Apple undoubtedly has the next generation of it on the drawing boards or in prototype stage now. Limitations are easily seen (e.g., no webcam built in; no easily accessed USB; complete management requires connection to a personal computer) but Apple undoubtedly released a product it thought had the best chance of hitting the sweet spot of capability and cost along with the needs and demands of those active in the always-on, always-connected world.
Here is the Apple introduction video for iPad that will give you a sense of some of the excitement many felt during Wednesday’s introduction: