posted by Thom Holwerda on Wed 27th Jan 2010 19:45 UTC
IconIn what everybody already saw coming for weeks (months) now, Apple has just unveiled its latest product, a tablet called the iPad. Basically a bigger version of the iPhone, Steve Jobs presented the iPad during a press event in San Francisco. The most interesting news? It's powered by... An Apple processor, called the A4. The most shocking news? The price.

The best way to describe the iPad is to simply take your iPhone, and stretch is on all sides until it has a 9.7" multitouch display, and replace the plastic back with a brushed aluminium one. Oddly enough, the iPad has a truly massive bezel, which really hinders the aesthetic appeal of the device (at least, that's my opinion).

Hardware-wise, it all gets a little more interesting. It's powered by a 1Ghz Apple A4 chip (P.A.Semi, no doubt), and has a battery life of ten hours, and a month's worth of standby time. It has very little in the way of ports (dock connectors), but comes with WiFi and BlueTooth (some models have 3G). It has the usual accelerometer and compass, and comes with either 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of storage space.

It runs most iPhone applications unmodified, but what about screen size, you wonder? Well, the iPad can either run iPhone applications in their "native" resolution (i.e., a small iPhone-sized window in the middle of the screen, the rest black), or you can tap the 2x button, which will double the pixels, cover the screen, and enter a low-resolution mode. A new SDK is released today, too, so that applications can be modified to run "natively" on the bigger screen.

One such application was a special New York Times application which looks stunning. Videos are embedded within what looks like real newspaper articles, and photos can be maximised in pop-ups. Looks really slick.

Text input is handled by a larger variant of the iPhone's keyboard, so be prepared to hold the tablet with one hand while typing with the other. A very unimaginative solution, and one that just doesn't look very comfortable.

What Apple itself showed off software-wise didn't really impress me at all, in all honesty. Everything looks a bit goofy, because basically what they've done is taken the iPhone interface and blow up all the widgets. On top of that, some of the applications have a Microsoft Bob-kind of vibe to them - like the Contacts application looking like a real-world address book. The ghastly wood theme (from Garageband) makes its comeback too in the calendar application.

The home screen has the highest goofiness factor, since it's filled with the same amount of icons as on an iPhone, and those icons are not even resized, leaving massive whitespace in between. It just looks... Rushed, cobbled together. Very un-Apple.

Usually, Apple shows 3rd parties how it's done, but with the iPad it feels as if the 3rd party stuff that was demonstrated was far better adapted to the iPad than Apple's own stuff. Of course, the usual disclaimers apply when it comes to UI: proper judgement can only be made after usage, so take all this with a grain of salt.

E-books are of course an important aspect of the iPad, so Apple showed off something called iBooks. You can buy, read, and organise your e-books in an interface which is more or less an exact copy of Delicious Library. The store currently carries books from Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette book group. Surprisingly good news: it uses the open ePub format!

Apple has also created a version of iWork for the iPad (USD 9.99 per iWorks applications). In other words, they've created iPad-specific interfaces for Numbers, Pages, and Keynote, which obviously rely on the multitouch functionality to work. These interfaces, too, sport some truly obnoxious chrome colour and pattern choices.

As said, there's 3G support in there too, and Apple has negotiated a special deal with At&T (yes, At&T only): USD 14.99 per month for 250MB of data, USD 29.99 per month for unlimited data, and both options include free use of AT&T's WiFi hotpsots. These are pre-paid; you can cancel any time you wish. International deals will be in place by June, but since all 3G iPads are unlocked and support micro SIMs, you can get them to work anywhere.

And here's the big shocker. The big whoop-di-doo. The big surprise that really made a lot of people's eyes pop out, and kind of renders some of the above complaints moot: the price. Apple will sell the cheapest iPad for only USD 499 - which will have 16GB, and no 3G.

Image courtesy of Gizmodo.

The first iPads, the ones without 3G, will start shipping in 60 days; the 3G models will follow 30 days later. There are several accessories as well, such as a regular dock, and even a full-size regular keyboard.

There are of course also a number of things it doesn't do: it doesn't have a camera (front nor back), it doesn't do multitasking, and it's a completely closed ecosystem, like the iPhone. This renders it useless for my personal needs, as if I were to ever buy a tablet, I'd need the ability to install additional codecs and such so I can play my collection of TV shows and films stored on my media centre.

In conclusion, apart from the price, there's very little here that impressed me. From the keynote it simply didn't become clear to me what, exactly, the iPad has to offer over other tablets; text input is still cumbersome, the bezel is massive, and, of course, it comes with problems other, Windows/Linux based tablets do not have: a closed environment, no way of expanding functionality, and so on.

That in and of itself isn't a problem; usually, Apple's takes on products come with attention to detail and polish which justifies buying them over competitor's products. However, I find current tablets inherently useless, and seeing as the iPad doesn't seem to add any additional functionality to the tablet spectrum, I just can't come up with a reason to buy one...

...if it wasn't for the price, of course. USD 499 for the 16GB 3G-less model is one heck of an aggressive price point.

But, my talk is all pointless. I'm a geek (as evidenced by the fact I want Jobs to get on with it so I resume playing Mass Effect 2), and I'm not the target consumer for the iPad. The thing will sell like hotcakes - as Jobs said during the keynote, the iPad is "our most advanced technology in a magical & revolutionary device at an unbelievable price."

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