With much hype and fanfare, Steve Jobs unveiled the newest addition the Apple line yesterday – the highly anticipated iPad tablet. Though the iPad won’t be widely available until March, many in the media and blogosphere are buzzing about it already, but not all the early returns are positive. Many are questioning where it fits in the realm of personal computers and smartphones, with still others wondering if the iPad really will become as useful as Apple’s other latest innovations or just a gratuitous toy for those that can afford it.
The angle that we want to cover today with regards to the iPad is how it will stack up with your existing laptop and whether it’s a worthwhile investment for the casual user. So let’s do a rundown of the device itself first.
On aesthetics alone, you can’t help but marvel at the iPad. It’s half an inch thick and weighs less than two pounds, making it extremely portable. The 9.7 inch glass touch screen will offer an unparalleled viewing experience for videos, books, and general web browsing.
Apple says that the device will be able to run the 140,000-plus applications already developed for the iPhone and Touch, and expects an influx of iPad-specific programs as well in the near future. One of the most noteworthy apps is Apple’s own iBooks e-reading program which will connect to the company’s new online e-book store and compete directly with the popular Kindle from Amazon. Jobs announced during the event that Apple has already struck e-reading deals with five major publishers and expects to add a few more.
Finally, with a price range between $499 and $829, it’s not all that bad in comparison to industry averages for non-Mac laptops, notebooks and netbooks.
However, there are some notably absent features that regular laptop users are accustomed to which also make calling the iPad a larger version of the iPod Touch misleading. For one, there is no camera capability. Additionally, Flash, which handles the bulk of video and animation on the Web, does not work on the iPad. And like its iPhone predecessor, the iPad will only work on the AT&T data network (for now). Users can add 3G capability for an additional monthly fee, but again, only through AT&T.
It would be unfair to declare the iPad a hit or a failure now or even attempt to give it a comprehensive review considering no one but Apple’s own people have touched and used the device yet. Those determinations will come later. But based on what we’ve read and seen in just a day, we can make a few honest and broad assessments of this item.
For one, it’s hard to see Kindle readers giving up their current devices for this one. The Kindle is lighter and already has a better base of material from which users can draw from. Secondly, it’s equally hard to envision consumers who are in the market for a new laptop computer choosing the iPad unless they’re in it strictly for entertainment purposes. Those who use their notebooks for work will be hard pressed to justify using an iPad that doesn’t appear to meet their needs for traditional business and office software. Finally, if you already have an iPhone (and thus, are paying extra to AT&T for their 3G coverage), you’re not going to get any breaks by upgrading to the iPad. You’ll still pay the additional surcharge to run 3G.
Apple claims that the iPad, like all of its other devices, is not geared only for tech enthusiasts, but is designed for everyone. While that may be true in theory, we just outlined three groups that will probably avoid the device altogether.
So where does that leave the iPad? Quite simply, the jury is still out. We won’t know how big a dent it will make on the market until it is actually on the market in a few weeks. There is no denying that the iPad will be a great tool for web browsing and videos, but is that enough to carry it to the same levels of success enjoyed by the iPhone and iPod Touch?
Time will tell.
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