Thursday, January 28, 2010

Apple officially announced its tablet: the iPad

Yesterday Apple finally announced its tablet. It is officially named the iPad (I know: it's lame, brings all sorts of jokes about female hygiene, and a name too similar to “iPod“ could cause confusion but who cares; it's the product that counts, not the name). Opening Apple's special event titled “Come see our latest creation” at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, Steve Jobs first stated that “Apple is the largest mobile devices company in the world” and said that he chuckled when he saw The Wall Street Journal quote “Last time there was this much excitement about a tablet, it had some commandments written on it.” This quote is emblematic of all the rumors and hype that preceded the release of the iPad.

The device looks like an oversized iPod Touch—it is half-an-inch thick (12.7 mm), weights only 1.5 lbs (680 g) and offers a 9.7” (24.3 cm) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display (resolution of 1024x768 at 132dpi)—but has impressive specs: it's powered by a 1 GHz Apple A4 chip, a minimum of 16 GB flash-drive (you can also get 32 GB and 64 GB) and a battery that should last 10 hours (or one month of stand-by). It also comes with a dock connector, a speaker, a microphone, a 3.5-mm stereo headphone jack, bluetooth 2.1, wiFi (802.11a/b/g/n), an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, a digital compass and very few buttons (On/Off/Sleep/Wake, Mute, Volume, Home). It runs the iPhone/iPod Touch OS with optimized basic apps (Safari, Mail, Photos, Video, YouTube, iPod, iTunes, App Store, Maps, Notes, Calendar, Contacts) as well as any traditional iPhone/iPod Touch apps (in their original size or double-pixel, full screen format)—but, by its release time, many developpers will have produced versions of their apps optimized for the iPad. There are also two apps specific to the iPad: iWork for iPad (Pages, Numbers, & Keynote going for $9.99 each) and iBooks, the iPad eBooks reader (using ePub format, eBooks are downloadable from Apple's iBookstore for $12.99 ~ $14.99).

The iPad also comes as an optional 3G model (that costs an extra $130 US) which offers assisted GPS location and cellular data-only connectivity (UMTS/HSDPA at 850, 1900, 2100 MHz and GSM/EDGE at 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz using a Micro-SIM card). The device is unlocked but Apple has strucked a very good deal with AT&T for the 3G service: 250 MB of data for $14.99/month or unlimited data for $29.99 US/month (all that contract-free, so you can cancel anytime). Several accessories are also available: a Dock ($29 US, to charge and sych the iPad or use it as a picture frame), the Keyboard Dock ($69 US, a dock that comes with a full-size keyboard, for those who dislike the onscreen keyboard), a Case ($39 US, to protect the iPad and that can also be used as a stand to type or watch videos), a Camera Connection Kit ($29 US, to import photos either via a USB cable or a SD card), a Dock Connector to VGA Adapter ($29 US, to connect the iPad to a projector or a monitor) and a 10W USB Power Adapter (to charge the iPad directly from a power outlet).

Now, what about pricing & availability? The price (see chart bellow, in $US) is probably the best and most surprising thing about the iPad. The WiFi version will be available in 60 days (late March) and the 3G version will come out in 90 days (late April).

I don't understand why the tech press made plenty of negative comments about the iPad once it was announced. Of course, after so much hype, the “magical” device may appear a little disappointing, but it is still an excellent product. However, I admit that not everyone will need an iPad. It all depends on what you want from it and which other devices you already have. If you already own both an iPhone and a MacBook, for example, it is likely you would have little use of an iPad. In my case, since I own neither of them, I am not shy to say that it should fulfill my expectations and will certainly answer my needs. As I was currently shopping for a cheap netbook and a Kindle, I am convinced that I will find better than those two devices in a single iPad. You see, the best purchase I made in the last five years was definitely my iPod Touch: I use it constantly as portable internet device, to check weather & bus schedules, read news online, read eBooks, play a few games, listen to music, watch videos, etc. I always keep it close to me and I love it. My only complain is that the screen is a little too small to read or watch video (I am getting old and my eyes are not as good as they were). Therefore, I was searching for a similar device with a bigger (color) screen that would make it easier to read web pages or eBooks and to watch video. I believe that the iPad is, without contest, the best candidate for that. Many apps on my iPod Touch (among others [click for iTunes links] Documents To Go, newspapers readers like Le Monde, NY Times, Cyberpresse, etc., eBooks readers like Stanza, Kindle for iPhone, B&N eReader, Kobo, Comics, Go! Manga, etc., all the PixelMags magazine apps, or video streaming apps like NFB Films or Crunchyroll) will have their real raison d'être with the iPad. So I can't wait to purchase one (my choice would go for a 16 GB 3G model: I currently own a 8 GB iPod Touch, so 16 GB should be plenty for my need and the 3G would be a great improvement on the WiFi-only iPod).

Unfortunately, much is still unknown about the iPad—What would be the Canadian price? Will there be an affordable 3G international deal for Canada (Jobs said that International deals will start being announced this summer, in June or July, but with Rogers or Bell who knows how long it will take or how expensive it could get)? Will we be able to read our own eBooks in different formats, like PDF?—and it is still a device far from perfection: the iBooks app (and consequently the iBookstore) will be available only in the U.S. (at least in the beginning), the iPad offers no multi-tasking capability, no SD card slot, no Flash support and no webcam. The logical decision would be to wait for the next generation of the device (or at least a few months) to give time for Apple to make improvements, but I know I will purchase one as soon as it is released anyway.

iPad Press Reviews

(updated 2010/02/02)

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