Apple announces iPad tablet computer -- 'far better at some key tasks'
Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs didn't ascend the stage sporting a robe and full beard to announce the most anticipated tablet since Moses'. But the crowd at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco received the introduction of the iPad with a roar of thunderous applause.
Perhaps the worst-kept secret since, well, the iPhone, the iPad is a 9.7-inch touch-screen computer, starting at $499 and available in March. It resembles an oversize iPod Touch.
"We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a truly magical and revolutionary new product," Jobs said early on to ease the throngs of technology journalists and analysts who knew what was coming.
After a brief onstage run-through of the features, Jobs plopped down on a black leather couch to demonstrate how you might use the device at home. Grab the iPad off the kitchen table and browse the Web or buy movie tickets.
The iPad stands as the middle ground between a full-blown laptop computer and an iPhone.
"It's so much more intimate than a laptop and so much more capable than a smart phone," Jobs said.
The iPad contains Apple's App Store, so the 140,000 or so applications already available for the iPhone and iPod Touch will run on the tablet -- scaled up to fit the bigger screen.
The iPad has a 10-hour battery life, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and comes in versions that hold 16 gigabytes, 32 gigabytes and 64 gigabytes. They cost $499, $599 and $699, respectively.
"We want to put this in the hands of lots of people," Jobs said. "We have met our cost goals."
Separate versions that support AT&T 3G wireless Internet cost $629, $729 and $829 for 16 gigabytes, 32 gigabytes and 64 gigabytes, respectively. Customers can sign up for AT&T's 3G without a contract. A 250-megabyte-per-month plan (that's not very much data) costs $14.99, and unlimited Internet access costs $29.99. Subscribers also get access to AT&T's Wi-Fi hot spots, including Starbucks.
A software development kit will be available to software makers today to design apps specifically for the iPad. Some developers have already begun revising their software for the larger screen and more powerful processor.
Apple has revised its own software that ships with the device. The iPad version of iTunes resembles a hybrid between the desktop version and the one on the iPhone. The calendar has big text and buttons. YouTube supports high-definition video.
Apple also showed off a version of its iWork software -- a competitor to Microsoft Office -- built for a touch screen. It includes Keynote, Pages and Numbers -- the Apple equivalents of PowerPoint, Word and Excel, respectively. Each costs $9.99 and can be downloaded from the App Store.
"Watching one is nothing like getting one in your hands," Jobs said after a demo.
The device is half an inch deep and 1.5 pounds -- "that's thinner and lighter than any netbook." Earlier, Jobs lambasted netbooks, those tiny, inexpensive laptops that have become so popular recently.
"Is there room for a third device?" Jobs said before introducing the gadget. "Now, some people have thought, that's a netbook. The problem is, netbooks aren't better at anything. ... They're slow. They have low-quality displays."
Like an iPhone, users input data by touching an on-screen keyboard. A keyboard accessory with a dock turns the iPad into a sort of laptop. And a case that acts as a stand -- to watch video without holding the device -- will also be available.
Jobs says the iPad is better than laptops and phones (and yeah, netbooks) for consuming video, music, Web browsing and reading e-books (no e-paper, though, so it's not as easy on the eyes as a Kindle).
[Updated 10:41 a.m., 11:10 a.m., 11:20 a.m., 11:42 a.m.: Added more information based on an in-progress announcement.]
-- Mark Milian
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Photo credit: Tony Avelar / Bloomberg