iPad

Dann Fry

After more than a decade of speculation, Apple has finally added their entry to the tablet PC market: iPad. Introduced January 27 at a media event in San Francisco, iPad will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following recent rumors of a 2010 launch.

The device comes at a key transition period in mobile computing, where in the past year sales of “netbook” machines have skyrocketed, and touchscreen smartphones (read: iPhone) have become nearly ubiquitous. In fourth-quarter 2009 alone there were nearly 10 million iPhones and Apple laptops sold––a huge market that Apple hopes to impress a tablet upon.

The iPad’s announced feature list amounts to slightly less than the rampant speculation might have suggested––large multi-touch screen, slim unibody profile, 3G connectivity, and a bid for e-book dominance (in the form of iBooks) are all there; notably absent are a camera, phone capability (although Skype over 3G is now Apple-approved), and connectivity options besides the typical 32-pin iPhone connector (although some signs point to more features being unveiled before the March-April release).

Three Things That Are Bad About iPad
1. Limited OS
The iPad’s largest shortcomings will come in the same category as iPhone’s: the power of the operating system. iPhone’s lack of perfect functionality is partially excusable, since it’s a phone; iPad, however, contains hardware completely capable of running a full-featured OS. The iPad’s operating system is still incapable of multitasking, making it practically useless for advanced tasks.

2. 3G
Although the iPad is surely better with 3G than without, the details are troubling: AT&T will provide the coverage almost exclusively. iPad utilizes Micro-SIM technology, something literally no one besides AT&T currently uses––effectively prohibiting the use of other, possibly better, carriers. Curiously, Apple announced that “the 3G version of the iPad is unlocked, so if your carrier uses Micro-SIM, it should just work.” Hmm.

3. Screen resolution
iPad can play videos, yes––but they’ll be much less impressive than the screen size suggests. Almost all modern movies are filmed in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and fitting them on the relatively low-res iPad screen (boasting just 1024×768 pixels in a 4:3 configuration) will require large black bars occupying a good portion of the screen.

Three Things Good
1. 3G
The inclusion of 3G in the iPad is a step forward––the concept of easily accessible data anywhere with 3G coverage is, although nothing new, a significant step away from an aging generation of WiFi-bound devices. The no-contract format for data access is also a plus (Apple will offer $15- and $30-per-month 3G plans in a pay-as-you-go format), most likely designed to go head-to-head with 3G netbook plans offered by mobile carriers.

2. iBooks
In order to succeed, iPad will have to revolutionize reading, something it can not do alone. Apple has already made agreements with major publishers––Mcgraw-Hill was one of the first––to distribute their libraries digitally, and it may not be long before iPads and other tablet devices are the par for accessing textbooks and other print media like magazines, newspapers, and even comic books; adoption for this use will take only as long as it takes content publishers to start formatting and marketing for large touch screens.

iPad could be the breath of life that struggling print publications are looking for. Offering agreements to publishers far more attractive than those offered by Amazon and their Kindle Marketplace, Apple is already fueling a price war––Macmillan (one of the “big six” publishers) has forced Amazon to accommodate higher price metrics, with other publishers expected to follow suit. iPad’s legacy will most likely end up including an iBooks takeover of the e-book industry (and who knows what else), the same way iTunes dominates digital music and movie sales. See where Apple’s going?

3. Price
By far the most surprising iPad feature is its low price point: the entry-level model (without 3G) will go on sale in March for just $499, with the most expensive model (multiple storage options are available, with or without 3G) still sitting below the $999 mark that most were expecting. This poses a massive challenge to would-be competitors and will be a key factor in iPad’s success if it takes off.