The wait is over. Apple's much-anticipated iPad tablet computer arrived in stores on Saturday. Gadget lovers lined up outside Apple stores and Best Buy locations across the country to try and get their hands on the limited supply, while pre-ordered iPads began arriving in the mail.
The iPad is supposed to revolutionize computing -- with no keyboard, a touch screen, wireless Internet, a color eReader. Some have suggested it could be a savior for struggling print media.
"Apple is Apple and they amaze us and give us new ways to look at the world, so I await the wow of touching and using the iPad," said Jeff Jarvis of buzzmachine.com and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. "But the iPad isn't going to change the economics of all media. It's not the tablet coming down from Mt. Sinai."
Newspapers and magazines are scrambling to create iPad versions of their content, which they hope consumers will pay for.
The Wall Street Journal hopes readers will pay $3.99 per week for its iPad application.
"What you get here is a little different from the paper or online," said Daniel Bernard, chief product officer of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network. "This is a unique blend of the updatability of online, but with the print reading experience. So you can now read the newspaper, but also see the video and get live market data."
The early reviews have techies pointing out some flaws: no camera, and no support for Flash video files. But some are hoping the simple touch screen interface will make technology more accessible for the elderly and young students.
Apple's iPad Hopes to Revolutionize Mobile Media Usage
The iPad is a tablet computer that weighs just 1.5 pounds, has a 9.7-inch LCD screen and is less than half an inch thick. It's made for reading e-books, browsing the Web, watching videos and viewing pictures.
It has a vivid color LCD screen that is backlit, meaning you can view the screen in the dark. Unlike other e-readers that need an external light source, the iPad is more like a laptop screen.
The iPad has a 10-hour battery life, which is impressive for a backlit display, but paltry when compared with e-readers like the Amazon Kindle which boasts a two-week battery life if the wireless feature is turned off and a four-day battery life if wireless is on.
The iPad will be able to connect to the iTunes store, where users can purchase music, video, games, apps and now e-books for the device. iPhone apps will run on the iPad, but there will also be an app store just for the iPad.
The first iPad model released costs $499 and only connects to the Internet through WiFi. Models to be released later this summer will give users "always-on" connectivity through AT&T's cellular data network. The AT&T models will start at $629 and have monthly fees starting at $15, $30 for unlimited data downloads.
The iPad looks like a big iPhone, but when you hold it in your hands it is very clear that this is not intended as a productivity device, communication tool or a utility gadget.
When it was unveiled Jan. 27 in San Francisco, Apple's Steve Jobs asked, "Is there room for another device in our lives?"
If the answer to this question is solely based on price: $500 for an entry-level model is too expensive for most. But for gadget hounds, serious readers and road warriors, the answer will be yes. The iPad fills a unique void. And more importantly, it points to the future of reading and information consumption.
iPad Ideal for Commuters
Because of its size, color screen, and connectivity, the iPad is different from any other gadget on the market. Compare it to a laptop or a smart phone and you see the differences: Instead of seeking out nuggets of information as you do on the browser of a smart-phone, you will meander through idea threads, articles and books.
While there is a large virtual keyboard if you must send e-mails on the device, the absence of a physical keyboard mentally removes the pressure to work or communicate.
The iPad is a leisure device. I characterize devices by where they live: Your phone is in your pocket or in your hand, your laptop is on your desk, but the iPad will sit on the arm of your couch or on the bedside table.
If you commute or fly a lot, the iPad will live in your carry-on bag; it's ideal for commuters. The e-book on the iPad feels more like a real book than any reader to date. Color photos and links in books are impressive, but the game changer will be the ability to embed full-color video into books. The educational possibilities are boundless.
The iPad lacks a camera, so there is no option for video chatting or using the device to capture still images. The biggest complaint for many is its lack of support for Flash video; this is the format most commonly used online to commercially embed video. While you will be able view YouTube videos with the iPad, sites like Hulu.com and the video players from news and programming sites that want to prevent the widespread duplication of their content will be rendered useless.
The unknown aspect of the iPad is how developers will use its technology to create third-party apps -- programs, games and tools that leverage the power of the device. Innovative apps are already showing the possibilities of the new gadget.
Want to play Scrabble with a friend on the iPad? You can play on one device, but a neat add-on feature is the ability to pair an iPhone or iPod Touch with the iPad and use those smaller devices as your private letter racks. An animated periodic table from the folks who made the Wolfram Alpha search engine promises new exploration in chemistry and already a small college in Pennsylvania has promised to give all freshman an iPad to leverage the educational powers of the device (and lighten the load in student book bags).
While the investment in an iPad may be a distant hope for many, the future of tablet computing is clear. Like smart-phones and laptops that came before, this category is here to stay and will influence our media consumption for years to come.