April 1, 2010 -- Apple has done it again. The Cupertino, Calif., computer company has introduced a new gadget that is sparking the public's imagination and receiving enough media attention to make even Lindsey Lohan blush.
The iPad is 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 ebooks, 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 ereaders 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 ereaders 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 eBooks for the device. iPhone apps will run on the iPad but there will also an app store just for the iPad.
The first iPad model released April 3 will cost $499 and will only connect to the Internet through WiFi. Models releasing later in the summer of 2010 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 January 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 ebook 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.