Apple today launched its much-awaited iPad tablet device, a handheld that will allow users to view movies, surf the Internet and play high-definition games.
"We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a truly magical and revolutionary product," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, after taking the stage in front of a throng of media and IT luminaries at the Yerba Buena Centre for the Performing Arts in San Francisco.
"Everybody uses a laptop and smartphone. A question has arisen: Is there room for a third device between a [laptop] and smartphone?" Jobs asked. "We've got something that is. We call it the iPad."
iPad features include the ability to browse the Web and listen to music, with photo, calendar, and maps applications. It will work with the iTunes store to let users discover and purchase music, movies and TV shows, Jobs added.
When the iPad is turned sideways, it orients the view for the user. "It's a dream to type on," Jobs said, demonstrating that feature.
Like the iPhone, the iPad has a virtual keyboard. It is about half an inch thick, weighs 1.5 pounds, has a 9.7-inch display, and offers internal storage option capacities of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. The device is powered by in-house custom silicon, a 1GHz A4 chip, Jobs said. Wireless features include 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.
"We've been able to achieve 10 hours of battery life," Jobs said.
Jobs demonstrated various built-in applications including a photobook that lets users scroll through photos and display slide shows in various modes. A built-in iPod and iTunes store lets users scroll through albums to play songs as well as sample tunes, while calendar, contact and address applications let users track personal events and other data.
Apple has also been working with a variety of content partners, including game developers like Gameloft.
Martin Nisenholtz from The New York Times took the stage to talk about a new application for the iPad.
"We developed an app for the iPhone that was downloaded 3 million times," he said.
Now, the newspaper has developed an application for the iPad, which according to Nisenholtz was designed to bring the best of the print and digital worlds together. The application lets users click through sections and call up specific articles. "It captures the essence of reading newspapers," Nisenholtz said, noting that the application displays a "very newspaper-like layout." But unlike a newspaper, the iPad application can show a snapshot of the latest updates from different sections on a different page.
The product's launch comes after a few years of rumours and speculation surrounding Apple's development of a tablet-like device. Media outlets and enthusiast sites reported the device would fill a product gap for Apple between its iPhone smartphone and MacBook device. The Financial Times reported in December that Apple would host an event to launch the tablet-like device in January.
But Apple isn't the first company to launch a tablet. Some of the top PC makers including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Asus showed off multimedia tablet prototypes with different screen sizes at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. Many of those handheld devices were based on Google's Android Linux OS and provided the ability to surf the Internet, view multimedia and read e-books.
An HP Slate running Windows 7 was shown by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during a keynote address at CES. The Slate will ship this year. Dell also reminded everyone that it is developing a similar device, showing a tablet with a 5-inch screen.
Executives from PC companies have said the rapid growth of mobile Internet and touch screens created a new class of tablet computing devices. But Apple has an edge over the PC makers as it has a history of introducing products like the iPhone and iPod that have changed the way devices are designed.
The rumours helped Apple define the tablet market even though it hasn't shipped a device, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, in a research note sent in early January. Tablet launches by other PC makers were perhaps triggered by Apple's threat to enter the market.
"One has to wonder, if Apple were not aiming at this market with its trademark accuracy, whether the rest of the industry would
care so much," Kay wrote.