What’s bigger than an iPhone, smaller than a MacBook, and the most anticipated Apple product since the original iPhone? On January 27, at a special invitation only event at the San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Steve Jobs announced Apple’s new “magical, revolutionary product”—the iPad. Meant to fill the gap between the laptop and phone, Jobs said it was “way better” than either. Let’s take a look at it.
Thin, lightweight, and powerful
The iPad is powered by a 1 GHz Apple A4 Chip designed by PA Semi technology, a company Apple acquired two years ago to design custom chips for the iPhone, iPod, and “future Apple products.” The low power chip reportedly provides the iPad with up to 10 hours of usage on a full charge, and over a month in standby mode. Weighing 1.5 pounds and measuring 0.5 inches thin, the iPad is thinner and lighter than any netbook. The new device sports a 9.7 inch multi-touch screen capable of displaying 1024x768 pixel color images and is suitable for playing high-definition video.
The iPad shares many hardware features with the iPhone, including an accelerometer, an orientation sensor to switch form portrait to landscape mode, solid-state memory, and the same 30-pin doc connector. Connectivity is also virtually the same, with wireless 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 EDR included on all models.
A model incorporating 3G connectivity will also be released. AT&T will provide 3G connectivity to owners of this device via two plans: $14.99 per month for 250 MG of data, and $29.99 for unlimited data which includes free use of AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide. There will be no yearly contracts, and you can cancel at any time.
iPad runs iPhone apps!
The iPad will run a version of iPhone OS 3.2, and the new device can run virtually any app developed for the iPhone or iPod touch. Apps developed for the iPhone can run on the iPad in native resolution (the size of an iPhone’s screen displayed in the middle of the iPad’s screen with black borders around the app) or in 2X viewing mode, which allows them to fill up the iPad’s larger screen.
The iPad includes versions of the iPhone’s built-in apps with the user interfaces modified to take advantage of the iPad’s larger display. For example, the iPad’s virtual keyboard resembles the iPhone’s but is large enough to touch type on.
The larger screen not only makes familiar iPhone apps like Calendar, Mail, and Safari look stunning, it also provides screen real estate for more complex elements in the UI. For example, Calendar displays a split-screen view that describes the day’s appointments on the left and shows you a color map of used time slots on the right. The split-screen view in Contacts displays your contacts list on the left and the full information for the contact you’ve selected on the right.
An eBook reader and more
Although not built into the iPad, Apple will offer a free app called iBooks, which will allow you to download and read books from its new virtual bookstore. The new iBooks store will be accessed from and as easy to use as iTunes.
Five of the largest publishers in the world are partnering with Apple to offer eBooks on the store. Samples can be viewed online before purchasing. They are then downloaded to a stunning 3D virtual bookshelf. Tap on any cover graphic to open the eBook and start reading. Tap anywhere on the left side of a page to flip back a page and anywhere on the right side to flip forward. Jobs promised more publishing deals in the future. “We’re going to open the flood gates for the rest of the publishers in the world…,” he said.
Apple is also porting their iWork suite to the iPad. Each application takes full advantage of the multi-touch interface of the iPad. Together, they allow you to create beautifully formatted documents, stunning presentations with animations and transitions, and spreadsheets with charts, functions and formulas. Each app in the iWork suite will cost $9.99.
Games were given a major focus at the launch event, which is not surprising given the unexpected success of games on the iPhone. Several vendors at the event demoed iPad versions of their games, showing how the larger screen, faster CPU, and enhanced graphics of the iPad allowed them to create more interesting and visually stunning versions of games originally written for the iPhone. Other app developers are sure to follow suit, taking advantage of the new iPhone SDK also announced.
The ultimate media device?
The iPad is not the world’s first tablet PC or the first eBook reader. Toshiba, Lenovo, Acer and others sell Windows-based tablets, and Amazon has had considerable success with its Kindle. But Apple thinks the iPad will reinvent the category by offering a vastly superior multi-touch interface and easy access to a wide-variety of apps and media via iTunes. Apple hopes to make the iPad the ultimate media device by leveraging its existing assets, which include over 100 million paying iTunes customers, established relationships with music and video content providers, and over 100,000 iPhone OS app developers.
Some pieces of the puzzle are missing. There was no mention of multi-tasking or a more robust notification system, and the iPad lacks a camera. In addition, it appears that Apple’s negotiations with the television networks failed to bear fruit. But recall that the initial version of the iPhone also lacked some important features (3G connectivity, copy-and-paste, and the ability to run third-party apps). Apple improved the iPhone and the rest is history. As is, Apple’s aggressively priced iPad offers an amazing array of features. With a few enhancements, it could quickly reinvent the tablet and become the ultimate media device.
The iPad will be available in late March worldwide for a suggested retail price of $499 for the 16GB model, $599 for the 32GB model, and $699 for the 64GB model. The Wi-Fi + 3G models of iPad will be available in April in the US and selected countries for a suggested retail price of $629 for the 16GB model, $729 for the 32GB model, and $829 for the 64GB model.
Your Next iPhone
When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, its competitors—Microsoft, Nokia, RIM and Palm—were focused on business users. Apple’s product was marketed to consumers wanting smartphone functionality wrapped in Apple’s renowned, easy-to-use interface. The iPhone has been a phenomenal success over the last 2 1/2 years, spawning imitators like Google’s Android platform and Palm’s webOS. Fortunately, Apple is not resting on its laurels. Here’s what you should expect from the 4th version of the iPhone.
A faster, more powerful iPhone
Apple’s 2008 purchase of PA Semi and continuing investment in Imagination Technologies should bear fruit this year in a significantly faster iPhone with better graphics capabilities. Apple bought PA Semi to make custom ARM-based processors for the iPhone and iPod. Inclusion of Imagination’s PowerVR SGX545 chip would boost the iPhone’s graphic capabilities and make the iPhone that much more attractive as a gaming platform.
We’re also likely to see a more vibrant, higher density screen on the next iPhone, allowing it to better compete with the screens on the Motorola Droid and Microsoft Zune. We expect that the next iPhone will have an upgraded (5 MP) camera with an LED flash to improve photo and video clarity in low-light conditions. Apple will also continue to increase the amount of storage memory, using Toshiba’s recently announced 64GB embedded NAND flash chip.
We’d like to see a significant increase in battery life and the enabling of the 802.11n wireless capability already built into current iPhones. We’d also love to see wireless syncing over a local network.
What happened to iPhone OS 4.0?
Apple’s rumored release of the iPhone OS 4 SDK at the iPad launch never materialized. Instead, version 3.2 was released, focusing on the iPad. OS 4.0 will probably be released with the next version of the iPhone. Faster processers should allow for increased multi-tasking, so it’s possible we’ll see that in OS 4.0. It seems almost certain that Apple will also include a turn-by-turn navigation app and an FM radio app. Finally, there’s a backlog of minor but annoying bugs that need to be fixed in the next release, such as not being able to create Groups in the iPhone’s built-in Contacts app or sync To Dos from the Mac’s iCal application with the iPhone’s built-in Calendar app.
An iPhone from Verizon?
Reports indicate that AT&T’s exclusivity agreement with Apple will expire this June, opening up the possible release of an iPhone compatible with Verizon’s CMDA network. Since it appears doubtful that a multi-mode chip that works on CDMA and GSM networks will be available in time, Apple would probably have to create two versions of the next iPhone—one for AT&T’s GSM network and one for Verizon’s CDMA network.
Finally, it would be nice if AT&T could deliver some of the features it promised last year, including the ability to tether the iPhone to a laptop, and a wider rollout of its 3G Microcell product, which enhances cellular connectivity in your home or office.
Our best guess is that a new iPhone and the next version of the OS will be announced during Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference, which takes place June 28 through July 2, 2010.