Apple's New iPad: Why We Should Care

Admittedly there is a lot of hype around Apple's announcement of the iPad today and admittedly, it is over and above what any one gadget really merits. That said, there is a lot to care about here.

The iPad is Apple's new tablet computing device. It looks like a big fat iPhone and in a lot of ways it is, but it does a lot more than an iPhone or iPod Touch. It is a book reader, media player, e-mail device, Web browser and gaming device all rolled into one elegant gadget. Sure, manufacturers have done this, but they haven't done it all that well yet. Let's face it: How many tablet PCs do you really see in the wild? I have been on the lookout for them and I've seen a total of zero. That's not a lot.

No matter what you think of Apple, you have to admit that they are largely responsible for consumerizing (yes, it's a word) a lot of what we know about personal computing. The mouse, the laptop and the MP3 player all existed before Apple started selling them, but not in a noticeable way. So does this mean we will all use tablet computers in some form or fashion soon? Possibly - but I'm not ready to commit to that prediction. All I can really predict is that people will buy this and manufacturers will copy it.

Complete Coverage from Partner CNET
CNET Blog on the New Apple Offering
Photos: The Apple Announcement

"The question has arisen lately: Is there room for a third category device in the middle? Of course we've pondered this question for years as well," said Steve Jobs in Wednesday's press event. "If there is going to be a third category device, its going to have to be better at these tasks than a laptop or a smartbook. The problem is that a netbook isn't better at anything. They're just cheap laptops."

Those of us who use netbooks can commiserate. A netbook is not a powerhouse. It is just convenient. They are getting better but they hardly suffice as a main computer.

But to be fair, neither will the iPad. But it will be convenient for traveling, home computing, and general fooling around online.

Here are some hard and fast details of the device: A Wi-Fi-only device will start at $499. A Wi-Fi plus 3G model will start at $629. There will be no contract required for 3G but if you want 3G data, you can pay AT&T between $14 and $30 per month. Yes, you read that right. AT&T. Groan. The network that my iPhone can pretty much never rely on. I wish that were different.

Other specs: 9.7-inch screen, 1/2-inch thick, 1.5 pounds, 10 hours of battery life, Bluetooth and extra accessories which will include a dock, keyboard, and stand if you want to fork out some extra dough.

Now, let's talk Kindle. Amazon should be afraid. First off, Amazon still insists on using their own proprietary format, which means that the books you own on Kindle you only own on Kindle. Apple's iBookstore is embracing the open ePub format, which means books you own for the Sony Reader or other ePub readers will be usable on the iPad. The eBookstore also uses your iTunes account to sell books and put them on a classy looking bookshelf in your reader. And the reading experience is lovely.

Touchscreen pages, easy access to the table of contents, and a clock on top of the page, which is something I've been wanting on my Kindle. There is no bookmarking or annotating yet unfortunately and I'm not sure reading on an IPS screen won't hurt your eyes but I've got my Gunnar glasses if that is the case. I'm hoping you can also control the brightness of the screen in the control settings but I did not look for that option in my two minutes with the device.

The gaming experience is also quite good. First-person shooters and racing games use the device accelerometer and the experience is good, although the device is a little heavy to be navigating like a steering wheel.

Now before we get too crazy, we must remember that this is a first generation device. Remember the first generation iPhone drawbacks? It was pricy, it had a proprietary headphone jack, and it was a closed system with no App store. The iPad is bound to have comparable drawbacks, but it is a pretty solid first run at a brand new kind of thing. It is worth knowing about, even if you aren't prepared to part with some cash for yet another gadget in two months when the device comes out. After all, this is not a laptop and it is not a smartphone. You CAN live without it and my proof of that is that you already are. But I suspect that once you have one, you won't be able to go without again.

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By Natali Del Conte