January 27, 2010

Apple Unveils iPad, Launches iBook Store

Following months of rumors, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the company's highly anticipated "iPad" tablet device during a special media event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The sleek, half-inch thick, 1.5 lb. tablet device includes a 9.7-inch touchscreen and can run movies, books, games and virtually all iPhone apps unmodified, Jobs told the packed theater.

Starting at just $499 (for 16GB of storage), the pricing was much lower than expected, although an additional $130 is required to configure the iPad to support 3G wireless.  The 32 GB iPad will sell for $599, and a 64 GB version will sell for $699.

3G Data plans were announced with AT&T Inc., which will cost $14.99 per month for 250 MB of data, or $29.99 for unlimited data.

Jobs said there was a need for a new type of device that would bridge the gap between a smartphone and a laptop computer, and allow users to play games, surf the Web and read electronic books.

"There is room for something in the middle," he said.

"If there's going to be a third category of device, it going to have to be better at these kinds of tasks."

The device has 10 hours of battery life (one month on standby on a single charge), and comes with a built-in calendar and address book, Jobs said, calling the iPad simply "awesome".

"I can take a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo and watch video the whole time," he told the crowd.

The device uses a 1 GHz Apple-made A4 chip, and runs a variation of the iPhone operating system.  It also includes both WiFi and bluetooth connectivity, a compass, accelerometer, speaker, microphone and the ability to view in portrait and landscape modes.

WiFi models will begin shipping in late March, 3G shipping in April.

Apple also announced a new e-book reader for the iPad, which it dubbed the iBook. 

Apple partnered with a number of major publishers, including Pearson Plc's Penguin, News Corp's HarperCollins, CBS Corp's Simon & Schuster MacMillan and Lagardere's Hachette Book Group to provide content for the device's new online iBookStore.

"Amazon has done a great job of pioneering [e-readers]," Jobs said.

"We're going to stand on their shoulders for this."

The iPad book reader displays titles in full color, unlike the Kindle, and the lets users quickly peruse pages and change the font sizes.  The device employs the nearly universal ePub format for its titles.

Shares of Apple's stock generally rose ahead of Wednesday's event, and then fell shortly after the iPad was introduced, but rose again to close at $207.88 per share, up 0.94%.
Apple's move in launching the iPad is not without risk, as consumer appetite for such a device category is not yet proven.  Indeed, other firms such as Microsoft Corp and Toshiba Corp have failed in their attempts to sell tablet computers in recent years.

Analysts' predictions for tablet sales vary widely, but many believe Apple will likely sell between 2 million to 5 million iPads in the coming year.


See the iPad video...


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