iPad Debuts

By Richard Menta 1/27/09

The thing that has obsessed the Apple faithful these past several weeks finally has an official moniker. Dubbed the iPad the new unit is more than just a big iPod touch. At a starting price of $499, well below the $1,000 analysts expected, Amazon will certainly begin sweating bullets for it's popular Kindle. Bit it may be Microsoft who will be most affected by this first generation Apple device.

First the specs. The iPad is only a half-inch thick and weighs in at 1.5 pounds. Compare this with an HP 210 netbook that is double the thickness and nearly double the weight and you already see some sharp mobile advantages the iPad holds for the on-the-go set. The HP does have a larger display at 10.1", but only modestly bigger than the iPad's impressive 9.7" 1024 x 768 LCD capacitive touch-screen.

The iPad offers 16, 32 ($599) or 64($699) gigabytes of storage via flash memory. 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built in and 3G is optional for an additional $130 bringing the cost to $629, $729 and $829 for the 16, 32, and 64GB models. The 3G versions also add a tenth-of-a-pound to the unit and will be able to take SIM cards. The unit has no phone. The iPad offers a 30-pin Dock connector, a speaker, a microphone, but no camera for you shutterbugs who might prefer to wield this relatively large and heavy device over a standard digital camera. Apple promises 10 hrs on a single charge, though experience with both versions of the iPod touch shows that certain apps can drain the battery quickly.

Most notable about the iPad is the fact that it running one of Apple's own chips, a low-power 1GHz Apple A4. Attendees at the announcementmarveled at the chip's speed, which should make for better gaming. An optional keyboard makes for a more PC-like input experience.

The iPad connects to a user's Mac or PC the same way their iPod touch and iPhone do. In fact, Steve Jobs made a note that 75 million users already know how to use this unit, because of their familiarity with their present Apple units. But the iPad aims for more than just serving as a bigger iPod. Apple is also aiming higher than becoming the next eBook reader.

With the iPad, Apple looks to unseat the netbook and cheap laptops in the sub $700 portable computer arena. If Apple succeeds - and I would like to note that Apple sold a lot of $499 and $599 iPhones when that unit first shipped - an Apple OS will make major gains on Microsoft's seemingly untouchable Windows franchise.

There are a lot of frustrated Windows Vista users and Windows 7 offers only some respite, but only for those who bought units most recently. If a touchscreen PC will become the portable player for the new decade then the ease of the iPhone OS coupled with a GUI that eschews the traditional folder/file metaphor give Apple a dramatic leg up on a new OS arms race that leverages Microsoft's weakness for bloated, convoluted code.

If this OS truly represents the PC of 2015 then the iPad could become the milestone player of a decade we are only 27 days into. Remember too, Apple does not license it's OS to other device makers. This means someone else will have to develop an alternative OS for the likes of Dell and HP. As Microsoft will probably need to start from scratch that opens the door for the likes of Google and RIM to become players with their own OS flavors and and challenge MS to a market busted wide open.

The ability of the iPad to disrupt the market control of the venerable Microsoft is in itself a homeric achievement. This hasn't happened yet and it may never happen. The corporate enterprise is entrenched in Windows afterall.

But there are already 75 million consumers who are comfortable with the new direction of the OS. Let's see what happens over the next five years and see if my words are prescient or just puff.

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