Apple CEO Steve Jobs today announced a new tablet computer to be called the iPad. This device has been hyped more in the past few months than the Super Bowl. Thousands of news articles have appeared online and in print, trying to guess what the new device would be. All the guesswork ended today when Jobs unveiled a one-pound, battery-powered computer with a 9.7 inch screen.
The new computer is a design often called a tablet and sometimes referred to as a slate computer. The iPad has no physical keyboard. It is simply a screen with no hinged cover. It looks like a digital picture frame and, in fact, can be used as a picture frame to display digital photos. It obviously will compete with the many netbook computers available today that run Windows, Linux, or Windows CE operating systems.
In today’s introduction, Jobs said several times, "Some people have thought this is a netbook, but the problem is netbooks aren't better at anything." I disagree. I have a netbook and love it. However, I guess that's what you say when you are CEO of what is probably the only computer manufacturer in the world that doesn't produce a netbook computer and you are about to introduce a competitive product.
In fact, the new iPad is a sleek design. It looks a bit like an oversized Apple iPhone. It runs an operating system that is essentially identical to that of the iPhone. I'll write more about the operating system in a bit.
So how do you enter information without a keyboard? Anyone who has ever used an Apple iPhone will understand: you use your fingers. An image of a keyboard appears on the screen whenever it is needed. The screen is touch-sensitive, and you can "type" on the screen with one finger or even with all ten fingers. During the introduction, Steve Jobs placed the iPad on his lap and did a rather good job of touch typing with it, using all ten fingers. He seemed to be typing at 40 or 50 words per minute.
All iPads will have built-in wi-fi networking capability, allowing for connections to most any web site as well as to email services and other Internet services. This should be a great device for checking email, reading news reports, checking genealogy databases, or for general web surfing. Of course, wi-fi wireless networking only has a range of 200 to 300 feet under normal conditions.
In addition to the wi-fi networking, 3G wireless networking is offered as an extra-cost option. 3G wireless networking connects to cell towers with a range of five miles or so, depending upon obstructions. If you are within range of an AT&T cell phone tower, you can surf the web at roughly DSL speeds.
The iPad will be available with the purchaser's choice of 16 gigabytes, 32 gigabytes, or 64 gigabytes of memory. That's a huge amount of storage. There is no hard drive; all data is stored in memory. The device will be "instant on." That is, you can turn it on and start using it immediately; there is no need to wait for this computer to boot up.
The iPad is designed for multimedia as well as for games with intense graphics. During today's announcement, Jobs showed YouTube videos, an excerpt from a movie, and also demonstrated Need for Speed, a game known for its great graphics. The video display was described by reporters in the audience as "breathtaking." Reportedly, the iPad also has surprising good speakers for such a small system, making this an excellent iPod replacement for music as well as a video powerhouse. It easily stores several full-length movies in its memory. Movies and television episodes will be available from the iTunes store.
The new device also has a new application called iBooks that creates an e-book reader. Again, the display is super crisp and easy to read. Unlike the competitive Amazon Kindle and Sony Book Reader, the new iPad will display pictures in full color, making it far more attractive for magazines and for many books published in color. The user can instantly change font sizes, making this a great tool for people with vision problems. Any book or magazine purchased for the iPad can become a “large print edition” within seconds. In addition, the user can switch fonts: Baskerville, Cochin, Palatino, Times New Roman, and Verdana are available.
I believe the new iPad is going to eat into the sales of the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Book Reader. The new Apple iPad has a superb color screen, unlike the monochrome displays of the Kindle and Book Reader. It is also a general-purpose device capable for being used for many applications, unlike the single-purpose Kindle and Book Reader that can only display books, newspapers, and magazines.
Apple also announced a new iBook Store that will provide more than 10,000 books and magazines on the day it opens. The list includes all the books on the New York Times bestseller list as well as most all books published by Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and the Hachette Book Group. Prices range from $7.99 to $14.99 per book, which is usually cheaper than purchasing the same books on paper.
The iPad also will offer two different optional docking stations: one with a built-in keyboard and another with no keyboard. Using a docking station, you can use the iPad on your desk more or less in the same manner as a normal computer. The docking station will hold the screen in a near-vertical position, which is great for watching movies or for surfing the web. Without a docking station, the iPad can even be hung on the wall and used as a picture frame, displaying whatever photographs you wish.
The battery life of the iPad is expected to be ten hours of continuous use on a single charge. Steve Jobs pointed out that you could fly from San Francisco to Tokyo and never need to turn the iPad off. If fully charged, you can leave the new device powered off and in your briefcase or overcoat pocket for more than a month before requiring a new charge of the batteries. If you set the iPad down, it goes to sleep automatically, saving the batteries. You can come back at any time within a month or so, pick it up, and continue where you left off.
The one item that got my attention is the operating system. It is essentially the same as the iPhone's and iPod Touch's operating system. In fact, Jobs said that almost all the applications written for the iPhone will run on the new iPad without modification. Programmers may wish to modify some of their present applications to take advantage of the larger screen space, but most of today's applications should run "as is." The new iPad will use the same Apple App Store that is used today by the iPhone.
I consider this to be great news for several reasons. First of all, this new computer is starting out with 140,000 applications already available. Next, most of these applications are inexpensive. Thousands of very useful applications are available free of charge while thousands more are available for prices up to $5.00 or so. Only a few iPhone applications cost more than $5.00. The App Store provides a wealth of low-cost software for all sorts of applications.
From a genealogist's point of view, this means that several excellent genealogy programs are already available for the iPad at very low prices. Jobs did say that "most" of today's applications will work on the iPad without modification, but he stopped short of saying "all." While we won't know for certain until the iPad is released, I think it is a safe bet that today's iPhone genealogy applications will work on the new iPad, including Shrubs, FamViewer, GedView, Reunion for iPhone, and MobileFamilyTree. These should be available on the day the iPad is released. The result will be a great tool to take with you to a genealogy library or to the courthouse or to a genealogy meeting. Your entire database can be in your pocket, ready at a moment's notice. (Did I mention that the iPad will be available with up to 64 gigabytes of memory? That should hold even the largest family tree!)
The downside is that all of today's iPhone/iPad genealogy programs are “read only” applications. All of them are designed to be used in conjunction with a full-featured genealogy program that resides on a desktop or laptop Windows or Macintosh computer. You then download data from your desktop or laptop to the iPhone/iPad application and use the portable device to store, retrieve, and display information as needed. None of today's iPhone/iPad genealogy applications are capable of printing reports, storing multimedia scrapbooks, or other advanced features. In fact, most of them cannot even input new data. The iPhone/iPad genealogy applications of today still require a regular genealogy program for data storage and manipulation.
I also noted that the new iPad does not include a camera or webcam of any sort, a curious omission. I should also point out that it is not a cell phone, unlike the iPhone with which it shares operating systems. I bet it will work with Skype, however, if it is within wi-fi range.
The iPad is not cheap, but it is competitive with other tablet PCs running other operating systems. It is a bit more expensive than most netbook computers, however. Prices will range from $499 to $699, depending upon the amount of memory included. The optional 3G wireless networking capability will add another $130 to the price, so the maximum possible price for a fully loaded iPad is $829.
The optional 3G networking will be available with two different plans. The first one provides up to 250 megabytes of data per month for $14.99 a month. I suspect that most people will get by on this; 250 megabytes is a lot of data as long as you don't start downloading movies or other huge files. The second plan from AT&T offers unlimited data for just $29.99 a month, about half the price that other 3G wireless users pay. Best of all, there is no contract: the user can sign up at any time and even cancel at any time directly from the iPad. The iPad owner is not locked into a 12-month contract. There is no need to walk into a store or even to call anyone.
The iPad is expected to start shipping in about 60 days. The wireless 3G option will not be available at that time, however, as FCC approval takes longer. Apple hopes to start shipping 3G-equipped iPads in 90 days or so.
Will the iPad succeed and become as popular as some of Apple's other products? Indeed, Apple has had a good record lately of producing high-quality products that sell by the millions. However, some of the older products bombed in the marketplace. Does anyone remember the Apple Newton? It was a loosely similar design to the new iPad that was released with great hoopla in 1989. It suffered from mediocre sales, and Apple eventually killed the Newton without offering any replacement product. I suspect there is a strong possibility of a repeat performance with the iPad.
Is there a market for a computer that is small enough to slide into an overcoat pocket but still too big for a shirt pocket? It strikes me as being too unwieldy to carry all the time. I have an Apple iPhone and love its small size and convenience. I am not sure I could ever feel the same about the larger iPad. I don't think I could strap the iPad to my belt in the same manner that I do with the iPhone.
I do believe, however, that the new iPad will be a great replacement for the Amazon Kindle and Sony Book Reader. While the new Apple iPad will cost more money than either the Amazon or Sony devices, it also includes a larger screen in full color and it runs all sorts of applications. I suspect that will be very appealing to anyone shopping for a book reader.
This should be an interesting product to watch. I look forward to using one for genealogy purposes on a future visit to a genealogy library, archive, or to a courthouse.
If you would like to read more about Apple's new iPad, go to http://www.google.com and enter the word: iPad. I suspect you will find several thousand news articles there, describing every known facet of the new product from Apple. You can also find more information on Apple's web site at http://www.apple.com.
You also might want to watch the video below.