The iPad Cometh

Apple pushes ahead with a new device featuring its own silicon, bookstore and media revolution

News | Philipp Conrad | February 2010

In Orson Scott Card’s classic science fiction fantasy Ender’s Game, protagonist Ender Wiggin sits absorbed at a digital "desk": a flat display-based computer connected to an intergalactic network, featuring access to the internet, interactive games and endless amounts of content for the young geniuses stationed at the "Battle School" space-station.  Although the novel first appeared in 1977 and came to the screen in 1985, the real thing – if it is the real thing – made its first appearance on Jan. 27, when Steve Jobs and Apple presented the iPad.

The special media event for invited press was held at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, where Jobs unveiled Apple’s replacement to the paper notepad. With the iPad, Apple hopes to fill a gap somewhere between the smart phone and laptop computer.

With $50 billion of revenue annually, Apple has become the leading mobile device company in the world. This made it impossible for Apple to ignore the new boom of affordable "netbook" computers, report company insiders. However, Jobs has said he wanted to do something different.

"The problem is, netbooks aren’t better at anything!" explained Jobs to his audience, who laughed appreciably. This was an insiders’ party. "They’re slow, have low quality displays and run clunky old PC software."  To correct these features with the convenience of the netbooks would indeed be news. In one aside, Jobs quoted the Wall Street Journal:

"Last time there was this much excitement about a tablet, it had some commandments written on it," wrote Martin Peers, in the column "Heard on the Street," Dec. 30.

Apple’s answer to the growing netbook market has been to create what they describe as an entirely new product aimed at igniting a digital media revolution: an oversized iPod touch-screen based tablet computer running software already familiar to the 75 million iPhone/iPod Touch users.  Apple expects the iPad to ride on this familiarity, providing a bigger screen for viewing media, surfing the web, playing games, and now also reading books, drawing pictures (using your fingers), typing documents (using an on-screen keyboard) and browsing your vast collection of digital photos and music.

As laptops have become more popular in schools and meetings, more and more people tend at be staring at their screens, and not at the persons with whom they are conversing.  The table-top iPad computer will change this aspect of the digital communication barrier.  People will look down at the iPad as if they were taking notes traditionally in a notebook.  They will be able to type and sketch on the screen, and keep unobstructed eye contact with their colleagues and teachers in the room.  No more hiding behind upright screens.

"One thing that strikes me about Apple is that these guys sell their stuff not because of good marketing, but because of the quality of their products," Helmut Spudich, technology editor of Der Standard told The Vienna Review.  "And the iPad is important to newspapers because through the App Store, it gives them a chance to sell access to their content through familiar business models."

Spudich believes that many papers will come out with apps [applications – Ed.] to be sold as downloadable programs, a plausible option in a setting where Apple’s AppStore already features over 140 thousand similar products.  One example of a downloadable program is Converter, a calculator style tool which provides conversions between currencies and all other imaginable units of measure. Also popular are games like Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble, classic board games transformed into portable fun for road trips and vacations. Another AppStore favorite is the New York Times, in a free news reader providing fast access to download articles from the website.

"Media companies are always looking for new distribution channels, and the iPad will be a great new way to reach readers."

Although the iPad is compatible with all existent iPhone apps, Apple has already released a software developer toolkit for the new device’s larger display and new user interface features.  Alongside Apple’s AppStore, the device will also feature access to eBooks in an open format called the iBookstore.  Apple has also signed deals with major publishing firms and will charge around $13 (€ 9,37) per book.

Apple already has 125 million credit card accounts registered in their virtual stores ready for click-based purchases.  With 12 billion products already sold, publishers are hoping to pursue the new avenue of digital sales. With some 140,000 available, three billion mobile applications alone have already been downloaded.

Publishing insiders like American cyber guru Jeff Jarvis, believe the iPad could be, "a savior and a game-changer" for publishing and advertising. German advertising veteran Michael Conrad [father of the author] agrees.

"High quality journalism now will be possible without risking investments in paper, inventory, distribution, staff," Conrad said. "And this in the most amazing way - as a living organism of everything we know on paper combined with audio and video."

Conrad believes the iPad will open up new doors for people trying to create their own newspapers but who have not been able to charge money for access to their content. "Finally publishers of any size, including today’s bloggers, will make money (again) by selling a whole subscription to their products or just a single article (like a single song vs. a whole CD in iTunes)."

In Austria, Apple will sell its iPad in two versions, one with Wi-Fi wireless connectivity and one also including 3G cellular data connectivity.  Each model will be available in 16, 32 or 64 gigabyte capacity versions. Pricing starts at $499 (€360) for the Wi-Fi only version and will be available by the end of March around the world. International pricing will be announced at a later date. The 3G versions will roll out a month later, with heavy rebates already promised by Austrian mobile carriers. The most expensive model, featuring 3G access and 64 gigabytes of storage, is priced at $829 (€598) and will be available at the end of April.

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