SAN FRANCISCO-When Steve Jobs showed off the Apple iPad to a packed house of mostly adoring fans at Yerba Buena Center on Jan. 27, he made it clear that Apple's ambition was nothing less than to create an entirely new mobile device category.
Before revealing the price and mobile carrier options, Jobs placed the iPad concept squarely between smartphones like the iPhone and laptops, but with the ability to be better at a host of everyday computer chores. "Most people think that's a netbook, but netbooks aren't better at anything. They're just cheap laptops," he said.
Jobs said that Apple's design goals were driven by seven key functions: Web browsing, e-mail, sharing photos (the iPad, like the Apple iTouch, lacks a built-in camera), watching videos, playing music and games, and reading e-books. The iPad demonstration, with the audience watching as Jobs and others put the tablet through its paces, proved that the $499 basic model will hit the mark when it is released worldwide in the next 60 days.
For anyone who's used an iPhone, the startup, navigation and application usage will be intuitive. With only the "home" button on the bottom edge of the screen, there aren't too many avenues to get started in the wrong direction.
Most new users will likely master the colorful and accurate multitouch user interface in a matter of minutes. The Wi-Fi version of the iPad, which will ship first, uses 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 wireless networking. The cellular connection story wasn't nearly as exciting.
In the Jan. 27 announcement, Apple revealed that AT&T remains the only cellular carrier to offer a data plan. This continues the Apple/AT&T pairing for the iPhone. The announcement didn't include any mention of tethering an iPad to an iPhone.
Instead, two AT&T data plans were detailed: $14.99 for 250MB per month or $29.99 for unlimited data usage per month. The upside for consumers was that both plans can be activated directly from the iPad with no need for a contract.
I held an iPad in the demonstration area after the announcement. The iPad is 0.5-inch thick and has a 9.7-inch LED-backlit widescreen multitouch IPS (in-plane switching) display. It weighs 1.5 pounds, and has a good feel in the hand while the display is both responsive and resists smudging.
Although the aluminum feels sturdy, it's unlikely many iPad users will walk out of the Apple Store without also picking up the custom case that protects the device while also serving as a display stand that should make movie watching more enjoyable.
Six models of the iPad will be shipped inside the next 90 days. The iPad models will come with a 16GB, 32GB or 64GB flash drive and as either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi plus 3G cellular. The cellular models will be an additional $130, according to remarks made by Jobs at the Jan. 27 event.