Apple on Wednesday launched its much-awaited iPad tablet device, a handheld that will allow users to view movies, surf the Internet and play high-definition games.
The device, priced starting at $US499 for a 16GB version, is set to ship worldwide in 60 days, Jobs said.
"We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a truly magical and revolutionary product," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, after taking the stage in front of a throng of media and IT luminaries at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts in San Francisco.
"Everybody uses a laptop and smartphone. A question has arisen: Is there room for a third device between a [laptop] and smartphone?" Jobs asked. "We've got something that is. We call it the iPad."
A local Apple spokesperson said details on which Australian retailers, resellers or carriers will carry the device will be provided closer to its March release date.
iPad features include the ability to browse the Web and listen to music, with photo, calendar, and maps applications. It will work with the iTunes store to let users discover and purchase music, movies and TV shows, Jobs added.
When the iPad is turned sideways, it orients the view for the user. "It's a dream to type on," Jobs said, demonstrating that feature.
Like the iPhone, the iPad has a virtual keyboard. It is about half an inch thick, weighs 1.5 pounds, has a 9.7-inch display, and offers internal storage option capacities of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. The device is powered by in-house custom silicon, a 1GHz A4 chip, Jobs said. Wireless features include 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology. It also includes support for 3G technology
"We've been able to achieve 10 hours of battery life," Jobs said.
Jobs demonstrated various built-in applications including a photobook that lets users scroll through photos and display slide shows in various modes. A built-in iPod and iTunes store lets users scroll through albums to play songs as well as sample tunes, while calendar, contact and address applications let users track personal events and other data.
Apple is also announcing iPhone SDK development to support the iPad. Developers can download the SDK at Apple's Web site to get going, Jobs noted.
Martin Nisenholtz from The New York Times took the stage to talk about a new application for the iPad.
"We developed an app for the iPhone that was downloaded 3 million times," he said.
Now, the newspaper has developed an application for the iPad, which according to Nisenholtz was designed to bring the best of the print and digital worlds together. The application lets users click through sections and call up specific articles. "It captures the essence of reading newspapers," Nisenholtz said, noting that the application displays a "very newspaper-like layout." But unlike a newspaper, the iPad application can show a snapshot of the latest updates from different sections on a different page.
Electronic Arts also displayed a PC-like version of the game "Need For Speed" on the iPad. During the demonstration, Travis Boatman of Electronic Arts said that the device is powerful for high-quality gaming applications with its support for OpenGL ES.
Meanwhile, all iPhone apps will work on the iPad, Apple officials said at the event.
An iBooks application allows users to browse an iBook Store with content from five top publishers including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin.
Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president of product marketing, was on hand to show off a productivity app called iWork, which among other features can display presentations through a Keynote application, allowing users to change the size of images and documents by using a finger to drag and drop objects. iWork also includes a spreadsheet app called Numbers.
In Numbers, users can tap to move columns in tables, or add rows of data by double tapping. Numeric data entry includes special numbers keyboards, including a formulas and functions keyboard. Users can also use the Pages application to write word-processing documents.
"We want to put this in the hands of lots of people," Jobs said, adding that "we have met our cost goals ... the iPad pricing starts not at $US999, but at $US499."
Prices start at $US499 for the 16GB model to $US699 for the 64GB model. The device will also carry 3G mobile broadband technology for users to connect to the Internet. The mobile broadband versions will be priced at $US629 for a 3G 16GB model; $US729 for a 3G 32GB model; and $US829 for a 3G 64GB model.
"Our most advanced technology ... at an unbelievable price," Jobs said.
AT&T in the US will provide 3G service for the device in a "breakthrough deal", Jobs said. A 250MB data plan will cost $US14.99 per month, and an unlimited plan will cost $US29.99. There will be no contract attached to the data deals and the service can be canceled anytime, Jobs said. International deals for 3G services should be in place by June or July, Jobs said.
The $US499 price point for 16GB leaves open questions about how palatable the iPad will be at retail, said John Jackson, vice-president of research at CCS Insight, during the event. The price may be higher than the market would like, he said. Though the 3G data deal is good, it leaves questions whether the $US130 increment on 3G devices are worth the price of the device for customers, he said. Apple is perhaps betting the device will be mostly used on Wi-Fi networks.
Apple is also targeting the Amazon.com engine with this device, Jackson said. Amazon offers a Kindle e-reader and stores where e-books and music can be downloaded.
"The creation of this device and category is a logical extension of Apple's e-commerce engine. It leaves you wondering what the next store is going to be?" Jackson said.
The iPad appears to be complementary to the iPhone and Macbook products, so it shouldn't cannibalize sales of those devices.
The product's launch comes after a few years of rumors and speculation surrounding Apple's development of a tablet-like device. Media outlets and enthusiast sites reported the device would fill a product gap for Apple between its iPhone smartphone and MacBook device. The Financial Times reported in December that Apple would host an event to launch the tablet-like device in January.
But Apple isn't the first company to launch a tablet. Some of the top PC makers including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Asus showed off multimedia tablet prototypes with different screen sizes at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. Many of those handheld devices were based on Google's Android Linux OS and provided the ability to surf the Internet, view multimedia and read e-books.
An HP Slate running Windows 7 was shown by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during a keynote address at CES. The Slate will ship this year. Dell also reminded everyone that it is developing a similar device, showing a tablet with a 5-inch screen.
Executives from PC companies have said the rapid growth of mobile Internet and touchscreens created a new class of tablet computing devices. But Apple has an edge over the PC makers as it has a history of introducing products like the iPhone and iPod that have changed the way devices are designed.
The rumors helped Apple define the tablet market even though it hasn't shipped a device, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates in a research note sent in early January. Tablet launches by other PC makers were perhaps triggered by Apple's threat to enter the market.
"One has to wonder, if Apple were not aiming at this market with its trademark accuracy, whether the rest of the industry would care so much," Kay wrote.