Without a doubt the most anticipated tech launch so far this year, the iPad is set to follow in the footsteps of the iPhone and create a publicity storm that only Apple could pull off.
Launching in Australia on May 28, the iPad is attempting create a new category of devices that will sit between smartphones and notebooks. Here's our rundown of what you need to know about the iPad and its Australian release.
So this iPad, just what is it?
The Apple iPad is a tablet that looks rather like an oversized iPod Touch. It is a new category of device that will sit in between a smartphone and a notebook computer. We think it's best described as a media consumption device, rather than a media creation device. If you're interested in typing up long Word documents or creating a 70-page PowerPoint slideshow, then the iPad isn’t for you. The iPad has been designed for consuming media — watching videos, viewing photos, reading books and browsing the Internet. It does have an on-screen keyboard and there is a keyboard dock accessory available, but it's not intended to be used like a notebook.
How big is it?
The iPad really does look like an iPod Touch on steroids. It measures 242.8x189.7x13.4 and the Wi-Fi model weighs 680g. The Wi-Fi + 3G model is slightly heavier at 730g. The iPad has a 9.7in LED-backlit, IPS display that is capable of multitouch — the same technology used on the iPhone that allows gestures like pinching the screen to zoom in on photos or Web pages.
How many models are there?
Apple is launching a total of six iPad models — three with Wi-Fi and another three with Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity. The 3G iPads use a micro-SIM card to access a telco's network, in much the same way a smartphone accesses the Internet. Both Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 3G models of the iPad will be available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions.
What hardware features does the iPad have?
The iPad includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity as standard, and the Wi-Fi + 3G models obviously add 3G connectivity. A standard 3.5mm headphone jack, built-in speaker and microphone, external volume control and mute switch are all familiar iPhone features. Like the iPhone, the iPad has a non-removable Lithium-ion battery, built-in flash memory that can't be expanded, a built-in accelerometer, an ambient light sensor and a digital compass. Both iPad models also come with a built-in GPS receiver. The Wi-Fi + 3G version adds assisted GPS capabilities, which uses a small amount of data to pinpoint your location faster.
What hardware features are missing from the iPad?
The iPad lacks any ports beside the standard Apple 30-pin connector port (the same one used on the iPhone and the iPod Touch). There is no memory card slot for extra storage and no USB ports. For uploading photos, you'll need to purchase the Pad Camera Connection Kit accessory, which gives you two ways to import photos and videos from a digital camera: using your camera's USB cable or copying photos directly from an SD card. The lack of a camera also means the iPad isn't capable of video conferencing (this would have been extremely useful for Skype, as an example).
What software features does the iPad have?
The iPad uses the same operating system as the iPhone, but the interface is different in some places mainly thanks to the larger display. Like the iPhone, the iPad has familiar calendar, photos, YouTube, calculator, weather, maps, clock, notes, mail and Safari apps, but many of these have been redesigned to take advantage of the iPad's larger screen.
The iPad also has iBooks, Apple's electronic book store. It will only be available in the US at launch, but iBooks should definitely make its way onto Australian iPad's soon after. Apple has also announced that the iPad will have access to specially designed iWorks apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote), which can be purchased through the App Store for US$9.99. Australian pricing hasn't been announced.
What software features are missing from the iPad?
As the iPad runs a slightly variation of the iPhone OS, it won't support full multitasking. We're unsure at this stage whether the iPad can be jailbroken to provide access to non-Apple-certified third-party apps, but we're sure the hacker world will eventually find a way to do this. The iPad doesn't support Flash which is the main format of video on many Web sites.
Can I download iPad apps?
Yes. The App Store will be at the forefront of the iPad experience. Apple revealed at the launch that almost all of the 140,000-odd iPhone apps at the time of writing will work with the iPad, and this number will continue to increase. There will also be iPad-specific apps available, and these will be designed to take advantage of the device's larger form factor. A number of developers have already committed to specific iPad apps, including Australian developer Firemint (creators of Flight Control), Funburger (Puzzle Path) and Mogeneration (FoodWatch NSW, CoastalWatch and OzWeather).
How much does it cost?
The iPad will be sold in Australia through the Apple Store, Apple's retail stores and select Apple authorised resellers, but will not be available through telcos like the iPhone is. Pricing is as follows:
16GB Wi-Fi: $629
32GB Wi-Fi: $759
64GB Wi-Fi: $879
16GB Wi-Fi+3G: $799
32GB Wi-Fi+3G: $928
64GB Wi-Fi+3G: $1049
To pre-order the iPad, customers can visit Apple's Web site.