For months now anyone in business who was interested in Apple, and that’s just about everyone, has been waiting for the company to announce the launch of its tablet computer. Apple hadn’t breathed a word about it, not even its name, but by the time of yesterday’s announcement media expectations were frenzied – could the result risk being a disappointment?
In the event – and what an event it was – it turns out it’s a gorgeous 9.7in touch-sensitive screen: the iPad. It looks almost like a large iPhone (styling includes a high-gloss glass screen and anodised aluminium back).
Three hundred journalists and VIPs (including Al Gore) squeezed into the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco to watch a consummate showman in action. Steve Jobs, looking gaunt but decidedly chipper, said he wanted to create a new category of computer, between a smartphone and a full-blown laptop.
Some have suggested that is what a netbook is. Netbooks are cheap, small, light, wireless-connected laptops that Apple has determinedly dismissed. Rival manufacturers have said they’re better than laptops at some tasks. Yesterday, Steve Jobs said, “Netbooks aren’t better at anything. They’re slow, they have low-quality displays and they run clunky old PC software.”
But let’s remember that Jobs is offering a new version of something old. The tablet PC – a laptop with a touch-sensitive screen where you interact with a stylus or your finger, often featuring a removable keyboard – has been around for years. Microsoft even released a special tablet software version of Windows. But despite the best efforts of Toshiba, HP and others who came up with software to make the most of handwriting recognition, for instance, it sank like a slate. Apple now wants to turn the tablet PC into a success. How?
Quite apart from the product itself, Jobs’ design supremo, Jonathan Ive imbues Apple creations their all-important cachet. Apple products are never cheap, opting for premium components such as anodised aluminium casing on much of their range. Mind you, the pricing of the iPad defied the predictions that it would cost $999 (€712) – prices start from $499 (€355).
The iPad features a high-resolution screen, which is super-sharp and super-bright. It makes video playback look stunning. Add to that the slick ebook reader feature and there’s a lot to like, even if the absence of a real QWERTY keyboard makes it less of an essential purchase for business users.
But Apple’s core skills include ways to deliver content effortlessly. First the iTunes store for music, then video, movies and iPhone applications. Now the iBookstore will deliver titles from Penguin, HarperCollins and more.
Rather than a fully featured computer, the iPad is a multimedia machine that handles email and serious computing applications but excels at leisure features such as music, games and video. And as such, it offers us all a new breed of device, and may well make Apple a lot of sales, both of hardware and the content that will be played on it.