The iPad launched today, as all but the most reclusive of you must surely know by now. The gadget Steve Jobs poured his heart and soul into will be available in late March, starting at just $499. Data plans will be equally cheap. Just $14.99/month for 250 mb/month, and just $29.99 for unlimited AT&T data.
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In all honesty, the pricing is the most surprising part of the whole gadget. Apple has set a new upper-limit for tablet PC prices. No sane manufacturer is going to want to launch a device that is more expensive than the iPad unless it can deliver substantially increased functionality. Even if you never buy an iPad, you'll at least benefit from the price shock it's going to deliver to the industry.
Other than the low cost, nothing about the iPad seems very revolutionary. The A4 1GHz chip sounds lovely, and 10 hours of in-use battery life is outstanding. However, I can buy faster tablets with similar battery expectancy already. When the iPhone hit, it was the first device to pack that much function with an intuitive, comfortable UI into a phone-sized package.
While the iTablet can stand proudly as one of (if not the) best tablet computers on its way to market, it doesn't do so by any great margin. Let's compare the iPad to my favorite upcoming tablet, the S1 Slate. Both devices have similar screens (10.2" for the S1, 9.7" for the iPad) while the S1 has a more powerful processor (1.6 GHz Atom 270 vs 1 GHz Apple A4). The iPad has multi-touch over the S1, and sports more storage choices than the Slate, which only offers a 160 GB SATA HDD. The S1 has 1 GB of RAM, which is probably comparable to the iPad. It can multi-task, which the iPad cannot, and it also sports a front-facing 1.3 MP camera, which the iPad lacks.
In terms of price, the S1 costs about as much as a 16 GB tablet with 3G. Both devices have WiFi and GPS. The iPad's multitouch and massive suite of apps give it a good edge over the S1 in the consumer market, but the devices are hardly miles apart. More advanced tablets will be hitting throughout the year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the iPad compete at launch with a cheaper device from HP (or whoever) with comparable specs.
This isn't to say the iPad will do poorly. It looks like a fantastic device, and I wouldn't be surprised to see 1.5-2 million sales in the opening weekend. But it isn't revolutionary. There is nothing this tablet does that no other tablet on the market can do. Apple has delivered us the most polished product in the category at the best price, and that's big. But the iPad is no iPhone.
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Kudos Steve, you've given us a really cool product. I'd hesitate to call it the "most important" launch of your life, though.