Say Hello to Apple’s iPad

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

Unless you’ve been living in a technology-free zone for the last six months, you probably heard the rumors of the secret Apple tablet computer (and when I say secret, I mean officially the worst kept secret in the history of technology).

Well, today Steve Jobs and his black turtleneck finally unveiled the product to the masses at a media event in San Fransisco. Despite sounding more like a high-tech feminine hygiene product than a groundbreaking media device, the iPad demonstrated impressive capabilities and Apple appears poised to have another huge hit. We at Rhombus, of course, are here to bring you the breakdown of what you need to know about this next-generation mobile computing device.

What is it?
Basically, it’s a giant iPod touch. The iPad looks identical to the iPhone except, instead of a 3-inch screen it features a 9.7-inch LED backlit display. It uses the same multi-touch technology used on the iPhone/iPod Touch, only made even more responsive by the enlarged screen.

What does it do?
The iPad is based on the iPhone operating system, so it will run almost all of the 144,000 iPhone apps on the day it launches. That means if you already have an iPhone or iPod touch, you’ll be able to play Bejeweled all you want right on your iPad — and the best part — without having to pay for the app again. The iPad will also have apps specifically developed to take advantage of its larger screen and increased processing power. So eventually, there will be an app for pretty much whatever you want your iPad to do.

The iPad was shown as using a bigger version of mobile Safari for Web browsing that looked quite slick and seemed very fast and responsive — about the same, if not faster than using Safari on a MacBook. Apple also demonstrated that eBooks are a large part of their plan for the tablet, with several big name publishers on-board to provide reading content through an iTunes-like store called iBooks. The iPad has completely redesigned the mail, calendar, and photo applications, with each one taking full advantage of the larger screen with more robust interfaces and features than their iPhone counterparts.

Video-wise, the iPad will do full 720p HD video, whether it be by buying them from iTunes, HandBraking them from existing copies, or watching them on the redesigned YouTube app. Furthermore Apple demonstrated new iWork apps for the iPad, allowing you to make spreadsheets, presentations, or even do word processing. Of course, the iPad syncs with iTunes on a PC or Mac so you can manage your content between your computer, iPad and iPhone. Really, the possibilities of what this device can do are limitless. For more information, you can see Apple’s promotional video.

What doesn’t it do?
Apple didn’t appease everybody, and some of the features people were expecting and hoping for aren’t in the final product. There is no multi-tasking on the iPad. Therefore, you are unable to do things like listen to music on Pandora while you work on a spreadsheet — one app at a time. Also, the iPad features no camera. A lot of people were hoping for a front-facing camera so  one could use programs like Skype for video conferencing. However, the tablet features no camera, front- or rear-facing. There is no Verizon connectivity either, which many were hoping for. Finally, there is no Adobe Flash capability on the iPad, which means (sadly) no Hulu.

How much is this going to cost me?
There are six models of the iPad. The low-end model will be priced at $499, much lower than what people were expecting. This will be a 16GB storage model with no 3G wireless capabilities. If you are okay with just Wi-Fi, then your options are the 16GB model at $499, 32GB for $599, or 64GB for $699.

You can purchase upgraded models that have 3G wireless capabilities built in for $130 added onto the price of whichever sized model you get. In the U.S., your options for 3G are limited to AT&T. You have the option of a 250MB a month limit for $14.99 a month, or an unlimited plan for $29.99 a month. Fortunately for us , the 3G connectivity is done on a month-to-month basis instead of on a two-year contract. So if you can’t afford it one month, you can just cancel it and reactivate it the next month.

When can I get one?
The Wi-Fi-only iPads will be available in 60 days or so, with the 3G models shipping in approximately 90 days. If you want one, be sure to order early as they are sure to sell out quick.

My overall impressions of the device are that it does pretty much exactly what I wanted a tablet device to do. I definitely can see myself taking my laptop or netbook with me less and less and instead using the iPad for a lot of situations. While it surely won’t ever replace traditional computers, I think it is the next step towards a true all-in-one device, capable of doing what we previously needed two or three devices to do.

Ben Wagner is a technology correspondent for Rhombus and is undoubtedly counting his pennies to pre-order an iPad. Follow him on Twitter @ben_wagner.

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