Live from the real world: It's the iPad

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Scott Fulton, Managing Editor, Betanews: We fully anticipate that you'll be following this morning's Apple premiere news from any one of the many gadget blogs with reporters on the scenes, working hard even as we speak to tweak the geek connections on their 3G iPhones. (Or, if they're lucky, on their Droids.) But at some point, you'll want to be able to step back out of the wilderness, as it were, to catch a breath of reality before going back in.

This is why Betanews contributing analyst Carmi Levy and I have opted, just for your sake, to stay behind with you in the real world today, to bring you our thoughts as to what Apple's move today will mean for those of us out here -- people who prefer to improve technology rather than allow technology to try to improve us.

Carmi Levy, Contributing Analyst, Betanews: Here's my quick brain dump on the tablet-to-be-named-later device that's apparently coming from Apple:

Apple is far from the first company to try to carve out a profitable business in this technological middle ground between full-blown laptops and increasingly capable smartphones. This is a market segment where, for the better part of the past 15 years, countless vendors have impaled themselves on inflated expectations and deflated products that probably won't even make decent museum pieces someday.

From where I sit, if Apple introduces just another device into this technological Death Valley, the company is sunk. But the company never does the "just another device" thing, anyway, so there's little risk of that. Whatever feature set it ultimately has, and whatever it's ultimately called, the magic sauce won't be in the device itself. Rather, it'll be the services behind it. Apple's own playbook -- invented with iPod/iTunes and perfected with iPhone/App Store -- dictates tight integration between device, service, and content provision/purchase/management. The new device will not deviate from this strategy. Rather, it'll extend it into new market sectors.

Since it's worked so well for music and software, a larger form factor device will allow Apple to apply this same approach to similarly struggling sectors whose leaders had previously failed to transition from conventional to Internet-borne business models. Publishers who haven't already worn their knuckles raw on Apple's front door will miss out, as Apple's model could do for the written word what it's already done for the singing one. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions on a dead-simple-easy-to-sync device would be a godsend for an industry that otherwise has no hope. Similarly, movies and other rich content will play better on a 10-inch screen with a lifestyle-friendly interface than on a 3.5-inch smartphone.

There's certainly a risk of consumers balking at the price, and complaining that they have to carry, pay for, and manage yet another device. But if the hardware/software/service bundle is as compelling as Apple's two previous mobile platform smash hits have been, consumers -- Apple fanatics as well as mainstream -- will once again line up in droves to buy in.

Scott Fulton: I think we'll know for certain whether this new design is as hit when we see a response from the fashion accessory industry. The iPod created a form factor that clothing and accessories designers, and even automotive interior designers, could build around. And the iPhone has followed suit in that regard as well. When a fashion accessories designer makes room in his design portfolio for a trendy item that's made to support a particular brand of gadget, you know that designer has reason to believe the market for the gadget has scaled up to the market for clothing, which is huge.

Maybe this would be a great Lifetime reality show challenge: Make a room full of amateur fashion designers craft a trendy accessory for this tablet thing. Imagine a button down shirt with an eleven-inch pocket. Or a clip-on belt holster the size of a Bowie knife.

Here's how I perceive the situation for Apple going in: Back in 2007, there was an urgent, if then under-appreciated, need for the handset form factor to be revolutionized, carried several steps forward. We needed for handsets to get past the incremental, evolutionary phase, and move several years ahead in one fell swoop. Apple accomplished that with a product that will probably be memorialized in history as America's first game-changing product of the 21st century. Steve Jobs was for handsets what Jim Bowie was for knives.

But a similarly urgent need does not exist, I believe, in the field of tablet PCs. While Apple can proceed with the business of revolutionizing the concept of portable, keyboard-less computers with full screens -- and I fully expect Apple to succeed in that department today -- the breadth of its impact on the world at large will be smaller because this is a small market already. Apple could expand the size of that market with a successful design, but that's like adding landfill to the perimeter of an island.

However...only a company in Apple's position could be perfectly fine with that. Let's face it, this could be one of the world's most stunning limited successes. It could be a major investment in a minor market. But few other companies in the world are in a market position to pull this off, to be able to succeed on a limited scale and be good with that. One has to be a little jealous of Apple just for the fact that it can afford to do something great with something small. Not even RIM on one side or HP on the other could really afford a similar gamble.

If this tablet design is to have any truly lasting impact on the world at large, it will need to be in how it's operated. It needs to be usable in such a way that it makes user experience (UX) designers in other fields of endeavor, including PC applications, stop in their tracks and realize, "Damn, we should be doing this." In that respect, Apple does have at least some opportunity to make a broader, if more indirect, market impact.


11:39am PT: SF3: It looks like a wrap. Final thoughts from me: I expected a big iPhone. That's pretty much what I'm seeing, except that it's not really a phone. (And it has AT&T, so it's less of a 3G.) I expected an expanded iTunes platform for books, and that's what I'm seeing.

Game-changing innovation in platform design? No. It's an extension of what they have, an "iPhone Maxi."

But as I said in the intro, I don't believe Apple needs to succeed to succeed here. The real success for the company will be getting its feet wet in the CPU production department, to start the growth of its own hardware platform, which will eventually extend to iPhones everywhere.

CL: My bottom line: It's an impressive piece of hardware that borrows liberally from Apple's iPod/iPhone playbook. It'll sell well, and will vanquish bad memories of multiple generations of really lame tablet offerings from other vendors. The big gap in this remains periodical publishing. It remains to be seen whether the New York Times agreement is a one-off, or whether Apple will successfully create a platform that pulls in other newspaper and magazine publishers. The iPad is a promising evolutionary product. The revolution will come when failing industries figure out how to leverage it to fundamentally change the nature of their business.

11:35am PT: CL: I see some cannibalization from higher-end netbooks, but not much. Much as Apple did with the iPhone, it'll skim off the early adopters before adjusting its pricing longer-term.

11:34am PT: CL: They didn't specifically use the term "multitouch" but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the "manipulate it with your fingers" line of reasoning suggests that it's multitouch capable.

11:32am PT: Jobs: "Do we have what it takes to establish a third category of products? We think we've got the goods." [via The iPhone Blog]

11:30am PT: SF3: They must be talking about hardware now because the geek blogs all went silent again.

11:28am PT: SF3: Confirmation on the wires, the CoverItLive service was indeed knocked down.

There's very little "multi-" in this product introduction, though. No multi-user. No multi-channel conversations. No multitasking. (Little multitouch, I assume you have to be able to hold down shift while typing capital letters, right?)

11:26am PT: CL:The case seems to offer a modicum of angled support. Not perfect, but better than a featureless slice, I suppose.

Shipping in 60 days. Let the lineups begin.

SF3: Ah, okay, I can see it making a little sense. Not that the keyboard itself is portable, but if you kept it on your desk in the office and took your iPad with you, it makes a little sense. (A little.)

But the pictures they're going to leave us with are of people propping the device up in their laps to type? Not a smart decision.

11:23am PT: CL: The price point is better than we had all initially expected, but still at the high end of a post-recessionary economy that's really enjoying $300 netbooks. It'll sell like hotcakes at this price, but it'll really soar once carrier subsidies increase and up-front costs drop to the same ballpark as an average iPhone.

SF3: Even the $829 price tag for the 64 GB model with 3G included is actually pretty respectable. I always expect the "Apple premium," which is understandable and even desirable from a qualitative standpoint. But this isn't too extravagant at all.

CL: 3G-enabled devices get pretty expensive if you go hog wild with memory.

Hark...is that a keyboard I see? With a dock?

SF3: I'm seeing a picture of an iPad dock on Engadget. I don't see how you could type on that thing.

11:20am PT: SF3: $499 price tag will wake me up. That's where the A4 chip starts kicking in.

11:18am PT: CL: All iPads unlocked, and all use GSM micro-SIMs. Good news, since it'll let folks with GSM-enabled carriers shop around.

11:17am PT: "Every iPad has the latest and greatest Wi-Fi. But we're going to have models with 3G built in as well."

SF3: At last, the first mention of the words "3G."

CL: Suggests a two-pronged strategy similar to the iPhone and iPod touch. Interesting - and smart.

SF3: I fear an effort to gloss over the implication of "AT&T." Except the fact that I'm not seeing the carrier's name here could be the "One More Thing" part.

CL: $10 for iWork. Revolutionary price point...for a conventional take on conventional software. Nice, but not out-of-the-park nice. Apple's still missing the cloud-based boat.

AT&T. Sigh. Aren't there any other carriers out there? Why does 2010 dawn with yet more carrier-specific exclusivity and lock-in?

$14.99 for light use and $29.99 for unlimited: Suddenly, laptop/netbook and smartphone data plans look overpriced. Welcome to price erosion across the board...we can all thank Apple for kickstarting the trend.

SF3: Sigh indeed. Here's the part where I start typing Y-A-W-N.

11:13am PT: CL: Possibly. And I think I'm screaming into the wind on the keyboard thing and expansion base because they're both not happening here. But the one-size-fits-all form factor that's dominated the iPhone landscape and now seems to be defining the iPad one can't last forever. At some point, they've got to accommodate different strokes for different folks -- all without diluting the elegant simplicity that got them to the top of the market in the first place.

SF3: I do like the idea of a portable graphical calculator, something I've always hoped the industry could produce. I could imagine any number of real-world uses for such a thing.

11:10am PT: CL: Would be nice to see a third party keyboard that hard-docks into the iPad. An expansion port of some sort might kickstart the industry. Can't tell from the pics what the device's physical expansion capabilities are, though.

SF3: Yea, but wouldn't such a device be a tacit admission that the function doesn't really fit the form? Sort of like the MacBook Air with the hard drive that you plug into it from the outside like an I.V. unit.

11:08am PT: CL: Good to see a new iWork for iPad. Reinforces that you can do more than just watch movies on this thing. I still wouldn't write War and Peace on a glass keyboard, but just having software that's more capable than a text editor is encouraging.

SF3: I think if you put that much forethought into productivity software for a slate form factor, they should have expended an extra ounce of fuel to find some gadget-y way to make the device hold still so you can type on it. Maybe netbooks are cheap, Steve, but at least they fit on your lap. I'm worried that typing on a iPad will be like playing Scrabble on a sheet of ice.

11:04am PT: CL: So iWork has a new UI. Lovely, I'm sure. But productivity apps aren't about the UI. What's underneath, folks? And will these things integrate my iPad experience with my Web experience? Wish I could tack iWork for iPad as a front end onto my Google Apps apps.

What, geeks don't use spreadsheets? :)

SF3: There was somebody I read here recently...maybe one of our readers will remind me...who pretty much said, geeks don't use spreadsheets. (What, you don't agree? Tell me about it in comments.)

11:03am PT: SF3: Here's the part where all the geek blogs go silent. I'm literally reading one-word paragraphs now. "Spreadsheets." Like there wasn't enough caffeine left to coax them to type the letters, Y-A-W-N.

10:59am PT: CL: Hard to tell from the demo what the screen's quality is as an e-reader. Screen shots LOOK nice, but the only way to really tell is to sit with it (uncomfortably) in one's lap.

Hmm...iBook Store to buy books right on the device.

Let's get this straight: there's an iTunes store for music and video, an App Store for software, and an iBook Store for books. Is this universe getting a little confusing? Is there opportunity for consolidation into one superstore/software environment?

SF3: iBooks is exactly right on target so far -- 100% "iTunes for books."

CL: Another example of using the original iTunes model and extending it into new content. I'd prefer one big umbrella for all my content, but I'm picky that way. I can understand why Apple would focus individual "stores" for each category.

SF3: I think it has to say "books" in the brand. If it really were "iTunes for Books," that would sound too much like a Microsoft branding campaign.

CL: True. Can't rebrand what is already an entrenched brand years after it became entrenched. Too confusing for consumers.

Ah, iWork. Will productivity software become interesting again? Let's see.

10:55am PT: CL: Perhaps. But there's still an industry that sells books and newspapers, antidiluvian as they may both be. And it's an industry that's begging for some sort of transition. I'm going to go way out on a limb and say this is the most mainstream move yet to fundamentally change how this stuff gets produced, delivered and paid for. Well, that last part I'm still waiting for: how are we gonna pay for all this, Steve?

Ooh, bitchslap to Amazon. iBooks intro starts with a backhanded compliment, then an imonous warning: "Amazon's done a great job of pioneering this functionality with the Kindle. We're going to stand on their shoulders and go a little further."

10:55am PT: CL: Disappointed the NYT slice of the presentation focused only on a narrow slice of the end user experience. I know they have lots of ground to cover in very little time, but the publishing angle is so much more fundamental to where this thing will go. Do we really need another gaming demo?

They'll get lynched by the Apple fanboys - I'm betting one of these will be on the ISS before long. At only 1.5 pounds, that's only $15,000 to get it into orbit.

SF3: Back to your point: If this thing is to revolutionize publishing, you'll need to produce more than The New York Times on it. Imagine if the iPod were introduced to the public with a demo of it only playing Stravinsky symphonies.

CL: Agreed. But if the NYT buys in, others will follow. You need a marquee first-adopter, and they don't get more marquee than the Times.

SF3: Problem is, is it the right marquee now, especially for the market Apple's trying to address? Jobs & Co. may think it's the reader of the New York Times Book Review. But that reader is thinking, "Books? Those are old."

CL: You're right, Scott. I think was being a wee bit elitist back there. Gotta grab everyone's attention, and cutting edge gaming does that every time.

What's battery life when this thing's screaming through high performance games, though?

MLB.com...nice graphics! Is there a steroid-enabled mode as well?

10:50am PT: NYT guy: "We think that we've captured the essence of reading a newspaper… all in a native app."

CL: This, in a nutshell, is the essence of what has ailed the publishing industry all along. They simply haven't had a viable platform to replicate the act of reading it on paper, in an electronic form. If iPad manages to pull this off -- at a price point that doesn't scare consumers off -- we may have just witnessed the landscape shift a little in the right direction.

Note to all newspaper publishers everywhere: Start calling Apple. Now. Do not wait. I'd LOVE for my local paper to bundle in one of these babies with a subscription commitment. Publication subscriptions could be the new carriers of periodical-based lit.

SF3: Back to form factor a second: Just from the photos, I've noticed SVP Scott Forstall trying to fit the device somewhere on his lap; and then there's the guy from the gaming magazine, who plays the game by grasping the device firmly in both hands and suspending it on the desk.

I'm not sure, but I think Sony may already have an edge in device comfort, as far as gaming is concerned.

CL: Agreed, Scott. But ecosystem will trump device design every time. If Apple can flesh out the underlying infrastructure, that'll buy it time to make improvements to the generation 1 hardware. iPhone has followed a similar path, and it's worked well for them so far. The hardware need not be perfect out of the gate. Just good enough. Which in Apples case, is never much of an issue.

SF3: Maybe, but I'm imagining, who's the first guy/lady who will give this device the "Richard Feynman" test (suspending the O-ring in a cup of ice water): Who's the guy who will come on CNBC first and say, "I can't find a place to _put_ this thing in order to use it? And demonstrate the point in a living-room setting.

10:44am PT: CL:I think Pixel Double gives Apple a quick and dirty way to leverage everything that's already out there. Longer term, I suspect developers will to at least a certain extent target one platform - iPad - or the other - iPhone/iPod touch - because some things simply work better on larger screens and larger form factor devices than others.

10:43am PT: CL: Question is, how much of the current iPhone/iPod touch app inventory run unmodified on the iPad. What's the user experience like? Do these apps scale well onto the new device?

"We built the iPad to run virtually every one of these apps unmodified right out of the box. We can do that in two ways ??" do it with pixel for pixel accuracy in a black box, or we can pixel-double and run them in full-screen."

"Virtually every one" is never as great as it sounds.

SF3: "Pixel Double?" That reminds me of the graphics modes on the Apple II. Remember when the //gs came out? It could run with "really great graphics," assuming you wanted to plunk down $60 more bucks for the incompatible high-res version of "Carmen Sandiego." But then it could still run the "thousands of Apple ][ programs." Albeit in a graphically defeated mode.

CL: Now for the main event: talking directly about The New York Times. NYT's Martin Nisenholtz discussing the paper's plans for iPad.

10:38am PT: CL: Good point, Scott. This also allows it to scale by starting on a net-new platform. As its popularity moves up the growth curve, it'll allow Apple to ramp its own pipeline as well. Diving into smaller form factors right now wouldn't have allowed Apple that opportunity to grow gradually.

SF3: That gets back to my broader theory: Apple doesn't _need_ to have a _stunning_ success right now in its history, to be successful. It could simply use another good enough product in its arsenal. So far, that's what I'm seeing here, "good enough." It extends the iPhone OS into an "economy size" form factor, it doesn't really create a new platform as much as extend the existing (healthy) one.

CL: Showing unmodified iPhone game on the iPad. This is crucial for Apple - leveraging the existing software base, developer community and tools means it doesn't have to start from scratch building a new marketplace.

Apple is also learning its lessons: New SDK, including iPad tools, is being released today, too. Nicely thought out.

10:34am PT: CL: Wonder what Intel has to say about Apple's choice of processor. Has Apple just hit another architecture-related fork in the road a la 68XXX-to-PowerPC, or PPC-to-Intel?

16-64 GB of storage. Can't tell if that's expandable...looking hard at the screen grabs to see if one of them's a memory card slot. The one under the power button looks suspiciously like one. Or am I just being hopeful?

SF3: I think Apple needed an opportunity to stretch its legs coming out of the cocoon, in terms of developing the heart of its own hardware. Starting too miniaturized might put it in danger, so I'm thinking the tablet form factor was necessary to give Apple a starting point for itself -- so it can work up to producing chips for its own iPhones later.

10:31am PT: SF3: Or you do like Douglas Adams, you take your towel with you wherever you go. A kind of rubber track pad. Maybe that's the iPad fashion accessory we've been looking for.

CL: Screen - size is much better for watching a movie than an iPhone/iPod touch. But aspect ratio isn't HD-optimized. Welcome to an eternally letter-boxed future. And don't get me started about how to hold this thing at the right angle for a 2-hour movie.

SF3: I can't cross my legs for that long.

CL: 1.5 pounds, a half-inch thick. No doubt, it's a great piece of tech to slip into a carry-on bag. Watch it carefully during security screening, though. We now have the hottest device for thieves.

SF3: Okay, now we're talking my language about something: 1.0 GHz Apple A4 chip. Apple's chip factory goes to work at last.

CL: Carmi Levy: "iPad is powered by our own custom silicon. Our own chip. It's called the A4, and it screams." 1GHz. 16, 32, or 64GB of flash storage. "It's got the latest in wireless: 802.11n, WiFi, and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR."

10:27am PT: SF3: I'm starting to wonder about the form factor. I'm looking at the Gizmodo photos, and I'm seeing Steve sitting easily in his chair perusing Web pages, but already I'm noticing something: It doesn't appear that there's a convenient place for a user to put this thing. With an iPhone, you have one hand holding the phone and another one typing. What do you do with a slick surface device with only simulated keys resting against your freshly washed blue jeans?

10:24am PT: CL: "If I'm on a Mac, I can get events, places and faces from iPhoto." Hmm, that rather confirms it to me: they still want you to believe every Apple product will somehow be richer if you hang it off of a Mac as well.

The return of album artwork. Today's music consumers forget how much fun it was to read the liner notes. Maybe there IS hope for the music industry yet.

10:21am PT: SF3: You begin to wonder what the platform extension for this will look like on an iMac.

CL: Does every Apple demo have to be laden with countles uses of the word "gorgeous"? We get it...please move on.

SF3: It's as if they'd hired Charles Nelson Reilly to right the script.

CL: ...and if Apple will offer a preferential experience on Macs - like iTunes was in the early days - or deliver consistent multiplatform capability right off the hop. I wonder if the company is losing its "drive Mac growth" ethos...or if it really even matters any more.

I think Steve would look great in the center square, Scott. But only if Florence Henderson is on with him, too.

10:18am PT: SF3: That gets back to that whole, what kind of _platform_ are they building for it, issue. The content delivery model. Smartly, Jobs is saving that part of the introduction until later in the event.

CL: Leave it to Canadians to be erudite and considered when providing feedback online, Scott :) I think the masses still see this as a hardware play, while a small, bigger-picture-thinking minority understands the what's really changed here. 8+ years after iPod, after all, most folks still think it's just a slick media player.

SF3: Notice how soon Jobs started right into the iPad -- with the iPhone introduction, he took some time, built up some expectation.

CL: I believe the speed with which he dove right into iPad suggests there's more to this. He's building to something else...and it ain't just the device. Waiting for news on partnerships, ecosystems, the lovely glue that keeps everything underneath together and vital.

10:16am PT: CL: Desktop UI looks like an interesting mix of OS X - the dock on the bottom - and iPhone/iPod touch (the app icons on the desktop itself.)

Giant on-screen keyboard. I hope the keys are bigger than my big, fat, glass-challenged fingers. For large volume text entry, this still isn't the holy grail.

Facebook was the first web page shown. New York Times the next. Waiting to see the publishing play. Don't let me down, Steve!

Keyboard looks like a digitally rendered version of the current Mac-standard 'board. Looks nice...

"Steve. "More intimate than a laptop....and it's so much more capable than a smartphone." Me: Intimate? Yeesh. Some things we don't really want to know.

Using the NYT again for his web demo. I think the story here may be a little deeper than just hardware, folks. Keep going, Mr. Jobs...

10:12am PT: CL: iPad it is. Going to have to provide elocution lessons to Apple Store employees to ensure they don't confuse customers. iPad = iPod?

10:08am PT: SF3: It's extraordinary how few of the "live feeds" are actually updating, or have even started. I think CoverItLive.com, which provides some of the back end for these guys, may have actually crashed.

CL: "Live" doesn't mean the same thing that it once did. Then again, "new and improved" has never been new OR improved, so I guess nothing's really changed.

10:05am PT: The event has begun with the now-customary iPod status report. But judging from the reports I'm reading, that update is flying by at lightning speed. My guess is, expect content partners to take the stage, and Apple will need time to fit them all in.

9:58am PT: SF3: I have to say, I'm impressed with some of the questions I'm seeing on the live blog feeds with user feedback. On Canada's National Post live blog, for instance, is a fellow asking, why does there appear to be so much emphasis on the hardware aspect of this, when it's the underlying platform that will make or break this venture? The implication here being, Apple needs to extend iTunes into larger-screen media in such a way that it has some reach to hardware beyond just this iTablet/iSlate (following the iTunes for Windows philosophy).

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