Apple launches anticipated iPad
The veil was finally lifted on one of the most hotly anticipated gadgets in technology history tonight as Apple’s Steve Jobs held aloft the iPad, a tablet-shaped computer which he hopes will win Apple domination of the ebook market.
Looking like an oversized iPhone, and sporting a 9.7in colour screen – the same size as Amazon’s black-and-white Kindle ereader – the iPad would “open the floodgates” for the sales of ebooks, said Jobs, Apple’s chief executive.
In front of an excited crowd, he showed off web surfing, email, games, presentation software and various other tricks. But it was clear ebooks are, at least initially, Apple’s highest priority for the touchscreen iPad, as Jobs unveiled a program called iBooks to let people “discover and purchase and download” ebooks directly on to the device from iTunes.
The company has signed deals with five major publishers – HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette – to sell ebooks on the iPad.
Reaction online was mixed, but the publishing industry – keen for a digital salvation in a form that does not obliterate its profits – was generally effusive, as were voices from the education sector.
The iPad would help “attract millions of new readers to the world’s best books”, said John Makinson, chairman of the Penguin Group.
If the iPad ousts the Kindle, currently dominant in ereading, it would mark the third business that Apple has set its sights on conquering. It first took on digital music with the iPod, and more recently has been overhauling larger incumbents such as Microsoft in the smartphone sector with its three-year-old iPhone.
Speaking at the launch in San Francisco, Jobs suggested it would be “far better” at tasks such as web browsing, email and reading ebooks than either smartphones or laptops, creating a “third segment” of computing between handheld phones and laptop computers. Success will rest on whether Apple can convince customers they need such a device – and a key factor could be price.
The first versions, without mobile connectivity, will go on sale worldwide at the end of March, priced from $499 in the US; UK prices are not yet set. Versions with 3G will arrive at least month later.
The view from some industry analysts tonight was that sales of iPad-like devices are poised to explode, after years when tablet computers have barely sold. “These ‘Goldilocks’ devices – not too big, not too small – are expected to have a break out year in 2010,” said Jim Sloane, lead technology partner at the consultancy Deloitte. “By offering a more appealing balance of form and function, net tablets will be purchased by tens of millions of people in the year ahead.”
But they mark a move from active creation of content to passive consumption, noted Ian Fogg, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “With the iPad running an iPhone-style user interface, it’s optimised for media consumption rather than creation.”
Jobs came on stage and praised Amazon’s Kindle, but in effect vowed to bury it. “Amazon’s done a great job of pioneering this [ebook] functionality with the Kindle, and we’re going to stand on their shoulders,” he said.
Apple is understood to be offering electronic content publishers a 70% share of any revenues from sales through iBook – and is allowing book publishers to set higher prices than Amazon has. That will be attractive to publishers worried that ebooks will undercut them.
Newspaper and magazine publishers will also be watching how well the iPad does.
Jobs warned Apple’s rivals: “Because we’ve already sold 75m iPhones and iPod Touches, we already have 75m people who know how to use an iPad.”
Apple will sell publications for the iPad through its online App Store, which already has 140,000 applications for sale. Scott Forstall, in charge of iPhone software at Apple, said that all those programs could run unchanged on the iPad. That gives it a potentially valuable lead over Amazon, which has only began to court developers in the past month.
The announcement crowns a decade in which Apple has remodelled the music, mobile phone and now – possibly – publishing industries. Earlier this week it recorded record quarterly revenues of $15.7bn, and profits of $3.4bn, a far cry from December 2000 when it warned investors it would make a loss of $250m on quarterly revenues of about $1bn.
The iPad is 0.5in thick, weighs 1.5lb (0.7kg) and can store 16 to 64 gigabytes of data. Apple claims that it is capable of 10 hours’ battery life, though real-world tests hardly ever confirm manufacturers’ claims.
The announcement brings to an end one of the most intense build-ups for any product – even from a company like Apple, which is notorious for generating excitement and hype among its legion of fans. The iPad project has been in the works at Apple for several years, but was repeatedly knocked back by Jobs. The latest tablet computer to hit the market, it still has some way to go before it convinces the public that it is worth buying. Previous tablets have proved merely niche devices – despite support from luminaries such as Bill Gates, who famously announced in 2001 that he believed they would be the most popular form of computer within five years.
But Apple, which helped kickstart the Silicon Valley computer revolution in the 1970s, has good form. Its Apple II and Macintosh personal computers helped popularise home computing more than 25 years ago, while the iPod – which was first launched in 2001 – went on to change not only the way we listen to music.
Meanwhile tThe iPhone, the iPad’s closest sibling, has sent tremors through the mobile industry since its launch in 2007. While it has not dominated the enormous mobile phone market in terms of sales – Apple has sold 41m handsets in three years, the same number Nokia sells in a month – it has won much of the more lucrative smartphone market, and drove its competitors to develop their own touchscreen handsets.