Thursday, January 28, 2010

Apple devotees applaud as iPad comes into view

chief executive Steve Jobs yesterday unveiled the iPad, the computer maker’s new and much anticipated tablet device, and at a gathering of loyalists in Boston, the verdict was swift: Not a world-changer, but not bad.
A dozen Apple fans convened at Tech Superpowers, a dealer on Newbury Street, to follow minute-by-minute blog postings as Jobs, in San Francisco, orchestrated the company’s biggest product launch since the wildly popular iPhone.

“There’s going to be huge demand’’ for the iPad, said Luke Ehler, a website developer from Boston, although he said he wouldn’t buy one without trying it out. “I’m not going to go out and throw any one my credit card.’’

With its 9.7-inch screen, the iPad resembles a giant version of the iPhone. It runs most of the 140,000 iPhone software applications - programs that allow the user to perform simple, often powerful tasks by touching the screen. A version will be available to consumers in 60 days.

The iPad is also designed to surf the Web and to serve as an electronic reader, offering books, magazines, and newspapers - including The New York Times, which shared the stage with Jobs to debut a version of the newspaper made for the new gadget.

Boston computer consultant Al Willis said the iPad looked like the ideal device for someone who wanted to use a computer without having to master the technical details.

“This is what I’d get my mother,’’ he said.

Willis was one of several local enthusiasts who were impressed by the relatively low price of the iPad, which will sell for $499 and up. But some questioned whether its touch-screen keyboard would work for serious typing, and whether the millions of customers who already own smartphones and laptops would see the need for yet another portable computing device.

“If you think about it as a third computer, it really doesn’t make any sense,’’ said Seth Lipkin, a software developer from Hopkinton.

Lipkin predicted that the iPad would succeed mainly as an e-book reader, a sleek and colorful alternative to Amazon’s popular, but black-and-white, Kindle. “It’s just so much better than a Kindle,’’ said Lipkin.

Apple also revealed it was establishing an online bookstore modeled after the company’s successful iTunes music and software store. Apple has struck deals to sell releases from five major book publishers: Pearson PLC’s Penguin, Harper Collins Publishers, CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette Book Group.

Apple announced book prices that were higher than the same books cost on the Kindle, where Amazon pioneered $9.99 electronic versions of bestsellers. For instance, the memoir of the late senator Edward M. Kennedy, “True Compass,’’ was shown selling for $14.99 at the Apple online store; it’s $9.99 on the Kindle.
Amazon has faced criticism from publishers for the low prices it charges, and some have threatened to delay Kindle releases to boost sales of the more-profitable printed versions. By charging more, Apple could get faster access to new titles.

Apple also revealed a new software application created in cooperation with The New York Times Co., parent company of The Boston Globe. Martin Nisenholtz, the Times Co.’s senior vice president for digital operations, took the stage alongside Jobs to demonstrate the software, which uses the iPad’s large screen to simulate the layout and style of a traditional newspaper.

The software can insert video clips inside the body of a story, advancing the process of blending print and online versions of newspapers. Globe publisher Christopher Mayer indicated in a statement that the Boston newspaper was interested in developing a similar version for the iPad.

“We’re committed to delivering our content wherever and whenever our readers want. Now that the iPad has been announced, we look forward to engaging with Apple to explore building and marketing a great app for Boston Globe readers,’’ he said.

The iPad will be priced from $499 to $829, depending on storage capacity and how it connects to the Internet. One version will have Wi-Fi capability to go online at hotspots, and another will have Wi-Fi and 3G wireless cellular service, for Internet access anywhere a cellphone can reach.

Wi-Fi service will be provided by AT&T, which is the exclusive US iPhone carrier, and will cost $14.99 a month for users who download limited data, or $29.95 for unlimited access.

The iPad is far from the first attempt to sell a tablet computer. Computer history is littered with previous failures, from the Dynabook concept of the 1960s to Apple’s own Newton, a notorious dud when it debuted in 1993.

Many observers believe some of those efforts failed because the technology wasn’t ready; they simply didn’t work well, a problem few anticipate today.

While some Apple buffs were cautious in their assessment of the iPad, industry analysts were more enthusiastic.

“Based on a few minutes of hands-on playing with one, it will absolutely catch on,’’ said Carl Howe, an analyst with Boston’s Yankee Group. “It’s a complete rethinking of the reading and media consuming experience.’’

Leslie Fiering, vice president at research firm Gartner Inc. in San Jose, said the tablet’s entry-level price is lower than many analysts had expected. “At a $499 starting point, there are going to be a lot of people who can afford to buy it and try it,’’ she said.

Fiering also said that just as the iPhone spawned a horde of imitators when it was launched, there’ll be a spate of tablet offerings from computer makers.

“I think it will definitely give the market a tremendous boost and wake it up,’’ Fiering said.

Karim R. Lakhani, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, predicted that the iPad would be nearly as popular as the iPhone, and is eager to buy one himself.

“I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter, and I can imagine getting her a cheap one to use,’’ he said.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at

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