Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple's iPad

Apple's just-announced iPad looks like an iPhone on steroids, and it boasts a price tag that's a lot lower than people feared. But many of the enticing rumors about Apple's new tablet—such as chatter about a built-in camera, monthly TV subscriptions, and support for Verizon's 3G network—turned out to be dead wrong. Also: no iPhone for Verizon, at least not yet.

You can check out the details on the new iPad right here, and don't get me wrong: judged on its own, away from all the gargantuan hype, and considering its $499 price tag (for the 16GB model), Apple's new tablet is certainly one sexy piece of gadgetry.

But ... is it a category-changer, like the iPod and the iPhone before it? That'll be hard to judge right away, and I still need to see the thing in person before I start making any sweeping generalizations.

That said, some of the coolest would-be features that had been rumored for the iPad failed to materialize Wednesday, starting with ...

No 3G support for Verizon
One of the earliest rumors about the iPad (which I'd still rather call the iTablet) was that it would come with embedded 3G support in addition to Wi-Fi. Well, the 3G part was true (monthly pre-paid plans will start at $14 for 250MB of data, or $29/month unlimited), but alas, no Verizon; instead, we're stuck with good 'ole AT&T (which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about AT&T).

No jaw-droppingly new user interface
One of the most amazing things about the original iPhone was its ground-breaking touch interface; just pinch to zoom into a Web page! Tap to turn on the speakerphone! Swipe to flip through your photos! So maybe it was only natural that many of us gadget hounds (myself included) thought that Apple would come up with some new, "Minority Report"-style interface for the iPad ... perhaps some cool haptic feedback for the virtual QWERTY keypad, or maybe (as outlined in some recent patent filings) the ability to sense a finger that's hovering near the screen but not touching it. What we got, instead, was ... pretty much the same touch UI as on the iPhone, except with a lot more room. Not bad, but not all that revolutionary, either.

No built-in camera
The iPhone has a camera, the MacBook has a camera ... heck, even the new iPod Nano has a camera (well, a video-only camera, anyway). So, what about the iPad? Ahhh ... nope, and that's especially disappointing given the chatter from the Wall Street Journal that Apple has been toying with facial-recognition software that could potentially be used to, say, identify the various members of your family and deliver their own, customized iPad interface.

No Flash support
When, oh when, Apple, will you let us view Flash videos and Web modules on the mobile version of Safari? Who knows, but it's definitely not starting with the iPad, which is just as bereft of Flash support as the iPhone and iPod Touch are.
No user-replaceable battery
Steve Jobs claims that the iPad will come with an impressive 10 hours of battery life and a full month of stand-by time. Pretty cool, but as with the iPhone, the iPod Touch, and the latest MacBooks, the iPad battery comes sealed in the case, and there's no way to swap in a new one yourself.

No TV subscriptions
One of the more intriguing recent rumors was that Apple was going around to all the TV and cable networks, trying to sell them on the idea of monthly TV subscriptions that viewers would be able to watch on iTunes, the iPhone, Apple TV, or ... the iPad. Word even had it that Disney's Bob Iger was in San Francisco today, all set to announce a new content deal with Apple, but ... nope, didn't happen. (The writing for this non-event was on the wall, thanks to a recent New York Times story that reported that TV execs looked over Apple's subscription proposals and said "thanks, but no thanks.")

No iPhone software 4.0 announcement
Yet another interesting rumor had it that the reason that there hadn't been a big iPhone software update lately was that the new code was too intertwined with the iPad OS, and therefore we'd get a big announcement today for iPhone software 4.0—complete with full-on app multitasking, UI enhancements, and other goodies. The rumor sure sounded plausible (and hey, the part about the new iPhone software being closely interwoven with the iPad may well be true), but the Apple event came and went Wednesday, with nary a sign of iPhone software 4.0.

Last but not least ... no iPhone for Verizon
Besides the iPad itself, the Apple rumor that seemed to generate the most excitement was the possibility that Steve Jobs would announce the end of Apple's exclusive iPhone deal with AT&T ... and announce an iPhone for Verizon at the same time. After all, most believe that the Apple-AT&T deal is set to expire this summer anyway, so why not get a jump on the news? But as with the talk about the iPad coming with support for Verizon's 3G network ... well, maybe we'll get a Verizon iPhone in June or July, but we didn't see one today.