Wednesday, January 27, 2010

AppleIntroduces iPad Tablet

The Wall Street Journal

Apple Inc. unveiled on Wednesday its much-anticipated tablet computer, a multimedia, Internet-enabled slate that could fuel the next leg of growth at the consumer-electronics giant.

Dubbed the iPad, the tablet can be used to browse the Web, read email and books and play games. The device, which has a touchscreen keyboard, will also work with Apple's iTunes store.

Prices for the iPad start at $499 and rise as high as $829, depending on features and service. The device will be supported by service from AT&T Inc. which will charge $29.99 a month for unlimited data but won't require a contract.

The iPad draws heavily on Apple's mobile history, resembling the company's popular iPhone smartphone, though significantly larger with a 9.7-inch screen. The iPad--half an inch thick and 1.5 pounds--features a simple one-button design and a black screen set in a silver case.

The device is built with an Apple-made chip. The machine will come with 16, 32 or 64 gigabytes of flash storage. It also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. The company says it will start shipping the iPad in 60 days.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs made it clear the device targets the growing electronic book market, pioneered by Inc. and its Kindle e-reader. At the presentation, he acknowledged Amazon's effort but said his company would go further.

"We open the floodgates starting this afternoon," Jobs, a cancer survivor who had a liver transplant as part of his treatment, told the audience after introducing a new online bookstore and partnerships with five publishers. Earlier Jobs had introduced The New York Times Co. as a partner.

The iPad debuts after months of breathless speculation in the technology press and blogosphere. Photographs of supposed mock-ups appeared on popular blogs months ago and reporters followed every link in Apple's supply chain to uncover details about the machine. The product's launch--not confirmed by Apple until Wednesday's event--has been built into forecasts of the company's performance by Wall Street analysts since at least November.

The introduction comes just two days after Apple announced its best quarterly profits and revenue, though some of that performance came from an accounting change. Backed by the strength of its iPhone franchise and Macintosh computers, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company appears to be on track to reach $45 billion in annual sales when it closes out the current fiscal year.

Apple shares have more than doubled over the last year, hitting an all-time high of $215.59 on Jan. 5. In late afternoon trading on Wednesday, Apple shares reversed an earlier fall to rise 1.3% to $208.59 in recent trading. Some analysts see the company's shares rising as high as $285 over the next 12 months.

Analysts said the iPad's price point was one of its most compelling features. After speculation the machine would sell for as much as $1,000, Apple hit a sweet spot for everyday buyers, said Tim Bajarin, president of consultancy Creative Strategies.

"The iPad definitely has the potential to be the first tablet to tap consumers," Bajarin said.

Jobs, who sat in a chair as he demonstrated the device, said the iPad was a more intimate experience than a laptop. He demonstrated the device's video capability, showing a clip from the movie "Star Trek."

The iPad uses many of the same control functions as the iPhone. Owners can push items with their fingers or zoom in on a photo or map.

The device will be able to play existing iPhone apps, which now total 140,000. The New York Times Co., as well as game makers Gameloft SA and Electronic Arts Inc., are developing apps especially for the iPad.

"We're incredibly psyched to pioneer the next version of digital journalism," said Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations at The New York Times.