Apple Tablet Lives Up to the Hype, at Least From Afar

Did Steve Jobs just plunge a knife into the laptop business, or redefine it?

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I just finished watching, via the live blog at Gizmodo, the preview of Apple's new tablet: the iPad.

I will leave the detailed dissection to Walt Mossberg and his colleagues, who can do some hands-on baking and shaking for us. But from what I saw, the new iPad lives up to its advance billing, which is saying a lot when you consider all the breathless hype it has gotten (mine included).

The iPad is indeed a tablet--a cross between an iTouch (which is an iPhone without the phone) and a notebook computer.

Imagine that you could rip the screen off your current laptop, and carry it around by itself, and do almost everything you do on a computer with it, using touchscreen controls.

The iPad will play music and movies and video and run all the apps from the various Apple stores. (You can sync, and won't have to pay again for new versions.) It will also act as a word processor for taking notes or sending E-mails, and you can buy Apple's version of PowerPoint, for group presentations.

The new iBook's function looks terrific, from afar, and promises to offer real competition for Amazon's Kindle. (For writers like me, it is time to start searching for evocative video and graphics for the e-book versions of our upcoming works.)

I waxed poetically here the other day about the potential of the iPad to revive print journalism, and the New York Times and magazine apps that Apple displayed justified my optimism.

Steve Jobs chose to show what the reading experience will be like when the iPad goes on the market in 60 days--a mix of text and photography with video windows--as opposed to the seamless, gee-whiz multimedia experience that the future holds.

The Times app seemed a bit clunky, when compared to the Internet demo versions of what we will be seeing in a few years, but clearly the potential is there.

(My advice to journalism students: Don't think of yourselves as reporters anymore. You're going to be multimedia producers.)

The pricing was surprisingly low--$499 for the cheapest version, and as little as $15 a month for browsing via AT&T. And no contract is required; you can quit when you like.

What is missing? Cameras. More universal availability, via Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. And videophone capability.

It all left me wondering: Did Apple just plunge a knife into the laptop business? Or take the lead in redefining it? 

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