After years of watching the rumors and waiting, Apple has unveiled its tablet-like iPad computer at a Wednesday event in California.
Apple's newest gizmo -- CEO Steve Jobs gushed, calling it "our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price" -- is a multipurpose multimedia device. It lets users to watch films, play computer games and surf the Web while on the move. Many analysts also think it could also reshape the way that we read books, newspapers and watch TV.
Starting at $499 and available for purchase in about 60 days, the iPad may be Apple's next big hit. Here's how the rumors compare to the reality.
WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE?
It comes with a virtual keyboard for interface, a 9.7-inch color LCD screen, and weights just 1.5 pounds. But the device is stripped down, lacking the stylus, Bluetooth-based earpiece, can opener, and other accessories that were rumored to be coming. See more for yourself in our gallery of images, live from the Apple Tablet event
WHAT WILL IT DO?
Video: Since iTunes already sells television shows and movies, playing those shows on the iPad's 9.7-inch multi-touch screen is a no-brainer. The experience looks super smooth, and apple claims the device will have a 10-hour battery life.
The screen certainly looks great, though Apple never cited the screen's resolution. But will there be a video-subscription service? And will we be able to buy individual TV shows, directly from the iPad? Apple didn't answer all of our questions.
Gaming: Apple is concentrating heavily on the gaming market, a space the company has never broken into effectively. Current ads for the iPod Touch emphasize the device's utility in the gaming market. And gaming will be a big component of the iPad.
Apple invited game developer GameLoft on stage to show off a new first-person shooter called Nova, that the company reportedly built in under two weeks. Apps from the current iTunes store will play on the iPad too, including a few games that Steve showed off during the event as well, such as Snowcross -- a snowmobiling game. A new SDK will allow developers to take advantage of the device's multi-touch capabilities. These games will doubtless take advantage of the built in accelerometer and networking technologies too.
Web Apps: The New York Times worked with Apple to develop a new version of the newspaper's iPhone application offering video and optimized for a large-screen tablet device. The company spokesman was enthusiastic: "We think we've captured the essence of reading the newspaper. It's a superior experience in a native application."
The layout appears like a standard newspaper, with tons of added interactivity. There are drop-down contextual menus. There's support for multi-touch functionality. You can change the number of columns, watch videos and slideshows and more.
E-Books: Apple also unveiled iBooks, the company's plan to handle the e-book market. You'll be able to change fonts and jump between chapters, as with other readers. But unlike the Amazon Kindle, the iPad supports the popular ePub standard. Books from Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan will be displayed on a shelf interface, just like a bookstore experience.
The e-books will be made available on iTunes, probably through a new version of the app.
Content Creation: Many journalists, focusing on the bright splashes of color in the invitation Apple sent out to journalists, speculated that Apple's new device will focus on content creation. A new application for the iPad, called Brushes, plays into that. The art browser and painting application lets anyone become Picasso, yet that's hardly the wealth of video, photo, and word processing tools some speculated would exist at launch.
WHICH CARRIERS WILL SUPPORT IT?
The iPad has an 802.11n chip that supports the latest wireless Internet connection. But some models will sell with 3G Internet connections as well, meaning users will be able to connect to the Web wherever they are.
But which carriers? AT&T will offer a no-contract deal to IPad users. Buy the $14.99 plan and you can download up to 250MB of data, or spend $29.99 for the unlimited data package. Hot spot coverage will be free. That's for GSM networks such as the one owned by AT&T.
iPad 3G models will be "unlocked" as well, meaning users won't be locked to that network. Jobs made no mention of CMDA networks such as that used by Verizon, despite rumors to the contrary.
WHAT WILL IT COST?
There's little question that the device will be expensive. Analysts expected it to come in under $1,000 range, yet thought the device would cost more than the iPods and iPhones Apple currently sells. The top of the line iPhone, a 32GB 3GS, sells for $299 with a two-year AT&T contract, and $699 without one. Don't expect the tablet to be any cheaper.
However, Apple surprised the crowd by offering models as low as $499. That's for a model without the 3G connectivity, and the base level of 16GB of memory. Others run as high as $829, for 64GB of memory and the added connectivity.
ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW?
Apple spent a long time touting the functions of its productivity suite iWork. Vice president Phil Schiller came on stage to discuss the suite, which includes an editing program, a spreadsheet app, and more. "It's the most beautiful word processor you've ever used," Schiller told the assembled crowd. Each app will sell for $9.99.
Apple will also sell docks, both with and without keyboards. This should make it easy to enter data, but should also recharge the device, and make it more fun to watch a movie or TV show at your desk.
There was no mention of the iLife suite of application, nor evidence for the rumored switch to a Web-based version of iTunes, parked at itunes.com.
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Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.