About a decade ago Mike Andrawes and I kept hoping someone would come out with a device that would make surfing the web on the couch easier than it was. Mike took the notebook route. He kept buying (or stealing from me) notebooks that were cooler, thinner and lighter while still being a notebook, for the purpose of browsing the web.

I took a more extreme route. I tried ultraportables. I bought a Sony PictureBook. It had a Transmeta Crusoe processor in it, which was horribly slow but gave me the form factor and battery life I craved. I put up with a ridiculously impractical screen just to get something small to browse the web and do work on.

Matthew Witheiler, another AnandTech veteran took a different path. He embraced the tablet PC. Matt became our Tablet PC reviewer on AnandTech as he searched for the perfect device. Unfortunately, he never found it.

None of us did. Today we all went back to the tried and true device: the notebook. The iPhone came along and gave us a revolution in the smartphone space. Ultimately it and the devices that followed just complemented our notebooks - sometimes with a new level of frustration as we were now at the mercy of wireless carriers and ridiculously slow SoCs.


The smartphone revolution gave us some great devices

History likes to repeat itself, and that’s what we’ve seen happen over the past two years. The introduction of the netbook brought the journey full circle. People wanted a cheap, light, portable web surfing and light work device - the netbook did just that.

The keyboard and screen issues have been mostly solved. Performance still sucks and part of that is due to the fact that there are no good netbook OSes that are optimized for the level of performance a 1.6GHz Atom can deliver. Most OEMs ship some variant of Windows on these devices, and with less than 2GB of memory and a single-core in-order CPU, that’s just too much to be fast.


Back to ultraportables again

There’s also the issue of storage. Netbooks desperately need solid state storage, but a single 2.5” SSD is often over half the price of a netbook itself. Pair up a slow CPU with not enough memory and a really slow hard drive and it’s not a good combination.

Microsoft, Intel and Apple have all taught me one very important lesson over the past 13 years: if you’re going after a new usage model, you need new technology to tackle it. For Microsoft and Apple that meant a new UI with Media Center and the iPhone. For Intel it meant a brand new microarchitecture optimized for power efficiency. First with Banias (Pentium M/Centrino) and then with Atom.

Netbooks, and to a greater extent tablets, eReaders and smartbooks, are going after new usage models. These aren’t notebook replacements, they are a new category of device designed for a different usage model. The one thing they’ve all been missing is the perfect combination of hardware and software to deliver the whole package.

The one thing Apple prides itself on is doing just that. As one of very few one-stop hardware/software makers, it has the ability to tightly couple UI with physical design. We saw it manifest in its greatest way with the iPhone, and now Apple (or perhaps the media covering Apple) is attempting to recreate the magic with the iPad.


The final frontier?

The device doesn’t ship for another 60 days, but there’s a lot to talk about based on today’s introduction alone.

The Basics
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  • spunlex - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Without flash you lose access to a lot of content and with a screen that size I think it will be very inconvenient. I think there will be a lot of POed customers when they find out the can't even watch youtube videos on this thing.

    Apart from that I really like the idea, I'm hopping something a little smaller and faster will be out by next year, doesn't have to be apple. I would seriously consider dropping my cell phone for something with real internet (not the mobile pages) that can be carried on my hip .
    Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Obviously you've never used an iPhone. iPhone OS has functioning YouTube, without Flash. Reply
  • gaash - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    $499 is a version without WiFi .. $629 is really the floor price on a useful iPad imho.

    Reply
  • spunlex - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Oh and I totally forgot, where is the multitasking??? Reply
  • rs1 - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Tablets failed miserably when they were tried years ago, and it's not going to be any different now just because Apple is giving it a try. The iPad will be on its way out soon enough.

    Move along, nothing to see here.
    Reply
  • Stas - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    "Far more often we see Apple perfecting a particular device rather than diving head first into a new market segment. That’s not to say it won’t be successful. There’s always the iPod to look back on."

    No, there isn't. Creative, ASAIK, make the 1st mp3 player. So again: took an existing idea + made it shiny + millions into PR = sales$$$$$
    Reply
  • jasperjones - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    There's an Apple II to look back on. Reply
  • gaash - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    The "innovation" was iTunes not the iPod. Reply
  • Sahrin - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Which was an innovation, not for users, but for Record Labels (and Apple). Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Agreed - to an extent.

    Many had MP3 players before Apple, but the MP3 player market before the iPod isn't like the notebook market before the current gen MacBook Pro for example. With its PCs, Apple mostly looks at the market and tries to improve upon existing designs, innovating where possible. The same thing can be said about the iPhone. Apple didn't have as established of a market to learn from with the iPod.

    Tablets have been done before, but not like this next generation we're about to see. I would've normally expected Apple to wait until the whole plethora of Tegra 2, Windows 7, Android, etc... tablets to hit before coming out with theirs. Instead, Apple is an early comer this generation.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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