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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  • afkrotch - Friday, January 29, 2010 - link

    I'm waiting for the Lenovo hybrid laptop/tablet. The best of both worlds.
  • lifeblood - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Apple never does anything revolutionary, but they take evolutionary things and package them into something that is easy to use (which, for IT, is revolutionary). The iPad may not succeed but hopefully the concept will finally succeed. For so long we've needed a device of this size and form. We've seen it in theory since the 60's (Star Trek, etc) and now we have it. Quit looking at what the iPad is missing and look instead at what it CAN (hopefully) do.

    And isn't it funny how Microsoft is fading into insignificance while Apple and Google take center stage? Just like the all powerful IBM did in the PC days. Dear Mr Balmer, you company is doomed unless you take some serious action. Hire some young, imaginative programmers and managers who "get it" (no Windows or WinMobile types allowed), lock them in a room, and have them build a new OS designed for low power CPU's. It's your only hope for the future. And porting Office to it is mandatory.
  • afkrotch - Friday, January 29, 2010 - link

    Archos 5 or Archos 7. Exactly what you want and has been available for over a year. The problem. Not enough ppl make apps for it.

    It's not "now we have it," it's "we've had it and completely ignored it."

    I'll stick with my netbook though. I loaded up Win 7 Pro on it yesterday and it sails now. WinXP on it was horrid. The internet dragged, media was horrible, etc. While it's not anywhere near my desktop, I can at least surf the web and watch my non-HD vids with no probs. Give it a touchscreen and it'd be perfect.
  • morphologia - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    And just how is Microsoft "fading into insignificance" when most of the market buys their little Apple gadgets to use them in conjunction with their Windows PC? They may play around on their iPhone while on a business trip, but first chance they get they'll sync up to their PC so they can get some real work done. Just because a Segway is fun to ride around, that doesn't mean it will replace the sedan or grocery-getter...it's an expensive toy.
  • ImSpartacus - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Yeah, until MS finally just sets WinMo on fire and rebuilds the foundation, we will never see a satisfactory mobile device from them.

    Apple's biggest success with this product is the iPhone OS. It's tailored to a small touch screen. You can't throw a desktop OS on a 10in touch screen and expect the user to have a satisfactory experience.
  • mcnabney - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    While I agree about WinMo (I actually don't think WinMo7 will ever arrive since they probably won't have any market share left to sell to once it is complete next year) you should check out Courier. Very slick and actually as handy to lug/toss around as a small hardcover.
  • medi01 - Friday, January 29, 2010 - link

    Windows Mobile is a selling point for me and for most of friends of mine.

    I couldn't care less about flashy screens with 0 functionality. WinMo allows me to:
    a) install whatever I like
    b) develop my own software for it, without asking any mofo's permission
    c) it supports bloody folders

    Apple is simply outstanding marketing, nothing else. Lacking obvious features like copy&paste, introducing ridiculous constraints yet convincing customers that it's the way it should be. "I miss folders, but you could get nearly the same with playlists", right...
  • dotroy - Monday, February 1, 2010 - link

    a) install whatever I like : What would that be which is not available in app store ?
    b)develop my own software for it: Ohh did you ever develop anything in your whole life ? If so please tell me which app ?
    c) it supports bloody folders : Oh really? Folders are so 71. Why we do not search in Google by folders ? because when there is lots of data...folders does not matter, all you need a good search engine to fine it. If you have 4 files in your computer yes use a folder but if you have 25,000 MP3 then yes use search function to find files
  • Dex1701 - Monday, February 8, 2010 - link

    Wow, no offense, sir, but I think you need to put down the Apple kool aid take a few deep breaths. You're thinking of mobile devices as toys rather than tools. Outside of the multimedia industry that's pretty much Apple's target audience. Some people need to use their devices for things other than shopping/playing silly games while waiting in the waiting room at the doctor's office, making dinner reservations, etc. Outside of our media department Apple has little to nothing to offer my company compared to Linux and Microsoft.

    Not only can we install the software we need (I'm going to ignore your "app store" comment...sure, there are some fun time-wasters to be had there, but very little that is actually useful), but both Windows Mobile (with all of its flaws) and Android are chock-full of out-of-the-box (or free via a download) functionality that is actually useful and productive. What little of this functionality is available on an iPhone requires multiple micro-transactions (most aren't free) from the app store, and then we're still left sorely lacking in business features.

    Yes, our company does develop our own mobile device apps for WinMo and Android. No, you won't find any of them available to the public as they are not ridiculous "mood ring" apps that cost $5 and are entertaining for 10 minutes...they're clients for our IT data services and internal software, utilities for field engineers, etc. Heck, I've even developed several utilities for my own personal use.

    Don't understand why someone would want folders? I don't even know how to address that. Sure, an indexed database is great for music, but not for a million other things. Again, you're thinking in terms of toys and appliances rather than tools.

    Don't get me wrong, Apple makes great multimedia tools and electronics that work well for non-technical users. For me and my business their platforms are far too locked down and limited for us to bother with them.
  • dotroy - Tuesday, February 9, 2010 - link

    Apple Kool Aid: So you think people buy product with their hard earned money just because they the product is made by apple ? Does not make any sense to me or will not make any sense to marketing either. I personaly still use WinXP and MAC OSX because I think they are both good.

    Not only can we install the software we need: So lets see. I am a LAMP developer as well and I can have my "SSH" app install and I can install and configure any php app with this for free which is not entertainment. Have you heard of "iphone SDK" you too can develop ahy app for yourself or for the business users without apples approval and can distribute in your organization.

    WinMo and Android: WinMO is dead ..it could not do anything significant ..even browsing. Android is promising but still nothing close to what iphone offers.

    Don't understand why someone would want folders? - So indexing is only for music and it is a toy ? Really so what is Google or any other search engine ?

    Don't get me wrong, Apple makes great multimedia tools : This statement by you again contradictory of what you said earlier. Yes they make good product and that is why people buy them. Even if you are just a investor you would buy apple stock because they are doing good. I undersatnd for you (b2b market) apple has limited appeal because that is yet to be their target market.

    Again I would say, making money and saving money is quite different and people do not spend their hard earned money by closing eye. Ask your marketing department and they would be able to explain you better

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