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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  • - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    My gut is telling me that there are too many open questions about this iPad, I'm feeling like this is a rushed or incomplete presentation of a tablet. Are there problems relative to realistic expectations concerning Apple’s SOC/chip? Did ARM intervene in the final hour with their A9? And why those prices? The product isn’t due to ship for another month; do they have a rabbit up their sleeve? Stay tuned
  • RobberBaron - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    MADtv: Apple iPad, 2006

  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    I can definately visualize how tablets can completely replace netbooks. But if you cant even play an avi video what the heck else wont you be able to do on this thing? Its a dead end. I've never accepted apple's limitations, and never will. Just like the iphone, the only people who will buy this are the dumb yuppies who like to waste money. Unfortunately for Apple, they are going extinct at a record rate.

    I am far more hopeful about windows 7 based tablets for when cpus get small and powerful enough to actually run one.

    But what I'm really looking for is a form factor that includes a scree that can flawlessly and seamlessly fold in half. Then I can have a phone and reasonable web surfing in one package.
  • charles Monneron - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Handbrake is a free software that will enable you to encode all your video library in mp4 format (or m4v if you really like itunes). This is what the creator say about avi :
    "AVI is a rough beast. It is obsolete. It does not support modern container features like chapters, muxed-in subtitles, variable framerate video, or out of order frame display."
    Plus, translating into mp4 using the last versions of x264 is quite likely to shrink the size of your files.
  • Tikvaw - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Hmm you can play avi Files on the Iphone with the right App, so you will be able to do the same on the Ipad.

    The disc might not be very large but at least at home you can stream almost any video file from your PC/NAS directly to the Iphone/Ipad with encoding on the go, for example with the "Air Video" App.
    If you go somewhere and wan't to take a few Video files with you,
    you can take a sd-card and the adapter Apple provides, I'm sure there will be an App that can read and copy those files from the card.

    With the Free App "TouchMouse" from Logitech you can control your Computer Mouse so you could connect your Computer with the TV and start a Video with the Ipad from your seat/sofa and use the Ipad as Remote.

    There are many free Apps that Read PDF,TXT, etc Files (which you can transfer from your Computer to the Iphone/Ipad with Wifi, no need to use Itunes) so you aren't restricted to IBooks, you can even install Kindle Store and buy their E-Books.

    etc etc

    So to summarize, even if Apple doesn't really provide open standards, the are many free App's which add this functionalities, probably the Ipad will be "jailbreakable" too, so you are even more free with the choices and not dependable on the AppStore.

    ps. I really hope Apple will provide Multitasking in the near future!

  • taltamir - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    the iphone was never popular... early iterations were a failure, later fixed versions are selling better, but still have less than 1% of the phone market share.

    the iPad cannot be compared to a eReader, because it does not use ePaper. you touted that as a "bonus", as if it being "color" was great. the eReader has the benefit of being a passive display (no light emission) like a book, and unbeleiveable battery. the iPad is nothing like an eReader and if it is trying to be it will be a huge failure... and kindle isn't the only competition in that market.
  • QueBert - Sunday, January 31, 2010 - link

    you're kidding right? From day 1 they were sold out everywhere and going for over $1,000 on Ebay. Hell, even today 1st fucking gen iPhones are selling for more money used than a lot of brand new smart phones. The iPhone is the phone to have, period! I never NEVER hear people talking about any other phone. When I could put my 2st gen iPhone on CL tomorrow for $200 and have it sold before Monday. I'm not too sure how you consider the phone "never popular" there has never been a phone more popular.
  • A5 - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    1% of the overall phone market including dumbphones.

    In the relevant market (smartphones), the iPhone is doing very well - they've already passed the market share of all WinMo phones combined and they're coming up on RIM, who has been in the market a lot longer than Apple.
  • gwolfman - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    I just saw this post with regards to the CPU:

    Steve Jobs incorrectly addressed Apple A4 as a CPU. We're not sure was this to keep the mainstream press enthused, but A4 is not a CPU. Or we should say, it's not just a CPU. Nor did PA Semi/Apple had anything to do with the creation of the CPU component. A4 is a System-on-a-Chip, or SOC, that integrates the main processor [ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore i.e. Multi-Processing Core, identical to ones used in nVidia Tegra and Qualcomm Snapdragon] with graphics silicon [ARM Mali 50-Series GPU], and other functions like the memory controller on one piece of silicon.
  • vshin - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    I don't understand why anyone would want 1080p on a 9.7" screen.

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