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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  • ganeshts - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I think Tegra 2 is a much better platform than the A4 ; Since a dual core processor is not claimed, I suspect it is a Cortex A8 pushed up to 1 GHz clock rate, and the GPU must be SGX 540 (which is what is being used to decode H264 I suspect). [[ All speculations with some hunches ]]

    By the way, no webcam / no HDMI output even with docks is downright disappointing. This thing is a joke when it comes to HD playback as you have duly noted. Not even L4.1 or High Profile is supported, No Blu-Ray M2TS or off-the-web MKV playback will be possible.


    Feature wise, I think even Notion Ink's tablet is better than this. But, with Apple's marketing & fanboys, it is unpredictable..
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I think unfortunately this isn't going to be the video playback device it was rumored to be. It'll be great for iTunes content, and for those people who don't mind doing some transcoding, but it lacks the copy and go flexibility that I was hoping for.

    This is the downside to companies like Apple. They work too closely with the content owners/providers, and thus play it safe with things like this.

    But, it leaves room for others to innovate :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • autoboy - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    It is such a disappointment for video consumption considering how nice the display appears to be. 16GB storage is downright pathetic if you ever wanted to play video. 64GB is only slightly better but there isn't a way to add a SD card to expand it. On a device this big intended for high res content, that is a huge misstep. Even 720p itunes video take considerable space. Then you don't have the HDMI port for when you get to your destination.

    I bought a iPod touch for video consumption, pandora, and audiobooks (i can't use an iphone) and I have been entirely disappointed with the screen quality. After seeing this iPad, I'm still waiting for my perfect video device.

    It's not like Apple to leave this much room for others to innovate.
    Reply
  • afkrotch - Friday, January 29, 2010 - link

    Try the Archos 5 or 7. Might just fit your needs. Reply
  • OBLAMA2009 - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    this would be a revolutionary product if apple somehow jacked the wireless providers into providing 3g for say 10 a month. but without that nobody is going to choose this over a much better performing laptop. nokia invented the ipad a couple years ago except they called it the n800. it was a nice product but you dont see anyone walking around with them do you? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I don't believe the choice should be between an iPad or a laptop. Presumably iPad users will already have a fast PC of some sort, this would be an auxiliary device just as a smartphone is. The question is whether or not there's room for such a device, and to answer that we really need to see how this thing works in a day to day setting.

    I've got my notebook/desktop when I do work, my smartphone while I'm walking around, but what do I pull out while I'm on an airplane? Can I get by with just an iPad/iPhone combo for a trip out west or do I still need a laptop? If I need three devices, I'm not sure there's a point. If not, there may be a chance.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • BadgerPoison - Sunday, January 31, 2010 - link

    I agree with you that the question is whether or not there is room for this device. As you mentioned, this device may have usefulness during travel where a phone is insufficient. I disagree with your analysis of the netbook, and specifically, the value of the iPad over a netbook.

    There are 2 key benefits of a netbook where the iPad fails. First, netbooks are relatively cheap at $300 with 6.5 hours of wifi or 10 hours radio-less. Second, netbooks are capable of running office applications and being productive. For office applications, web browsing, and video/audio - netbook performance is sufficient in my experience. Together, these make netbooks an excellent choice for productive (professional and student) travelers. Netbooks are gaining a lot of interest at my school, and I see more of them every week.

    The iPad looks awesome as a supplement to the TV when lying on a couch, for browsing while traveling, or maybe as an e-book reader. But not for being productive - not for justifying its $499 price for those without discretionary income.
    Reply
  • OBLAMA2009 - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    yes whether ipad succeeds will depend on how it works once we all get to see it up close. at the very least ipad will probably lead to cheaper windows tablets with greater functionality and low priced mobile data plans that will have the power to replace laptops for light surfing and computing Reply
  • jasperjones - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Excellent comment. I almost like this better than the actual article :-)

    I'm not gonna drag along iPad + laptop. It's either ... or. Robustness is a factor in this. An iPad contains big, relatively unprotected piece of glass. What's the expected life time of this thing? The other factor is, of course, productivity, as you discussed.
    Reply
  • jimhsu - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I'm still trying to figure out where this fits between my iPhone, kindle, and yet-to-arrive laptop currently being manhandled by UPS. The "internet capability" saturation has reached a maximum here, and an additional device won't help that. Reply

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